To say my partner is a good guy would be a profound understatement. He is truly one of the kindest and most generous people I have ever met…and I’m not just saying that because I have to share a bathroom with him. For as long as I have known him, he has always made a point of giving to others. Whether it’s his time, his money, or even his most treasured belongings, he’s always happy to step up and help someone in need, and to do it with a smile.
Mark’s most outstanding physical trademark has always been a very long ginger ponytail. He’s always been into heavy metal music and long hair tends to come with that territory. Plus, having a long ponytail was something polite society didn’t really want him to do in the time and place that he grew up, so maintaining it was always kind of an act of defiance for him, a little way of flipping off said polite society and all it stood for.
After 30+ years of maintaining the long hair, he’s now ready to give it up, all in the name of charity. Because, like I said, he has a habit of taking being a good guy to a whole different level.
The charity he’s choosing to support with this endeavor is the National Immigration Law Center. Unless you’ve been living under an actual rock for the past couple years (is there room under there for me? Seriously, I can bring snacks), you understand why NILC has become so important to so many people. Even so, I still encourage you to click the link above and read more about what they do and how they are helping some of the most vulnerable among us. They are a vital resource in these days of seemingly constant shifting interpretations of immigration law and, quite frankly, human rights.
I’m going to throw up the link for Mark’s GoFundMe campaign below, but I’d like to point out here that NILC is a four star rated charity and has a direct funding agreement with GoFundMe, so any donations made to Mark’s campaign will go DIRECTLY to NILC, not to his or my bank account. I don’t want any ambiguity on this – we will not personally be benefiting financially from any donations made. Which, of course, is as it should be.
If you want to throw a few bucks at it, we’ll love you forever. If you don’t have any money spare but you want to share the link around to get more eyeballs on it, again…undying love. If you want to shut your browser window and forget you ever heard of the NILC, well…you do you. I don’t have the time or energy to be mad about it.
Thanks for your consideration!
So, the other day I was skimming through my Facebook feed, as I am often wont to do of a weekday afternoon when the rigors of sending the same emails to the same people over and over again have inevitably brought my brain to teeter on the precipitous brink of madness. It was during the initial aftermath of the recent SCOTUS decision about the case where that asshole baker in Colorado decided they didn’t want to make wedding cakes for gay couples. There was a friend on my feed posting about how she’s ordained and would be happy to perform marriage ceremonies for any gay couples in any state, etc. That made me smile of course, because love is love. People should be able to marry whoever the frig they want (assuming both parties are down with it, obviously), and it ain’t nobody’s business what flavor of human another human likes to boink.
But it also got me thinking. Not the boinking thing, I mean (although…), but rather, the ordination part. The person who had posted this was someone I call a friend, but I’ve never met her in person. We’ve never had any talks about beliefs, philosophy, or religion, but given the avenues through which I became acquainted with her, I was pretty comfortable in assuming that she leaned pretty atheist. Rather than send her a message and start asking all kinds of probing questions about her personal beliefs and religious affiliations, I instead took myself over to trusty ol’ Google and typed in “how to get ordained”.
Side note here: if anyone ever truly hacks me, I’d be 97% willing to give up my credit card and bank account information in exchange for the solemn promise that they not compile and publish a comprehensive list of my lifetime Google search terms, because HOLY POLE DANCING CHRIST, I would never live it down. Like…you don’t even know. You don’t WANT to know. It’s that bad.
One of the first things that came up in the results was a site called Universal Life Church. Having never heard of them, I was 50/50 on whether it was some kind of “every sperm is sacred” situation (you know, the ones who say you can’t even masturbate because THINK OF THE POTENTIAL CHILDREN), a cult like that one that starts with an S and ends with -ology and kind of sounds like the word ‘science’ (I am genuinely afraid of them and refuse to type out the whole name online. If you aren’t afraid of them, you need to watch Louis Theroux’s movie about them. Google it. I’m not even linking it because I’m convinced they keep track), or maybe just a nice, gentle, UU-type “don’t be a dick and everything will probably be alright” kind of thing.
