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Welcome to Dakotawitch Speaks (or The Dakotawitch Doctrine). Sit back and listen to a little SR-71 for your standard disclaimer...

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LJ Idol: That One Friend.

We all have That One Friend.

You know, the one that you tell everything to. The one that you can not see for months or years, and the moment you see or talk to each other again, it's like you just spent time together yesterday. That one person that you know, in your deepest of souls, that you have travelled through many lifetimes with. The person that you want to talk to when you have good news. The person you want to talk to when your heart is broken. The person you'd donate a kidney to without a second thought. The person you'd bail out of jail in a city hours away, at 3 in the morning. The person who will tell you the hard truths, and to whom you will actually listen when they tell you that your ass is showing. The person who would do all those same things for you. The one person in the world who you know is always proud of you, always has your back, who loves you unconditionally. You know the one I'm talking about.

We all have The One Friend.

You know, the one you probably shouldn't be left unsupervised with. The one you get into trouble with.  The one who helped you put on the black eyeliner they'd hidden in their backpack in the school bathroom. The one who let you drive their car without a license, and drive it way too fast. The one you shared your first drink, your first smoke, your first joint with. The one who helped you sneak out of the house when you were grounded, or sneak back into the house when you were out past your curfew. The one who let you tell your parents you were sleeping at their house on prom night, when you were actually in a hotel room with a boy (or a girl) -- and whose parents thought they were sleeping at your house, for the same reason. The one you skipped school with. The one who forged your mom's signature on an excuse note so that you could skip school. The one who hooked you up with your first fake ID, your first pack of cigarettes, your first too-old boyfriend. You know the one I'm talking about.

We all have That One Friend.

You know, the one that you were always secretly in love with. The one you dreamed about, the one you day-dreamed about. Maybe you still do. The one who you would swear is your soulmate, if only they could see it. The one you felt so close to, the one you were always finding excuses to touch, finding reasons to sit close to. The one you couldn't ever tell. Because they weren't the "right" gender. Because they were out of your league. Because they were with someone else. Because you were scared they would reject you, and you'd lose your friend as well as having your heart broken. The one you talked through endless crushes and hook-ups and relationships and break-ups. The one who did the same for you. The one you wanted to shake and say, "Why can't you see that it should be ME?" The one who you wanted to have a moment with, a moment straight out of an 80s movie, but never did. The one that you always, may be still, compared potential dates and partners to, always unfavorably. The one you would drop your life and run to if they just said the word. You know the one I'm talking about.

We all have That One Friend.

You know, the one who let you sit on their couch and drink yourself into oblivion when you knew that your longest relationship was over. The one who told you that you were strong, and you were powerful, even if you didn't believe it right now. The one who just sat in the silence with you while you cried yourself out of tears. The one who told you it was OK to leave your marriage, because love shouldn't hurt like that. The one who showed up with a U-Haul the day you had to get your stuff and you were too scared to go alone. The one who casually assures you that they have a knife at the ready if shit goes sideways. The one who helps you move everything you own into a 10x10 storage unit on a day when it's 105 degrees. The one you go and eat nachos and drink beer with after, and who somehow makes you feel like this is the greatest day or your life instead of one of the worst. You know the one I'm talking about.

We all have That One Friend.

You know the one I'm talking about.
For as long as I've been reading Tarot -- more than 25 years at this point -- my card has been the Queen of Swords. No matter what deck I read off of, or have someone do a reading for me with, the Queen of Swords always pops up when I need to be shown myself.

There's debate about whether the suit of Swords should be associated with Air or Fire -- that's a whole 'nother piece of occult history that is its own fascinating late-night discussion -- but regardless of which Element you consider her to rule over, the Queen of Swords is my sovereign. If you place her in Air, she is the ruler of all things intellectual, rational, logical -- the scholar, the writer, the researcher, the debater. If you place her in Fire, she presides over passion, creativity, those things which cause us to burn with all the emotions which can both warm us and scorch us. She is both cooly rational and calculating, and at the same time passionate and fierce. She is a Warrior with her mind and with her heart, with her words and with her actions, with her ability to plan carefully and her willingness to rush in and do battle when she feels the call.

