An Ever Narrowing Stage

A Family Outing To Renaissance Faire 1970
A Family Outing To Renaissance Faire 1968
A Family Goes to Pleasure Faire, 1968

I unearthed a lot of photos last weekend. The long look back over forty-plus years of Faire was useful. It gave me perspective on the current situation. I had forgotten just how big Faire used to be. I’m not just talking about size, though there was a lot more space, and there were a lot more of us. No, the quality of the spell we cast collectively created an energetic container that we filled with a place that never was, and always will be. Back then we were a community, trusted to play our part in the act of creation. There were fewer rules and more magic.

I was told by a dear friend “If you’re not having fun, it’s on you.” It was meant well, more the Zen master with the rod than Bill Sykes with a bludgeon, and I did try seriously to follow the core of truth in that advice. Maybe it is me. I’m older, and perhaps not as easily amused. My old friends are fewer, and there are new faces among them, but that isn’t it either. I  play on the streets, but with the determination of the lone salmon fighting its way to the source instead of the player grabbing an outstretched hand, leaping effortlessly in the dance, trusting the magic will be there to catch me. I even tried creating a new character and going back to busking to see what would happen. There are bright spots. Singing choruses in the afternoons with great and generous people in an environmental area that is open for the public to join us is tasting the past. It’s good to see the friends that are left. It is still possible to catch the edge of magic, and just for a moment lose oneself in Faire. Spirits still move between worlds. I can’t expect things to be the same as they were years ago and they shouldn’t be. Time marches on, change is part of life, but the river flows from the same source.

The magic has been squeezed into such a tiny space! The eyes are always on us. What are we wearing? What are we doing? Must be sure not to step out of line, to draw focus from a performance or break a rule. Above all, if you do, don’t get caught!  Now we sit in neat rows in  Mad Sal’s, singing along at the right times to prompt the crowd and create the proper soundscape. We take our gigs and conversations outside, the designated place for background color and noise. Living your character all day long is the exception, not the rule, and enough people drop character at the curtain to make it the boundary of the lovely illusion that is only half there as it is. We work Faire, instead of play. Disney has replaced Dickens. Our passes must be shown without exception to pass back and forth past the guards hired for the event. There is no more security and crew, people who knew us, were part of us.

Safety is an issue, I understand that. Trust has long ago been broken. Space is at a premium in a venue we have long outgrown. There have always been broken stairs and differential treatment that mirror the society we live in, but the sharp separation between customer and Faire folk was never so stark, and we looked after each other far more than we do now. The constant carding at the door and in the venue by strangers jerks us back into the present we are supposed to be casting a temporary spell on and we can’t pull the willing visitor into the dance any more.

Faire was always a dance on the edge. We played with time, with language, with the energy. It was never safe, and things have always happened that shouldn’t. Yes, it is past time to change some of those things, but never before were we ever so powerless that our only real option was to strike. We let union be, a song instead of a movement. We were a community, that family that management–for they have become management–keeps talking about.

Faire was a dance on the edge, but it wasn’t just physical. For a few short weeks we were part of another time and place, and the people who paid to get in came to taste it, and sometimes become part of it. You could get in free of charge if you did the thing Faire asked of you that day. Perhaps it was wearing a specific costume or the reciting of a Shakespeare sonnet. You played Faire and were let through the magic door to play your part. There were more participants and more room. Every inch was not sharply delineated for stage and booth and alestand. The village or London Town had twists and turns and places where magic could happen. The streets did not run in straight lines. There wasn’t a microphone to be found on the site and silence was not required at the sharp barrier where street now becomes stage. Players did not demand absolute attention because they knew how to take and hold stage, and when to release it. Our allegiance was to the illusion, not the script. Mad Sal’s roared with laughter and song, and you could play skittles inside, drink and converse in what was for a brief moment a real dockside alehouse, not a stage set with a bar outside.