Wait, that was three options, not two. So rather than 50/50 I was…33.3333/33.3333/33.3333…ish. Shout out to infinite decimals, heyyyyy.
Fucking A, where was I?
Ok, yes. Universal Life Church. I held my breath, clicked on the link, and was immediately greeted with a cheerful banner image of a dove in flight, with the words “We are all children of the same Universe”. Following this was a link to a video of Conan O’Brien proffering his own certificate of ordination from Universal Life Church. I exhaled. These were clearly my people.
There was a big blue button mid-page that said “Online Ordination”, flanked with what I originally thought were lightening bolts (me, internally: fuck yes, let’s get Norse up in this motherfucker! Zap me with some Odin-juice! Wait…), but what I now see are actually rough approximations of olive branches. Which make more sense, to be fair…but are a little on the boring side.
I clicked on the button. Through the dark arts of tiny HTML gnomes with pixel-axes (get it? Heeee), I was whisked to another page which said a bunch of stuff about how this ordination was legal in all states, how I couldn’t lie and give a fake name, some crap about online communities that were available if I had questions, etc. Much more interestingly, there was also a sidebar showing some of the other famous people in addition to Conan who had been ordained through the site. You know, in case I needed more confirmation that I would be in truly esteemed company. The list included such luminaries as:
- Lady Gaga
- Stephen Colbert
- Ian McKellan
- Paul McCartney
- Richard Branson (maybe not as compelling of a selling point as they think)
- that Beneflick Clumbermonk guy, and…
…wait for it…
…Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, who I personally have oft considered worshiping as a supreme being in and of himself.
The next step was a web form to fill in. First and last name, email address, state and country of residence, and password to use for the site. I filled it all in and read the fine print at the bottom, which was just some junk about being 18 years of age, and how to access your paperwork later on.
I hovered over the “Submit Ordination Request” button for a minute, wondering what I was getting myself info. Would there be a background check? Would I have to submit references who could vouch for the fact that I’m not secretly a puppy-kicker? Would I have to demonstrate my knowledge of…well, anything?
My gaze floated back up to the ecstatic pearly grin of Mr. The Rock. It was almost as if he was offering a benediction through the computer screen, a blessing for my interminable curiosity and the weird places it often takes me. And my roody-poo candy ass, of course.
I don’t THINK I actually uttered the words “I’m doing this for you, Rock…” out loud as I hit the button. My co-worker didn’t ask what the shit I was talking about at least, so I’m probably safe.
A split second after I hit the button, the screen flashed up with a big certificate with my name across it (my real name…I didn’t lie to the church like I do to most of social media), proclaiming me officially ordained, legally capable of performing marriages…
…and starting my own ministry.
[ Imagine a picture of my official certificate here. I can’t actually show it to you because it costs $39.95 to download and I haven’t coughed that up yet. You’ll just have to trust me.]
That’s right. I could actually start a Church of Rhubarbology, if I so chose. Or a United Church of Swank. Or I could start a religion where there were ascending orders of holiness named after the chapters in The Hobbit, where you’d have to complete thematic initiation rites for each order. I could start an actual church devoted to the worship of perfect avocados. Or the smell of freshly cut hay.
I COULD CREATE THE CHURCH OF LATTER-DAY STEVES.
In all seriousness, though: I didn’t actually do this as a joke. I saw the potential for amusement in it, sure…but my sincere motivation was to be able to make myself available to conduct marriage ceremonies for people that might otherwise have a hard time finding someone to do so. It is remarkable and continually infuriating to me that we still live in a country where some people can’t love who they want to love without being given a load of shit about it. If my silly little ordination adventure can be counted as taking a stand against that oppression, then I’m truly proud to do it.
And if you’ve already got an officiant for your big gay wedding but are having trouble finding someone to bake you a cake, I can sort you out there, too.
I promise I won’t even make you have rhubarb as one of the flavors.
It’s been a month and a day since we lost Junior.
This morning on the way out the door to head to work, I almost turned to Mark and asked him to check if Junie’s water dish was full. The dish hasn’t been in its spot for a month and a day.
