Grieving My Familiar

Grieving My Familiar

(Originally published on ashtreeharmony.com.) 

A few weeks ago I said goodbye to my thirteen-year-old greyhound Page, my familiar. I knew he was my familiar—I could feel it under my skin—but if you asked me what a familiar was I’m not sure I could have given you a definition.

After he passed I thought that I should do some research to better understand the relationship we had, the gifts and lessons that he had to offer, and what to look for in my next familiar. In discussing this with a wise-woman friend, she suggested that instead of researching familiars that I use what I knew of my relationship with Page to teach me what I needed to know, and then to call on his spirit to tell me anything else that I needed.

In his passing, the first thing I came to understand was that he was here to teach me about movement.

The veterinarian who was with him when he died said, “Greyhounds are meant for movement,” and it was so clear that he would never move the same way again. But as I looked at him on his last day, inert and sleeping, memories of moving with him appeared in my mind’s eye. We walked together almost every day. He often lay next to (or on me) while I practiced yoga. He wagged and swiveled around me when I danced.

Over time, as I watched his body deteriorate, it became more difficult for me to feel connected to movement. The morning after his passing I danced and there was ease to my movements, as if in his release my body was releasing, too.

My familiar had excellent boundaries.

Page loved to be scratched. Page really did like being hugged. Page rubbed his face on my legs when he wanted something, but also when he just wanted to feel close to me—to confirm that I was paying attention to him. But Page often removed himself from situations. If he was over-stimulated or tired, he’d find a bed that was far away from the activity, where he could watch but not participate.

Page also put every dog in his or her place that tried to mess with him with a quick nip or a low growl, both of which worked instantly. He didn’t take any shit from anyone. Yet, he could also tell the difference between nonsense and innocence. Once, a small child carrying a tree branch poked Page in the face. I held my breath, feeling the pain of the needles in his skin on my own skin, but he didn’t bite, didn’t growl, didn’t even pull away. Somehow he understood that this small child didn’t know better and wasn’t a threat, and so he let her be.

I hope that I come to understand a fraction of this wisdom that Page demonstrated every day.

Page understood the necessity of routine.

Many greyhounds follow a specific routine because it’s what they learned during their racing days. Page followed a routine—it seemed sometimes—for my benefit. When I was in graduate school and I was working long and late hours, Page would lose himself in playful fits 30 minutes before it was time for his dinner. Yes, I think he was probably just hungry, but it also felt like he was helping me not to take myself too seriously, because this was also the time of night when I did most of my studying.

He did this for walks as well—the fits of barking, wagging and jumping. It was like he knew that the breath of fresh air would be good for the both of us.

His habit of lying with me while I practiced yoga felt like more than just wanting to be in the same room, or interest because I was on the floor down at his level. He was reinforcing this habit the same way he reinforced all other habits with his presence.

Page was never very good at being alone.

Within weeks of our adopting Page, he figured out how to break out of his crate. When we came home we found the usual evidence of a dog with the full run of the house and little obedience training—garbage strewn about the kitchen and other “messes” to clean up. But we also found there were long bite marks on the front door knob. The marks didn’t seem to indicate chewing, but rather the marks looked like he dragged his teeth around the knob, as if he had tried to turn the knob with his mouth. He had figured out where the humans went, and he was going to follow.

Page’s separation anxiety troubled him and us his whole life. There were times when it was better, and we learned that familiarity and routine were the most helpful in keeping him calm. Even in his last few months, we found him breaking out of seemingly unbreakable baby gates. Page liked being with us, and he didn’t like to be alone.

And in this behavior, I realize that this is the final lesson he had to teach me. Now that he’s gone, at least for a while, I will have to learn how to be alone, too. I admit that I’ve already been looking for a new pet, not to replace him, but to fill our home with life. I even sent an inquiry to a shelter about a dog, but the dog had already been adopted.

Someone told me to appreciate my independence, that I might miss it when I’m caring for some new familiar who needs my attention. Sadly, I knew they were right.

My sister-in-law made a beautiful painting of Page (pictured above) that I couldn’t bring myself to hang in our home while he was still alive. The day that he died I went to the basement and brought that painting into my office to hang with me.

I understand that it was his time to go. I understand that this is an opportunity to transform and evolve, and I’m grateful for all the ways in which Page is still with me.

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Out of the Broom Closet

Out of the Broom Closet

The new movie I Feel Pretty starring Amy Schumer is about a woman who, after a head injury, wakes up the next morning with arguably, a major personality change. As someone who lives with a traumatic brain injury I find this a comical and somewhat accurate premise for a movie, based on my own experience. I could say that I hit my head and became a radically different person, and from the outside that may appear true, but my injury was more nuanced, I think.