Faire was always trying to rein us in, but back then they never succeeded. Danse Macabre could get away with tiptoeing across Main Stage and the players adapted instead of objected. A whole procession could disappear into a magic privy because the crew built the privies and one of them had doors on both sides. It was years ago before rented plastic boxes became the norm, before people of color were hired to clean the bathrooms and pick up the trash, no longer part of the crew, part of us. Yes, times have changed, the books balance much better than they did back then, but where is the magic that flowed like water and carried us halfway to Faerie? The ragged heroes have long disappeared around the last bend. The day has died like a rose. The Faire has come to a close.

Times change and so do we, the spirit of Faire a sleeping Beauty lying somnolent in the bed of Procrustes. Black Point has become Patterson Abbey. We are more concerned with the distance between plate and cutlery than we are with the people who spin a continuous reality out of the whole cloth of history. It is more important to have a costume, pattern carefully selected from an ever-dwindling range of years that matches the palette of the show than to wear clothes that suit our characters and their stories. We will be measured and photographed, the garb we provide at our own expense cleared in every detail before it can even be made. A tart may not wear a tattered ball gown she purchased at the old clothes market no matter how careful the research the participant has done to build the backstory. Like goes with like, the regimented sections of the stage will be respected. We will have Fagin and Oliver Twist, but Sikes must not kill Nancy. It’s a family show, after all.

Phoenixes Rise

 

A Scow Schooner Sailing Under The Golden Gate Bridge

A decade ago I had come to the end of a road. After a door that shouldn’t have been was firmly closed, I was standing high above San Francisco Bay, looking at the Golden Gate beneath a soft blue sky and the heights of Mt. Tamalpais to the north. I decided to rise. I raised my arms to the wind and asked to be blown to my allies. Then I wrote this chant.

Very soon after, I became a Druid. I haven’t looked back.