I don’t hear him anymore, at least. For the first few days, I’d swear I could hear him snuffling in the living room or at the foot of the bed at night. I think my brain just automatically knew what sounds he’d be making when, and was filling them in of its own accord. My brain only wants to be helpful with remembering things when it comes to me being haunted, I guess. Go figure.
We still have all of his stuff. His bowls got washed and tucked away in the cupboard almost as soon as we got home. His harness and leash are still on the back seat of the car, which seems perfectly fitting as going for rides was just about his favorite activity. Most of his toys are still piled up in the same place we always returned them to on the rare occasion we bothered to tidy them. A few of his special toys got put aside in other places – his little stuffed bantha sits atop the carved wooden box his ashes are in on the table-cum-altar in the living room. LeRoy, the wee squeaky giraffe whose squeaker gave out but who Junie still often picked up and tried to make squeak, now resides on the bookshelf with some other mementos. L’Alligator the stuffed alligator whose head I once had to surgically reattach due to Junie’s frequent, enthusiastic attentions, sits on the desk upstairs in our bedroom. He’s a far quieter night sentry than Junior ever was, but we do feel like he’s getting the job done OK so far.
His beds are still there, all four of them (one for each bedroom and two in the living room), though Mark moved the one from the foot of our bed into the spare bedroom, and I tucked the favorite living room bed under the other, deeply hated living room bed (he took after me and had a complicated relationship with beds), so that we wouldn’t have to see them empty. We really should get rid of at least two of the beds. One belonged to our old dog Buttons and predated Junior by several years. The faux sheepskin atop the other one bears the scars of much scuffing, as Maltese tend to like to scratch up their bedding into a suitable nest before settling down to nap. We should go through the dozens of toys and donate some of them to the local shelter as well…but we’re not there yet.
It’s only been a month and a day, after all.
The other morning I was washing some pots before breakfast. A tiny soap bubble landed on the leaf of one of my African violets and didn’t instantly pop.
I’ve always loved soap bubbles. If my mom ever wanted to get me out of her hair for an extended period of time, all she had to do was hand me a bottle of bubble fluid and point me outside. HOURS of entertainment. The shine of them, the flow of liquid rainbows over their surfaces, the idea that a whole other world could be contained inside those ephemeral little spheres of soap film – they’re magic.
The little soap bubble on the leaf made me smile. I admired it a few times while continuing my chore, knowing that one of the times I glanced up at it again, it would be gone. I finished one pot, I finished another, and the bubble remained, cushioned on the soft hairs of the violet’s leaf. At that point maybe five minutes had passed and I was pretty impressed with the bubble’s tenacity so I grabbed my phone and took some pictures to remember it by.
By that time breakfast was ready, and after that I had to take Mark to work. On returning to the kitchen for a second cup of tea after I’d run Mark to work and walked the dog, I happened to look over…and see the bubble still there! It had been well over an hour at that point since the bubble landed on the leaf. But there it still was, its surface swirling madly with tiny iridescent storm clouds. Amazed, I very carefully picked the violet up off the windowsill to get a closer look. The bubble quivered with the movement but didn’t break. I admired it for a bit longer, then had to bid it goodbye because it was time to get ready for work.
That bubble clearly gave ZERO fucks about my measly human existence and flimsy preconceived notions of How Things Should Work though, because I shit you not, it was STILL THERE when I came back into the kitchen on my way out to work. It had made leaf-fall at approximately 6:15am and I took this video (linked – sorry, WordPress won’t let me upload it without paying them more money and I love you guys but god damn), just before I left the house at 9:15am. THREE HOURS that little bubble sat there, that I know of. It wasn’t there when I got home from work around 4:45, but who knows how long it actually lasted after I left. For all I know, it might have popped five seconds before I walked back in the door.
Now, listen: I don’t care what you want to tell me about humidity and surface tension and dust and whatever other cockamamie logical frigging math-doing mumbo jumbo (it’s always math’s fault. ALWAYS). This was straight up MAGIC. That was a MAGIC bubble with OTHERWORLDLY properties that landed on my MYSTICAL African violet in my SUPERNATURAL GOD DAMNED KITCHEN, and you will never convince me otherwise.