I hit my head and as a result, I started living as the whole person I was all along. My brain injury didn’t change who I was, it just prevented me from hiding who I am.

A recent episode of the Invisibilia podcast explored the idea of living between two worlds. The individuals featured in the episode talk about living in a gray area between two identities, and this got me thinking about my own identity.

I am a writer who teaches composition and critical thinking at a university level.

But I am also a psychic/intuitive who offers readings, energy healing, and space clearing.

In my own perspective, these aspects of myself are on opposite ends of a spectrum that I might label “academic” and “woo woo.” When I teach composition, I often call into question the very beliefs I hold personally. And yet when I am using my psychic gifts, I attempt to ignore my rational mind that would question or even criticize what I do.

Because of the obvious clash between these personas, I’ve kept them separate, for the most part.

Spoiler: it’s not working.

I find that when people in my “writing” circles discover that I’m an intuitive, they become my clients, and vice versa. I often find myself working with people who come to me for spiritual advice and then they admit that they have a secret passion for writing. Or, I’ll assign my students to write a research paper and one of them will ask if they can perform a survey of research on metaphysics.

This blending of my worlds is happening in my personal practices, too. Until recently, my writing came about through a crafted/academic approach. Lately, I can’t seem to put down any words unless they’re coming from a more mindful, heart-centered, even spiritual place. I shouldn’t be surprised that there’s such a link between spirituality and art, but for whatever reason, it hadn’t clicked for me until I read this blog post I came across on the The Traveling WitchS.L. Bear writes,

“Just as an artist uses intent, deep focus, and ritual to create a work of art, a witch uses intent, deep focus, and ritual to work a spell.”

Here was my revelation. I had heard similar things before, but the idea of applying my spirituality to my art as a process rang true. I had spent years learning how to write using my brain, but now I’m coming to understand how to write using my heart.

Process, I think, influences the product too, and this shift in my creative method is reflected in my current work. I’m drafting my second novel and this manuscript contains overarching occult themes. It’s not that my earlier work didn’t reflect on aspects of myself, but they were older versions of me, and versions that didn’t touch my deep (and current) passions.

So, for many reasons, it seemed time to “come out of the broom closet,” if not for the sake of acknowledging these disparate aspects of myself, and connecting the dots for anyone who’s been following my Facebook feed lately, but for my own sake, for the opportunity to practice authenticity, and to let all of my varied interests influence one another.

Despite this proclamation, this raising of my “freak flag” up the flagpole, I recognize that I am a work in progress. For practical reasons, I will still toggle between these personas, but I expect that there will be more blending of my two worlds from now on (especially as I continue to work on this particular novel).

If this is the first you’re hearing about one or the other of my personas, or you had heard a little bit and want to know more, my spiritual work is available through my website ashtreeharmony.com and my writing is available at ashleykwarren.com. Both sites have an option to subscribe to my blog or email newsletter.

Things of the Week 4/24/17

Flipping Off Fish: My new favorite juvenile, guilty pleasure–this is an Instagram account. And the username pretty much says it all.

Reading rut: My habit of reading too many things at once has gotten so bad I’m barely reading anything at all. Goodreads has even started sending me passive aggressive messages, “We noticed you’ve only read one book toward your goal” etc. Maybe I need to start a new Instagram account…

FitTwit: I’ve abandoned my FitBit. It’s falling apart and it’s less than a year old. This is my fault–I didn’t save the receipt or the box, otherwise, I could send away for a replacement. I considered buying another one but then I thought about what I use My FitBit for–the alarm. Sure, I paid attention to the steps, but not in a productive way. I didn’t do laps around my house if I didn’t hit my goal. When I think about my health during the time I’ve owned my FitBit, it’s the least healthy I’ve been my whole life. I can’t necessarily blame the FitBit, but I do think it made me lazy. In my brain, I thought, “I have a device tracking my health habits, therefore by knowing my habits I will be more healthy. Brilliant! That mean’s I don’t have to pay attention to my health anymore!” And so, I didn’t. Strangely, having put the FitBit in the drawer, I already feel healthier because I’m paying attention to my hold body instead of just my left wrist.

I am reading some things: This article is awesome for several reasons but I particularly like the way science is being used to study literature.

“Some fairy tales may be 6000 years old” by David Shultz, 4/22/16, Science

Watching: Community and This Is Us. Way late to the party on the first one, only kinda late on the second one. This may be blasphemy, but I might like Community better than Parks and Rec. I’m only in season 1 so I may feel differently by season 3. And I can see why This Is Us is being reviewed well. The writing is very good as is the acting, and I love the parallel story lines.