The Queen of Swords is my card.

A Tarot reader I trust very much once told me, when the Queen of Swords showed herself in a reading at a particularly difficult time in my life, "You know, everything doesn't have to be a battle all the time. Sometimes it seems like you're looking for something to fight, something to war with. Maybe it doesn't have to be like that. Maybe there are times when you can put the sword down and rest."

He's right, of course, that there are times when as the Queen of Swords I can be looking for the next enemy, hypervigilant, ready to charge down the hill with banners flying and weapon raised. I can sometimes see an epic battle where perhaps a quiet negotiation would also serve. And while the Queen of Swords can be a skilled negotiator, there are times when the clash of steel and the sweat of combat come more easily to me than the chess-match of words, when honest combat between foes is more pleasing and comes more naturally than the work of hammering out an imperfect peace through compromise and concession.

During my two decades' walk with the Queen of Swords, I've had time to make peace will all the parts of her -- the parts of myself -- of which I might not necessarily be proud. Even as we've been companions and comrades for my entire adult life, I know that I'm not the same girl who turned up that card for the first time. I know that I've grown, and changed, and picked different battles, and --yes -- even walked away from a few without drawing a blade or a drop of blood. I also know that as I've seen more of the world, seen more of injustice and oppression and pain, the Queen has been besides me, urging me to action. I may not be willing to war at the drop of a hat on my own behalf these days, certainly not the way I was at 17 or 19. But in the end, when faced with a fight worth fighting or an enemy worth slaying, I am still ready and willing to marshall my forces and battle, with whatever weapons are necessary.

The Queen of Swords is my card.

I think about that reading so long ago, and the gentle suggestion that perhaps the world doesn't need to be a battle. And then I think about the world, especially the world we may be facing come January 2017, and I cannot in good conscience lay down my sword and beat it into a ploughshare. And I simultaenously realize I would not want to, even if I had it in me to do so.

I need the struggle to stay alive. The belief that there is a better world out there -- that I can, to borrow from Arundhati Roy, on a quiet day hear that better world breathing -- is what fires me, what keeps me going, what gives me strength in the face of so much injustice. I need this struggle, I need this fight. I need it to keep me walking forward on the darkest of days. I need this struggle because the alternative is unimaginable.

The Queen of Swords is my card.

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Oh, why not?

Surprise Season 10 of LJ Idol? Sure, I'll play along.

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My work this moon...

...has been intense. Building on my work with Pink, Purple asked me to identify my deepest spiritual wounds. I'm not ready to write about that just yet, but I will say it has been the hardest and most rewarding work I have ever done. And it happened in ways that were completely surprising, and revealed wounds that I thought were long healed or that I didn't consider "spiritual." It's been a moon of really needing to be still, to honor myself and my pain and my process.

One thing that was huge was getting professional photos done as part of my burlesque class. I have some big issues around being photographed, and the shoot has been by far the hardest part of the process -- harder than taking my bra off in front of a room of people LOL. I am in love with the photos. Here's just one. Take a look and see if you can guess which Colors are at work, and which ones I'll be working with next.


Last Chance Idol

Oh, why not?

LJ Idol Week 13: Open

This year April had a blizzard
Just to show she did not care
And the new dead leaves
They made the trees
Look like children with grey hair
But I'll push myself up through the dirt
And shake my petals free
I'm resolved to being born
And so resigned to bravery
                    
-- Dar Williams, "Spring Street"

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is just to show up.