The world is a dumpster fire right now – it might continue to burn for the next twenty years for all we know – but as long as we can still find a little magic now and then, things aren’t completely lost.
Magic, motherfuckers. Hang on to it when you find it.
Today is my 8th wedding anniversary.
My husband got me a nice card and wrote a heartfelt note in it, then wrote a further heartfelt post on Facebook and included a link to our wedding song.
The card I got him has two baby goats on the front and inside it says “we goat together”. It was completely selfish because I’m the one that loves goats, not him. I also don’t have the attention span to stand in the store and read all the lines of text on all the pretty, sentimental cards. I suck at heartfelt notes, too. I’m really more of a long-form person.
And yet, for some reason he thinks I’m a keeper. I have a feeling a lot of it is to do with my willingness to incorporate bacon and/or cheese into most dishes that I cook.
My husband is a lot of things. He’s smart, but he’ll tell you he’s not. He’s an excellent writer. He is kind and has a generous spirit – he’s forever helping people out, even people he doesn’t know and will never meet. He’s principled but also compassionate. He’s funny. He sings his guts out no matter who might hear, because music is more important than what the neighbors think. He is sentimental and deeply sensitive. He has no time for close-minded, intolerant people, and yet he can somehow still be nice to them (which I am always in awe of, because it’s something I am utterly incapable of doing). He’s a champion-level trip planner, he’s incredible at cards (and most games in general, much to his poor-loser wife’s chagrin), and though he’d never in a million years admit it, he’s a natural leader. He’s wildly charming. He could sell ice to a polar bear at twice the normal mark-up and the polar bear would leave thinking she’d gotten such a good deal that she’d send all his friends over to buy ice from him as well. And, probably most important when it comes to being married to me, he has the patience of a god damned saint. Like, if there were a Nobel Prize for patience, they’d just rename it the Mark Armitage prize and stop even trying to give it to anyone else because no one else would ever even be in the running.
He keeps me afloat on days when all I can imagine doing is sinking. He laughs at my awful, puerile, completely inappropriate jokes. He drags me out of my shell and forces me to be social, but he’s also gentle and understands when I say I’m not up to it. He tolerates my inability to keep house and my (literal) piles of yarn. While he may not entirely understand my compulsive drive to always be making things, he never complains about the whiplash-inducing frequency with which I switch from craft to craft. He doesn’t hold my lack of executive functioning capability against me and he respects the weird routines I come up with to try and keep myself somewhat regulated. When I fall apart crying and can’t explain why, he doesn’t try to fix things and he doesn’t back away. He doesn’t think it’s weird that I stand outside for extended periods of time talking to the birds in the yard, or that I try to make friends with every animal that crosses my path (even when it’s maybe not super wise to do so), or that I sometimes repeat things over and over to myself in funny voices.
We’re not perfect. I’m still trying to learn how to not be alone inside my head all the damn time. Neither of us are A+ communicators, which is funny given that we both like to write. We’re both prone to making piles of stuff, and neither of us are super great at choosing to do chores when there’s fun stuff we could be doing instead. He takes really long baths and doesn’t like Led Zeppelin. But at the end of the day, we don’t have to be perfect, because we have each other to lean on and that’s better anyway.
And I’m still convinced that he’ll come around on the Led Zeppelin thing some day…
When I was a teenager, I had a Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers greatest hits CD. I think I may actually still have it, in fact. Anyway – the CD had a defect that caused a tiny skip in the first track, ‘Free Fallin’ ‘:
All the vampires, walkin’ through the valley
move West down Ventura Boulevard
On my CD, the skip was in the word “boulevard”, making it sound like some kind of syncopated contraction….like Tom had taken all the vowels out and was literally singing the abbreviation, “blvd”.