Fun Brain Injury Side Effect: A hyper-awareness of my brain. The other day I was putting together a lesson plan with a colleague. I selected several reading selections and I knew that they complimented each other well, but I couldn’t explain to my colleague why. She reviewed the selections and immediately made the connections. I realized that my right brain was seeing the themes and patterns but my left brain couldn’t describe them. My understanding that this was likely related to the brain injury helped me explain my weird behavior to my colleague. She described the situation this way: “It’s like you brought me all of the ingredients for paella and asked, ‘What the hell do I with these?'”

April Events with me!

I’m giving several readings and talks this month–details below. If you’re local I’d love to see you! 

April 8th 6:00 – 8:00pm – URBAN ARTS PLATFORM, Parking Garage Roof at The Northern

Join us on Saturday, April 8th for a night of international and local talent featuring a stunning view of downtown billings atop the Northern Hotel parking garage!

This will be a 2 part event featuring:
-Video art screening by G. Roland Biermann
-Discussion with the artist and Dr. Aaron Rosen (author of Art & Religion in the 21st Century)
-Poetry readings by local poets Pete Tolton, Ashley Warren, and Meagan Lehr, as well as MT Poet Laureate Earl Craig.
-Drinks (for 21+)
-A discussion on the future of cutting edge art in Billings!

Part 2 of the night, located at 2905 Montana ave. will feature all local musicians including:
-Grant Jones
-Golden Hour
-Bull Market
-Snow Bored

April 11th 7:00 – 8:00pm ARTFUL WOMEN OF MONTANA, Community Room, Billings Public Library

Please join Zonta Club of Billings and Billings Public Library for our next event on Tuesday, April 11, 7-8 p.m. when our guests will be Anna Paige and Ashley Warren. In this Artful Women of Montana talk, they will be discussing a multi-disciplinary approach to the arts, the importance of collaboration, and empowering community voice through writing.

From a desire to connect writers to one another and grow the literary community in Billings, Ashley Warren and Anna Paige created Billings Area Literary Arts (BALA). Active in the writing community, both Ashley and Anna are faculty at Montana State University Billings, poetry teachers with Arts Without Boundaries, and instructors for Big Sky Writing Workshops. Through BALA, they host bi-monthly Write-Ins where they invite the community to “occupy space in form of creation.”

Ashley writes fiction and poetry. She’s a graduate of the Stonecoast MFA program, and her work has appeared in The Examined Life, Easy Street, and in the anthology Poems Across the Big Sky II among other places. She was recently an Artist-in-Residence with the Billing Public Library and teaches youth in the juvenile detention system through the nonprofit organization Free Verse.

Anna is freelance journalist, photographer, and poet. A Montana Slam Grand Champion, Anna has also been named Best Spoken Word Artist by the Magic City Music Awards in 2012 and 2014 – 2016. She’s performed spoken word poetry in several collaborative pieces, including a short act in Billings’ Fringe Festival and with Terpsichore Dance Company of Montana. She also co-hosts “Resounds: Arts and Culture on the High Plains” on Yellowstone Public Radio.

April 26th 5:30 – 7:00pm READINGS FROM POEMS ACROSS THE BIG SKY II, This House of Books, 224 N. Broadway, Billings.  

Poems Across the Big Sky II is a significant collection of Montana poets that came out late in 2016. Lowell Jaeger, the editor, wrote that the collection is an “effort to uncover hidden talent, to combine novice poets and acknowledged poets, to pay homage to Montana’s many voices, many poems.” Billings writers are well-represented. Come to hear your neighbors share their poetry of our place. This House of Books, from 5:30 PM to 7 PM. We gratefully acknowledge the effort of Corby Skinner, who wrote the Humanities Montana grant that allows Lowell Jaeger to attend our event.

Things of the Week 3/8/17

Things of the Week 3/8/17
Got this message on my teacup the morning after I listened to the podcast about poverty myths and was reminded of the misguided ways many of us think about public assistance. At the risk of oversimplifying complex issues, I think this four-word mantra says a lot. 

#Trypod:

I love podcasts. Every time I reconnect with friends I haven’t seen in a long time we always end up talking about podcasts. My go-to conversation starter at parties is “I heard this podcast…” almost as often as “I read this article…”

Most of my friends are already listening to podcasts but you, dear reader, might have friends who have yet to visit this magical, auditory land. See advice from Night Vale Podcast above. Meanwhile, here are some episodes I’ve taken in recently…

Radio Lab Presents: On the Media: Busted, America’s Poverty Myths: This was one of those podcasts where I could feel my perceptions changing as I was listening. I felt myself getting angry, too, as the episode deconstructed tired phrases like “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and heart-wrenching examples that make the idea of safety nets seem futile (or like a farce altogether). You can check out the whole series here.