Erin Rose Conner · Phoenix Chant

Cities Are Cauldrons

Gibbous Earth rising over moon

Gibbous Earth rising over moon
Earthrise, Apollo 8, Dec 24th, 1963

There was a bit in the latest Cosmos where Neil Degrasse Tyson compared our planet to a cauldron. I think of cities the same way. Some like to speak disparagingly of “city people” and our myriad faults, but I see it differently. Cities are perfectly natural expressions of humanity. They are our beehives, our anthills. They are where we come to become more than the sum of our parts.
I live in what was once a very fashionable part of town. It is a neighborhood time forgot. We live in a beautiful, if a bit run down, Craftsman cottage, built on the grounds of a mansion that has also seen better days. Two back yards away is one of its outbuildings, a separate property now that went from being a church to a dwelling. It has a swath through the block, as does the mansion, which now lies on a narrow strip of land that fronts on one avenue and backs onto another. The main path to the front door is lined with huge Tasmanian blackwoods, a forest in the center of the block. The owners are busily putting in palm trees wherever there isn’t a blackwood or an oak. I oscillate between worry and gratitude, because their tastes seem to be tropical, but at least the old trees are not being cut down yet.
My city is young enough to remember the forest that once was there. There are still oaks here, and redwoods, remnants of a vast old growth forest that once covered this area. Two buses away, an insurmountable obstacle in Pandemic times, I have my choice of the Redwood Bowl and the site of the once massive Navigation Trees, or Leona Heights, where the last old growth redwood of that forest grows. Two blocks down from our house a wide avenue runs in the bed of what was once a stream. The lake down the hill was once marshland, the lake created from it in the mid-nineteenth century as a bird sanctuary. We humans, as we often do, have put trees in everywhere, replacing the forest that once was there with one more to our liking. They look like our neighborhood, many sizes, shapes and colors, most never meant to grow here, but getting along together as best they can. Aspens, birches, magnolias, and the palms. There are olives dotted through the neighborhood, doing well in our Mediterranean climate, twisting in fantastic shapes and dropping olives on the street every fall.
The trees must remain here, placed and chosen by us, but the people come and go. Most of my neighbors are only here for a few years, landing by chance, in the hope of a better life or a good real estate investment. We are the same. We came there because it was the only area we could afford, to stabilize our housing bill. We stay because we can’t afford to move—yet. But the land is beautiful, and it isn’t so bad a place. We are part of the land, transient, true, living on Ohlone land, but we have never known the lands of our ancestors. Really, where would that be? How many different places did your ancestors come from? Mine were scattered all over Northern Europe. Do I return to Germany? Scotland? Other places my family had forgotten before I was born? All we can do is to live in peace with the people we find ourselves among, and try to leave these places better than we found them.
My partner and I are city kids, and frankly proud of it. We can get along with anyone, of any ancestry. We don’t fear hearing other languages spoken around us or different customs. We learn from the people around us. Once the pandemic is over and businesses open once more, it’s nice to be able to eat the foods of other nations, cooked in the restaurants immigrants run. It’s handy to be able to get ingredients and goods from places far from us in our own area. it’s interesting to live where we do—not always pleasant, but no place is all wine and roses. More than anything, it’s really nice to be ourselves. No, we are not always accepted, but we aren’t living in places where we are a minority of two. We once did try to move to a place like that, where we could have afforded a large house and the forest was nearby—but our same gender relationship and California plates caused the locals to spit us out as if were were some kind of infection, there to “Californicate” them. All we wanted was a place to live and a new community to become part of. But we are still here, in the area we were both born and raised in.
Cities, I believe, are where we gather to share new ideas, to find some solutions to the problems that ail us all. We humans have made a mess of things. The yardstick of money and social position that we have used since before Europeans first came to this continent has put an end to an entire geologic epoch. We made this mess, and we can fix it—if we choose to. We have all the tools we need. In the city, it’s possible to try out new solutions. The inputs that support our lives there come from outside, of course, but they don’t need to. We have chickens in our backyard, there are goats in our neighborhood, and community gardens. No, of course we can’t feed ourselves or our animals—yet, but we are trying out the ideas that could teach us to do so. We are growing gardens that aren’t monocultures. Some of us are walking, biking, fixing things instead of throwing them away—and making connections with people who are different from us. I truly mean it when I say refugees can live in my neighborhood. They already do. I have no right to tell anyone where they can live, and I hope to live long enough to see a world where my partner and I are welcome to live anywhere. I hope to see us exchange the yardstick of money and the Great Chain of Being for the compass needle of the health of all beings and all peoples.
The pandemic is a terrible, terrifying gift. We are the frog thrown into the boiling pot instead of slowly parboiled. So many of us are dying needlessly, so many more suffering, overworked, unpaid, sick, starving. Every inadequacy we have in our relationship with each other and the rest of the world is being laid bare. I wish it didn’t happen this way, but it has. It truly doesn’t matter whose fault it is, only what we will do with what we have, right here, right now.
The Cauldrons of the Cities are one of the places we will find our solutions. In many ways they are the ground zeroes of this disaster. Here where we are crowded together is the place where time is sped up. Keeping our distance is impossible for many and difficult for all. Lockdown happened as spring began, when we are all crazy to go outside after a long winter. We need to be out, but we need to keep the streets and buses empty for those who must go out.
Our search for individual solutions, a major thread running through our attempts to come to grips with climate change, are laid bare in this pandemic. We have groups of people—groups! demanding their freedom from lockdown, telling each of us to make our own decisions about whether or not we feel safe enough to go out. They want the freedom to go to work, get a haircut, go to the beach, as if that is an individual choice, something we can do without affecting anyone else. It is interesting that the fact that the stylist that will have to come to work or the retail clerk who will no longer be able to collect unemployment is seen as having a choice.
The truth is, our previous choices have been taken from us, and this is a great loss. It can’t be transferred to anyone else, and there is no one to blame who will make us whole. Only we, together can do this, by doing the work before us. I can hear the Earth saying “Stop. Be quiet and observe.” Not being able to go on with business as usual is quite a teacher. We have forgotten how to do so many things for ourselves. We don’t know where so many things integral to life come from. As the air begins to clear and the neighborhood begins to quiet down, what can we see and hear that we missed before? What can we actually live without, without too much pain? What better options have come to us in this time of great change and terrible loss? How can we become part of the solution instead of the problem? What will the next months bring?

The Sickness

I got it! Why Pantheacon left such a bad taste in my mouth—why, of all the years I’ve gone, I got sick this time. Con crud has always passed me by before. I thought my “secret” was purely physical, a protection conferred by my homeopathic remedies and the fact that my job exposes me to basically everything, as well as all the walking I do, the trash I pick up barehanded, etc., etc.