I had heard the song on the radio plenty of times and I knew it didn’t actually go like that, that it was either a microscopic scratch or a manufacturing glitch causing it, but I listened to that CD and that song in particular so many times over the years that it got stuck in my head. To this day, when I hear ‘Free Fallin’ ‘ and the skip DOESN’T happen my brain notes it and judges that version of the song, that particular split-second sonic experience, as ever so slightly sub-standard.
I’m not a music critic or a biographer and I certainly didn’t know Tom Petty personally, so it feels silly to try and eulogize him. What I can say is that I loved Tom Petty for his plain-spoken lyrical style. I loved that he was smart and sly and also a stoner, and didn’t give a shit who knew it. I loved that he was so versatile, writing everything from hard-charging rock like ‘Runnin’ Down A Dream’ to sensitive, almost bluegrassy-sounding diddies like ‘Wildflowers’. I loved his ridiculously nasal voice and his Scarecrow-goes-to-Hollywood looks, and I’ll miss him very, very much.
You belong among the wildflowers
You belong somewhere close to me
Far away from your trouble and worries
You belong somewhere you feel free
You belong somewhere you feel free
‘Wildflowers’ by Tom Petty
Halloween is my favorite. I know, it’s basically everyone’s favorite, but still. I love seeing the clever, creative and often ridiculously artistic things that people come up with for costumes. Also, I think it’s nice that there’s at least one guaranteed day a year where everyone can let their freak flag fly if they want to without being judged. Want to roll up to work made up like a mermaid with a shark eating your head and not have anyone even raise an eyebrow? Halloween’s your day!
Halloween also marks something more important in my personal calendar, which is the festival of Samhain. I won’t bore you with a history lesson on how most Christian holidays and a great many of their most sacred rituals were copied directly from or closely based on those of the pagan peoples that they then went on to subjugate, but there’s plenty of information available if it’s something you’re interested in reading up on.
Samhain was thought to be, at its earliest root, a festival to mark the bringing in of the cattle for the winter by the herdsmen of ancient Celtic tribes. During this time of year the herdsmen slaughtered animals to feed their tribes through the winter. They were getting the last of the plant-based food gathered as well, and getting ready for the long, cold season ahead. It was considered the beginning of winter, of the dark and unproductive (crop-wise) time of the year.
The transition period between summer and winter, the light season and the dark season, was also thought to be a time when the world of the living and the world of the dead drew near to each other. This is, of course, the origin of the “spooky” themes of our modern Halloween, but in ancient times this drawing closer of the two worlds was far more serious business. There were spirits that needed to be appeased in order for herds, food stores and families to make it through the winter, and dead kin who were thought to come back to re-visit their families for honoring and celebrating.
I am drawn to Celtic and Germanic pagan traditions in general, partially because that’s where my ancestry lies. My family came to what was then still “the colonies” from the British Isles, Germany and France, and were subsistence farmers for many, many generations on both sides of the Atlantic. I’m not a farmer myself and probably never will be, but that generations-deep synchronization with the seasons is something I still strongly feel and relate to. It probably also helps that I live in a very rural area where these seasonal cycles are to a certain degree inescapable whether one bases their livelihood on them or not. It’s a lot harder to lose touch with the change in seasons and what those changes mean for both man and beast when one lives in farm country.
Samhain, in particular, is also important to me spiritually because it affords me an opportunity to feel closer to lost loved ones. I’m not generally big into the “woo”. I don’t believe that I can light a candle and ask my dead grandfather to step through the veil for a nice chat, for example (although if you think YOU can do it, I’m willing to invite you over to try because I think that would be AWESOME). But, I do believe that this time of year, the spirits of the dead are closer to our own world and may have a better chance of hearing us if we speak to them. And really, who doesn’t speak to a dead loved one now and then anyway? It’s not actually that weird, if you think about it.
Whether you spend it getting your goats in from the summer pasture, passing out candy to trick-or-treaters, keeping an ear open for the voice of a loved one long passed, carving jack-o-lanterns, or even sitting inside with all the lights out pretending you’re not home, I hope your Samhain is happy and safe!
And for fuck’s sake, stop pronouncing it “sam-hane”, “sam-in” or SAM-anything. It’s saw-win. Or sow-in.