The facilitator of my first survivor's group told me that once, when I was about 19 and first coming to grips with the abuse that had happened in my childhood. I told her that I hadn't thought I would be able to even get out of my dorm room that day, let alone walk across the campus and share with my groupmates. She told me that I had done the most difficult thing, which was to get myself to that room. That I should give myself credit for that. That I should recognize it as the radical act of bravery it was. That I hadn't shown up for the other group members, that I hadn't shown up for her, but that I had instead shown up for myself, for my own healing, for my own recovery. I had shown up for myself in a way that the adults in my life had not shown up for me when I was an abused child. And I should thank myself for that. For just showing up.

If you had told 19 year old me, who was barely able to drag herself out of her dorm room (and who would sit largely in silence for the rest of that session) that, 20 years later, I'd regularly show up before a blank page and a group of strangers, and put my most personal, most painful, and most important stories, experiences, and memories onto that page and into their keeping, she'd have laughed at you. That young woman was locked up tight, wrapped around her pain, dedicated to keeping the secrets she'd held for so much of her young life deep inside her. To speak the words would make what had happened real, would mark her out as someone who'd been victimized and violated, would begin to crack the thick protective shell she'd built around herself simply to survive the world she found herself in.

As a farmgirl, however, she should have been smarter about shells.

Because when shells are broken by an outside force, they shatter, and often the vulnerable growing bird inside doesn't survive. It's not yet ready to navigate the world. It's too fragile.

But when that vulnerable creature is allowed to develop inside its shell, to grow strong and resilient, something else entirely happens. The bird begins to strain against the walls of the shell, to stretch and move, to realize that what has protected it for so long has now turned into restriction, restraint, prison. And so the bird begins to peck, to move, to create tiny cracks in the shell.

When a shell is broken from the inside, by the force of will and growth and expansion, it falls away in pieces that pose no danger to the emerging new life.

When she began to show up -- when I began to show up for myself, for the child I had been and the young woman I was and the adult woman I wanted to be -- the tiniest of cracks began to appear in that shell. Subtly, imperceptibly, layer by layer, that shell began to fall away.

I began to be open.

I began to open.

Today, that's probably the word most people would use to describe me -- open. My life is, literally, an open book -- or, perhaps more fitting, an un-friends-locked blog post. What I have learned is that shame is toxic, and that secrets can be poison -- and that we don't have to internalize either. That when we choose to be open about ourselves, about our lives, about even our darkest and most painful moments, we are able to grow beyond that which has constrained us.

When we begin to open, when we begin to stretch and breathe and push against the walls, we grow past what we have been and into what we might be.

We need the time in the shell to grow, the time beneath the earth to germinate. We need to be able to be protected, to be able to put down roots.

But there comes a day when we have to push against the walls of that shell. When we must push ourselves up through the dirt, toward the light. Always toward the light.

Monsters live in the dark.

When we turn on the light, when we open the windows, when we throw open our hearts, the monsters of our secrets cannot live.

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LJ Idol Week 11: Recency Bias

Today my heart is big and sore
It's tryin' to push right through my skin
I won't see you anymore
I guess that's finally sinkin' in
                    --
Patty Griffin, "Goodbye"

The thing people don't get is that it wasn't always bad.

There were days, weeks, months even where he was funny, charming, attentive, and loving. Long stretches of time with no yelling, no screaming, no gaslighting.

There were plenty of times where we were like any other couple. There were plenty of times where we had fun together, dreamed together, were truly and deeply in love.

He was often funny, thoughtful, creative, and even kind.

In those periods, the other times -- the times when his anger would break like a thunderstorm over a midsummer prairie, seemingly out of a clear blue sky, the times when he would bellow like an angry bull, the times when his rage would not be satisfied until I was sobbing so hard I was on my knees in the bathroom, vomiting mucus and bile and helplessness -- seemed so distant. Like they happened to someone else. Like they were just an unpleasant detour on an otherwise smooth and scenic road.

I don't have to tell you that eventually that storm would always break again.

I don't have to tell you that I could never predict when the thunder would clap and the lightning would strike.

I don't have to tell you that I always ended up back on that tile floor.

And I don't have to tell you that the sun would always come out again, and I would turn my face to its warmth and forget, at least for a time, the darkness and the tearing winds.

