The Isle of Skye

Yes, I know it’s not in Ireland. But it’s on the list of places to see. Scathach, like Macha, is one of those people from myth that doesn’t get much ink. If it weren’t for her, Cuchullain would never have become the warrior he did. In fact, there are only two sources that I’ve ever found that mention her at all, and the story of Cuchullain’s training is the one with the most info. I think she deserves a song. I would love to write it. I’ve been trying to for years, but there just isn’t enough material. The story of Cuchullain’s training tells us about him, and the day to day running of Scathach’s school, but next to nothing about her. She might have sprung up from the island she teaches on for all we are told.

There are possibly related stories. The Norse Skadi shares a lot of the same spirit. And the Scythians are another possible Indo-European connection. But I don’t want to be a Roman, calling every similar deity “The Gaulish Jupiter,” or “The German Hermes” or some such.

What does Scathach have to say? What song might she and I make together, if I go and ask her? I plan to start here: Dun Scaith.  It’s a pretty forbidding place. I gave Google Earth quite a workout last night. And a friend of mine tells me that she was told that the Isle of Skye is a place you visit in the summer, the wind is so strong trees don’t stand up to it.

Maybe that’s the point of this particular adventure. It doesn’t feel welcoming to me, it feels like I’ll be coming back empty-handed. But wasn’t that what Cuchullain faced? Scathach is not an easy teacher. The ruins of a castle that might have been built on the site of her fortress is a pretty nebulous place to cross half the world to see. A shadowy connection to begin looking for The Shadowed One. But when I look at Dun Scaith, I see that bridge that Cuchullain leaped. I see a story so changed by time that the original warrior woman whom it belonged to is all but gone from it.

Does she even care if we know it? Or is she happy to have it lost in the shadows? I don’t know. But I know there’s only one way to find out.

Busking total: $6.40. $4891.00 to go!


Yew and Cypress

Being largely ignored in a public place has certain advantages. 99% of the passers by either don’t register my presence, or are actively avoiding the fact that I’m there. Considering the inherent lack of privacy in a large city, and the mindset riding transit can put you in, I can understand and even sympathize. I look like any other panhandler to people above a certain income level.

BART stations are great teachers. There’s a great advantage to having the freedom to screw up. My music is written on the wind, as all music is. No one remembers what I did five minutes ago except me, and the few whose attention I have attracted. So I can do songs I’m in the process of learning and blow the lyrics–as I do, more often than I’d like. As a friend of mine has said, “It’s not the mistake, it’s the recovery.” I’m getting older. I’m not holding onto lyrics like I used to. That could be distressing, but I choose not to see it that way. Maybe that’s the beginning of wisdom? I’m hoping that like any other muscle, memory will be strengthened with use.

I had a voice lesson yesterday. And when I got to BART I actually sounded worse than I had before. But it was snake-on-skates worse. I was thinking way too much about what I was doing and fighting my body instead of just singing. I think I have yet to integrate what I was taught. I skipped open mic because there my performance will be heard, and remembered by that small community, and that’s therefore not a great place to screw up. But I have some time this morning to work with the insights and exercises before I go out again.

The Berkeley BART station was taken when I got there, so I went up to the UC campus. I stopped by the yew tree at the edge of the traffic circle on my way to coffee. There was a plastic bag under it, my signal to fill it with the trash that is so plentiful here. It was a chance to visit with the tree as well, and see it in this season, its berries red and inviting and deadly. On impulse I asked for one, and took it with me. I wrapped it in paper towel from the bathroom up at the library and washed my hands well. It’s on my altar now, the paper towel wet, my cauldron burning with Brighid’s fire close by. We’ll see if it wants to live. A yard as small as ours, and a tree so slow growing as the yew might coexist quite nicely–or it may have another place to go. Who can know? We shall see.

I got my coffee and went up to Bancroft Library to say hello to Athena. Her bronze head is set over the south doorway, a nod to tradition, and one of the many small shrines that are everywhere if you look. I was looking for a place to lay out my tarot cards. Behind the stairs, along the side of the building where no one goes, I found a pair of cypress trees and another yew. You can always tell the places no one goes. There’s no trash. Only a few new plastic bags, which I left as they were. It was obviously a squat and whoever had been there had left nothing else. I left no traces anyone could likely read and let the camper have the illusion of privacy, as I did.

The BART station had another musician in it when I got back to it, harmonica, guitar and rough blues, and I left him to it, to make my way home.

My cauldron is burned clean and my tale is told. Time to get to work!

Busking Total: $5.90. $4904.75 to go!

Sweet Spot

My favorite spot has temporary mood lighting. It’s been hired by Virgin Air and plastered with advertising that is primarily black and dark purple. The ceiling has been painted black and half the light shades have been changed from white to purple. I have a sexy black-clad woman with a bow and arrow to stand next to. It kind of rocks, actually.