Zapping Your Brain to Bliss (Note to Self):  I admit while listening to this episode I was like, “Where can I get $200 so I can try the Thync Kit?” Living with a brain injury, the idea that there is a device that could help with relaxation seemed almost too good to be true. Like Manoush, I’m still not sure I’d want to use the machine. I think there is some value to the ritual behind relaxation that helps us turn relaxation into a healthy habit. Also, one of the researchers interviewed mentioned he was wary simply because he wasn’t sure how the rest of the brain might be affected. And that made me be like, “Yeah, no thanks.”

The Horror, The Horror: “Get Out” And The Place of Race in Scary Movies (Code Switch)A fascinating episode on the intersection of pop culture and race through the lens of horror movies. I don’t typically watch horror movies but despite my unfamiliarity with the topic, this episode was rich with insights, both specific and broad.

Researching: Reasons for unintended pregnancies. Working on a revision of my novel that requires my protagonist to be older and hence, runs into problems in a more “adult” way. I came across this article from 2012 and found myself still surprised by the findings, even five years later.

“Why We Keep Accidentally Getting Pregnant” by Lindsay Abrams,  7/26/2012 on The Atlantic

Watched: Unreal, the Lifetime Network drama inspired by The Bachelor. I swear this show was made for me. I’ve watched The Bachelor with my mother and sister-in-law as part of a “trash tv night” we’ve had once a week for years. During our viewings, I was always the cynical conspiracy theorist, guessing at what “really happened” to inspire the events we were watching. In Unreal, all my conspiracy theories were validated and then put on steroids. The show is a fiery car crash and I can’t. Look. Away.

(Mini) Things of the Week 3/1/17

Question of the week: After a minor kitchen incident, how does one successfully cut a mango?

Answer: Get your husband to do it for you while you grab the band-aids.

READING

“The Rise of Roxane Gay” by Molly McArdle, February 22, 2017 on Brooklyn

“Against Readability” by Ben Roth, February 21, 2017 on The Millions

Goddesses in Everywoman by Jean Shinoda Bolen 

WATCHING

The Indiana Jones Triology: I had only seen the third movie as a kid, so I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Temple of Doom for the first time this week. Gotta say, I don’t feel like I was missing much. Yes, these movies are supposed to be set in the 30s, but the gender and racial stereotyping was a bit much.

Happy Birthday, Page:

Upcoming Workshops

I’ve been collaborating with a lot of great artists lately thanks to the various writing groups and organizations I’ve joined over the last few months. Through these collaborations, I’ve put together a variety of workshops that I’ll be offering in my local community. For ongoing events and workshops check out my new Events page. Here’s a peek at what’s coming up:

 

FEB 23: Channeling the Feminine Divine – A Workshop of Self-Discovery

Tap into your inner goddess and create a connection to the divine in this workshop of self-discovery. Create meaningful change in your daily habits as you learn about feminine archetypes through the Greek Goddesses Athena, Aphrodite, Artemis, and Persephone.

In this course, led by creative writers and spiritual consultants Ashley Warren and Anna Paige, you will be introduced to the strengths of each goddess and how to apply those characteristics to modern life. Using guided meditation and writing exercises, you will connect to your inner goddess and the divine feminine within.

The course includes a special Vintage Apothecary Goddess Oil blend.

LOCATION: Better to Gather Events at 2404 Montana Ave.
DATE: February 23
TIME: 7-8:30PM
COST: $35

What should I bring?: yourself, a pen and a journal.

Click here to register

MAR. 18: Movement as Inspiration 

We often use the term “muscle memory” to refer to motor learning. But beneath these patterns of repetition committed to procedural memory, our bodies hold many stories. We have scars and injuries, birthmarks, tattoos, allergies, and a bad haircut or two. As we write the stories of our bodies, we access opportunities for understanding and healing. Join Ashley Warren and Nia Technique instructor Aimee Carlson for a workshop using both movement and writing exercises to jumpstart the creative process. Participants do not need to have significant movement or writing experience to participate.

Date: Saturday, March 18th
Time: 1:00-3:00pm
Location: Sky Studio, 101 Lewis Ave.
Cost: $25
To register: email Ashley Warren at ajoybliss@icloud.com

MAR. 30: My Voice, My Mantra

In an environment of constant information, what words are you using? How is language serving you or holding you back? In this workshop with Anna Paige and Ashley Warren, we will guide you through writing exercise to find your voice. Then together, we will distill these discoveries into a phrase or affirmation that holds meaning for you.

To help you carry this practice into your everyday life, we will create a necklace that will serve as a physical representation of your mantra.

LOCATION: Better To Gather 2404 Montana Ave.
DATE: March 30
TIME: 7-8:30PM
COST: $35

What should I bring? Yourself, a pen and a journal

Click here to register