When people say they don't understand why women stay with abusers for years, decades, this is what they're not getting.

If it had been bad all the time, if the violence had been daily, or if it had turned physical, I like to think I would have left long before I did. I like to think I would have seen things for what they were.

But we all suffer from recency bias. We're all most likely to remember the last thing we heard, the last thing we saw.

So in the dark times, the violent times, we're too afraid to make a move.

And in the sunny times, the honeymoon times, the apologetic "I'll never do it again times," we want so desperately to believe that we don't make a move.

We always hope that this time was the last time, and that from now on the sun will shine and our homes and our hearts will be calm.

Even today there are times when what I remember most are those times when he made me laugh. When he took care of me when I was sick. When he held me after my father died.

I remember those times with as much frequency as I remember the worst times, the times on the bathroom floor.

The day I finally realized that I hadn't seen that kind man for a long time, that I wasn't going to see him again, was the day I knew I had to leave. That was the day that even my recency bias couldn't spin me a fairy tale anymore.

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"And if your sister or your brother
Were stumbling on their last mile
In a self-inflicted exile
You'd wish for them a humble friend..."
                             
-- Dar Williams, "The Mercy of the Fallen"

People tell me their stories -- students, friends, strangers on airplanes and train platforms, sometimes people whose names I never get. Stories of pain, of violation, of horror, sometimes tinged with humor, sometimes with a distant quality that gives me the sense that they aren't so much telling me their story, but instead just letting it out into the ether.

The 70-something woman on the train platform who told me about witnessing  a botched back-alley abortion in the 50s.

The young woman who tells me about the date rape two years earlier.

The man who tells me about watching his father beat his mother and being unable to stop it.

The student who comes out of the closet to me, and only me.

The mother of three who tells me about last year's sexual assault -- one that even her husband doesn't know about.

I don't know why they choose me. I don't know what makes someone look at me and say "Today is the day" and then let out the secret they've been keeping inside them, sometimes for decades.

One of my dearest friends, a midwife and doula, describes me as a storycatcher. "You catch stories like I catch babies," she told me. "You make it safe for people to birth their stories, and then you help them come out into the world."

I've often described myself as a radical witness. The only thing I can do for people in those moments is to listen, to witness their story and their humanity, with all of me. All I can do is create a space and a moment that is safe enough for them to bring that story out of the dark. All I can do is look into their eyes, hold the space, and for at least those few moments let them not be alone.

For a long time I felt guilty that this was all I could do. That I could not fix things, could not take away the pain and the horror, could not offer up some wise words that would magickally heal these wounded souls.

What I have come to realize through this work, this calling -- for it truly is a calling -- is that people don't want me to fix it. What they want is to be heard. What they want is to know they are not alone. What they want is someone to witness them -- to truly see them, to truly hear them. They want someone to support them in birthing these stories, these words, and to help them find the strength to keep pushing them toward the light even when they think they are too exhausted to go on.

The revelation that it is not my job to "help" has been profound. And it is often exponentially harder to sit and witness, to hold space, to listen deeply, than it is to offer solutions and resources and advice. To simply sit, and trust that the person in front of me holds the reserves of strength to bring to life what they are struggling to birth. To not intervene, not interfere, but to let the story unfold.

Because so often their stories are my story.

And every time I hear someone's story, witness someone's process, it helps me understand my own story and my own process better. Every time a survivor speaks up, they speak up for all of us. Every time someone shatters the wall of silence around abuse, around violence, around misogyny, it makes it easier for the next person to claim their voice.

Knowing you are not alone is perhaps the most powerful feeling in the world. When these people tell me their stories, they remind me that I am not alone. And when I act as witness to them, whether I tell them my own story or not, I let them know they are not alone.

My job is not to help.

My job is not to fix.

My liberation is bound up with the liberation of every person who's ever let me catch their story.

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting our time.
But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, let us work together.
                                     ---
Lilla Watson

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