I love this spot anyway because it’s long and narrow and has great acoustics as well as a fair amount of foot traffic. I can fill it without trying, and people have plenty of time to listen before they get to me, as well as plenty of places to stop just out of my direct sight and listen. For some reason, a lot of people seem to do that.

I thought it was going to be another bad day. My throat was full of crap and I sounded terrible. No one was taking the slightest notice of me. But I figured, hey, I really need the practice if I sound like this, and if no one was noticing anyway, I could screw up all I liked, right? So I worked the easy songs first, the ones that almost always sound good. Follow Me Up to Carlow, As I Roved Out, that sort of thing. After 45 minutes or so, I started getting tipped.

By the time I ran out of water, I didn’t really want to stop any more. And I passed another hurdle. I’m finally getting back into this enough to play for more than an hour and not have a sore throat and a headache. I’m beginning to feel what and where I’m tightening up and figuring out how to correct it.

Putting in the work is the secret to doing what you love, right? Stay with it till it stops being frustrating and starts being fun. I remember what this felt like before. I’m beginning to disappear into the song again, to let it speak through me. When I fill, so does the hat.

Busking total: $20.80. $4,920.95 to go!

Something is Definitely in the Air

I don’t know if it’s my situation, or all that hopefluff I’ve been loading like psychic carbs all week, or if we’re truly on the brink of change, but I can feel it. As if the whole world is pregnant with ourselves.

The chips are down. I’m counting out transit fares till next payday on my clipper card. I might have to borrow against my busking money in order to hit the BART stations this week. I have a friend living in my living room. My partner’s possible new job fell through this week. But we’re all working hard, doing whatever we can to turn this around. The friend has work, and is working to get more. My partner has a job, and is working all the harder on her freelance work. I’m working my job, and working on my gear–I made a new skirt, and have a look at the beginnings of my new bodhran case:


I’m also busking, as always, and learning repertoire. There are three open mikes that I know of this month, September 18th and 24th at the Freight and Salvage, and September 29th at MoJoe’s Cafe on Sacramento and Blake in Berkeley. And there are other things on the horizon.

I love this road! I am happy to be walking it, no matter how hard parts of it are. I truly would not be anywhere else but farther along it, given a choice. At last I am doing what I was meant to, following my dreams wherever they lead. And I am in good company. It’s hard for everyone right now, after all.

What’s your road? What are your dreams and what’s driving you toward them? I’d love to know because we all grow stronger, knowing we’re not alone.

Busking total: $10.40. $4941.75 to go!

Worlds Apart

That was just the recharge I needed. Well, maybe not the three nights of steady drinking, but nothing that morning coffee didn’t set right. Getting to spend the day barefoot, in my leine, listening to bands and hanging with my clan, now that was a taste of the world I want to live in.

The shape of this world, the feel of it, is more important than the details. It begins with a group I’m part of, that becomes more itself when I, or any other part of it arrives. A clan, a tribe, where hospitality is at the core and we all pitch in to do what is needful, getting it done and making it part of the fun. A group where we all are after giving and receiving our gifts, to each other, and to the world. The world is a better place for our being in it.

The Games run like that, as far as I can see. People pick up after themselves. The privies are cleaned regularly, and the campground is amazingly clean considering the fact that most of us are dependent on the facilities inside the Fairground for running water. People drink mightily, and pile their bottles by the trash cans, where they’re picked up at least once a day. People and groups are welcoming. Even if they’ve never seen you before, you’re treated as part of the clans. I always know more people when I leave than I did when I arrived. And no one cares a bit what I wear–something that rarely happens in the outside world.

The task now is to keep that energy and bring it back with me, in this neighborhood full of litter and tags, where people treat each other as strangers if they haven’t seen them before. We can do better, we will be forced to do so in the not too distant future if we don’t make the choice ourselves soon.

Yesterday was hard. I met with more indifference at Berkeley BART, which is generally my best station, than I ever have. The singing felt good, I was in better voice than I’ve been in a long time too. I can fill that space with voice and drum now, without blowing out my voice, and my repertoire has expanded back to the point where I can fill 45 minutes solid before I have to start throwing in repeats.

But there are people who smile, regardless, and people who hang around for whatever reason, and the green and growing earth is still to be seen everywhere if you look for it. I spent the weekend sleeping and walking on green grass, and there are trees to be seen from the BART train. There is grass growing through the pavement, and the UC Berkeley campus is half forest. The sunflowers have finally bloomed in my yard, and the tomatoes are ripening. The raspberry bush, all but dead two months ago, is actually going to put out flowers this year. Life, and hope, are everywhere.

What shape is your perfect world? Where do you see it peeking through in this one? Can you do anything to bring it into being?


Busking total: $4.85. $4952.15 to go!