It was something much older that made me sick, something I thought I had learned back in grade school when I became an outcast, and later, when I couldn’t find a boyfriend like everyone else. I realized then that there was no point in wanting what everyone else had. I knew, in a moment much like the one I experienced at the beginning of this week, that what everyone else has will never make me happy. Life is not one size fits all.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit it. What I wanted was to become a Big Name Pagan. I wanted to give talks and write books and not have to go back to this job that was not the deal I made with the Earth, lo, those many years ago.

Now it isn’t that I don’t have a book in me. I have many, as a matter of fact. I have songs and albums, the Awen has a metric fuckton of work for me to do. But not for attention. Not for status. For Gaia, and for Saturn, my taskmaster. For Taliesin, my inner container, strong and skilled, into which the Awen pours beauty. I forgot for a moment that all this stuff wants is a conduit to come through into the world, and that Cerridwen told me that all I had to do was serve my purpose. The rewards will come, and their form will be surprising. Jupiter will make me wealthy. I just have to remember that my conception of wealth has very little to do with money.

I forgot all this, and I made myself miserable and sick.

I’m all better now. Life is crammed full of wonder and wealth. The sun shines gold on me, the rain pours silver on my head. I met Rambling Jack Elliott yesterday, a Uranian twist of fate if ever there was one. I accompanied him around the vessel he knew well back in the day, listened to his silly jokes, and how he was chased off the boat at nineteen by the guy who used to own her in the Thirties. Amid the sound of the chipping hammers I’d do anything to be able to swing again, pulling dainty little covers off capstans that have no need of such fripperies, pulled from my servant’s station where I had been placed by the Hollywood Pirate who will never see these gallant Ladies as anything more than a rung on the ladder of status.

I went back to my bench, with my laminated slices of My Lady’s History, under the cotton candy clouds, beneath the brilliant blue sky, and realized that I am exactly where I need to be, for now. My sentence is coming to an end, with every status-seeker who moves on, with every story I tell of the 5,000 year history of deforestation that passed through our vessels, with every light that goes on behind the eyes of some traveler who thought they were coming to see the “pirate ships.”

You got more than you bargained for when you ran into this Bard, no? My workplace got more than it knew when it hired a resident Witch. And the Ladies got exactly what they deserved.

Yew

Ancient yews growing wild

Ancient yews growing wild
Ents at Kingley Vale

 

Yew.
Deep peace of the Grove.
Silence in the back of my head.
Like the Druid’s tonsure, forbidden at Whitby.
When the Wild Celtic Church was tamed,
Rome had its way at last.

Or did it?
The Yews still stand in churchyards.
Ancient, filled with silence.
The deep peace of the grave is not so different
Once grief has fled.
Memory fled.
The slate shedding
The names graven upon them.

I touch the young Yews,
Planted in a row on Hyde Street.
Have they seen a century yet?
Maybe.
I touch that Peace
Is it the same?

 

Table tombs at Llangar Church
Table Tombs at Llangar Church

Spirit of San Francisco

Goddess of Victory, Union Square

Goddess of Victory, Union Square
Goddess of Victory, Union Square courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

 

1857
Barefoot in skirt with tattered hem
Rising from the shallows where the Embarcadero would stand.
She turned, her hair flowing over her shoulders.
Pirouetted, changing as she span,
Her hair caught up, a trident in her hand as she poses
High above Union Square.
1967
She lies on her back on Hippie Hill
Staring at the ribbons of fog dancing on the edge of blue sky.
Acid rainbows, Cannabis kiss
Dancing with the Dead at the Fillmore. 
Tomorrow is here, Love is the answer. 
My younger self dances, kicks over mushrooms in the wet grass. 
2017
A skirt of stars, pinpricks of Light in darkest night.
Chrome boots with heels pushing her up to the sky.
Thin as the beams of steel holding up the high rises.
San Francisco has always had a taste for the finer things.
A talent for standing on the knife edge.
Techie dreams, her artists driven away, for now.
We may yet return 
When her Phoenix falls, 
Rises again.