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On My Way to Center

My application for relocation has been re-approved. I had forgotten I could be required to move on. Yes, I have learned to shape-change. But you know the terror doesn't leave; it grows. I was so eager the first time, bound for enlightenment. “Where there’s fear there’s power,” I parroted blithely. This time I don’t feel ready; I'm afraid, because I know I will be different, and I don’t know what I am going to become. I don't know who I'm going to become.

Before I applied, I took instruction. "Find a type of person which is unfamiliar to you,” said the teacher, giving us our first assignment, “Even perhaps distasteful in some way. Study the character: costume, setting, dialect, body language, diet...." He told us of one student who dressed in rags and sat on the sidewalk in the same spot every day, learning to be a bum. He himself, a Priest of the Old Religion, steeped in traditions of struggle against Christianity which had persecuted his forbears—he chose to be Santa Claus, and got himself hired by a store at Christmastime.

So I try to be "a regular Mom," inspired by all the years my children have whined at me about my being too weird. I buy a bra and pantyhose, shave my legs and put makeup on every morning. The costume's not too hard, but I have trouble with the mindset. I can't get myself to buy junk food for my kids, watch dumb TV, gossip over coffee with neighbors.... I decide I haven't done the assignment very well, and leave it at that. I mean, why would I want to do any of that?

Then we relocated to Farragon-B and I had less choice. To some extent, I had to blend in. But I thought I'd do all right; the cultural distortion to B is supposed to be small, and I spoke the language even. Well, some.

Culture shock is more upsetting than I foresaw. If you've never experienced it there's no way I can communicate the impact of little differences. Try? Well, take their primary ritual, you've heard about it. Every town has several theaters, several rental depots, and at least two libraries (the public library, which is free, but has long waiting lists and blander compositions—and the underground one.) To a Farracan, a week without six of those rituals is cultural deprivation. What would one have to talk about? They take over every social occasion. You start at 20:00 with into/prep, break after maybe an hour to visit the buffet, and then do the main attraction. You can't ever schedule anything else for evenings, and there is no "afterwards" unless you're a nightowl.

Or else? See, you don't understand; there's no enforcement, or penalty: it's just that that's how everyone always does it, until when you have people over to your place you discover yourself knocking yourself out to do it the same way, even if you never have in your life before. Even if you don't particularly enjoy it. And you don't even think about it beforehand; you don't consider whether you have any alternatives. Afterwards maybe, when they're gone and you're cleaning up the mess, you feel a little disoriented: what have I done? But if you want to have people come over, you'll do it again.

Here's another example. Imagine you need an umbrella. You expect to find them for sale at all kinds of places, so people can find one wherever they are, when it starts to rain. But you don't. So you go to the local department store, right? Wrong. Umm—maybe a drug store? Nope. Closest thing to a drug store is a pharmacy; it sells medicine, herbs and skin paint. People do use umbrellas here, you've seen them. But the only way you'll ever find out where to get one, is to remember to ask a local—along with the fifty other things you're trying to remember to ask about. There are so many that you can't remember them all long enough to get them all written down, the first or the second or even the tenth time you think of each one. It slips your mind—until the next rain. So where do you buy umbrellas? At the hat store, of course. You get wet a lot, the first several months.

The children take it better, but the questions! How do I answer them? They learn so many things faster than I, and expect me to know more. To be their rock, and I feel like water.

Culture shock happens to you. Other change you set out to do consciously. You've got to have some protective coloration. For example how I practice the Craft, here where Holy Mother Rome has never been challenged. I thought I'd do ok because I was used to being a Solitary; though it's nice to work with a coven you don't need other people around to raise the energy for an effective spell. And it's not as though they burn you anymore; some people here are even beginning to talk with respect about "our Druid ancestors." But of course you can't call yourself a witch, that image is still totally negative. There's no such thing as a white witch; no Glenda the Good Witch.

Of course you do your best to speak the language, even in an area with many relocatees from your original zone. I was feeling rather proud of my progress until the day a new friend I liked a lot, a native Farracana, heard me speak Farrage: she laughed. No, no she explained, my grasp of the language was really quite good—but I sounded different. Part of it, she guessed, was the timbre of my voice; part the rhythm of my speech; part the grammar I used—but what startled her, the reason she laughed, was that I sound, she said, like a little girl. A five-year-old, perhaps.

This grated on me. I am a full-grown woman, with two middle-sized children. I am a responsible adult—I qualified for relocation!—and an adept of the seventh circle. I grew up in a culture that trivializes women by treating them as children, and I have worked hard to fight that image, in others' minds and in my own. I am competent, powerful, mature.

But eventually I realize there is justice in the image of me as a five-year-old Farracana. After all, I have studied the language about that long. I take great care with my pronunciation, trying very hard to get it right by mimicking what I hear. I am not capable of sophisticated grammar yet: indeed I find my lack of finesse with the language limits my very thought processes. If I can't say something in Farrage, often I have trouble thinking it. I try to shift my mind back to my mother tongue, but sometimes it doesn't work, and I get lost in between, in a pre-verbal awareness where all I can feel is the beating of my heart, the prickling of my muscles, the auras of the people around me.

In Raja Yoga class, Mahatmaji used to say all the time "Neti, neti—I am not this, I am not that." You must break the attachment to all concepts of self. They limit you: any concept you can form, any belief about who you are, is false, incomplete, misleading. Another of my old lessons that suddenly seems more relevant here.

The only thing is, what is left? how can a human being function without knowing who she is? It is true that as this goes on, as I find the process of relocation whittling away at who I thought I was, I do still feel there is something there, at my center. Of course, as soon as I think about what I feel, as soon as I think that word/concept, "center," I should be thinking next "Neti, neti...."

Now we are relocating again, this time to a C. Not even just a different B. You know what a C means. What makes them think I'm ready for such a radical change? Is it fair to the children? What will I become there? To prepare myself, I go to my power place, the Mother Grotto. The water chuckles through the central pool in the same tones I have always found comforting; the arching earth embraces the space protectively. Shall I sleep here on the pallet by the pool, ask for guidance in dreams? No, there is something else I have to do, this visit. For the first time I see an opening in the back wall, where the cave goes deeper. I must go in there.

In the dim tunnel, stalactites glisten overhead and on the walls. The path, luckily, is smoother. Then I round a bend and it is dark. I have no light. But the stalactites still glitter, like stars in a night sky. The path goes down, I know not where. I surrender myself to you, Mother.

The path leads my feet: though it has become a little rougher, I never need to reach out and touch the walls. The only way I know I am in the Earth is the feel of her under my feet. Suddenly it is very rough, I am afraid of tripping. I do trip, I start to fall. And continue to fall: I do not hit the ground. I am not in the Earth any longer; I am falling through a black sky with stars. But still I do not hit ground. I have lost contact with her; I am flying.

Yes, it is exhilarating, it is wonderful. But I do not know how to fly! I have never flown! Where am I going? Who am I?

© Copyright 1990 Catherine Holmes Clark