This Manual for Observers of the Wolf Moon serves as a guide for the creation of Wolf Moon ceremonies. It also bears witness to a particular Wolf Moon gathering on January 20, 2019 in Harlem, New York. It unfolds in parts for contemplation and practice. This manual is part 1 of the 12 part Lunar Mythologies, a companion for the observation of the Full Moon throughout the year.
I’ve been searching for decades for an elusive shoe, the one that will end my desire for all other shoes. As I eagerly await a new, in-transit prospect, I have an Amazon-Prime-Delivery-moment to reflect on the nature and history of the quest.
I have a pronounced allergy to excess. A visceral objection to material encumbrance. Moreover, a nagging, consumerism-inspired anxiety created in the dissonance between the multiplicity of options and the dearth of satisfactions. I’m afraid my journey has now yielded excess instead of the desired monastic efficiency required to “think about other things.” Not that I am entirely so high-minded. I am aesthetically drawn to the ascetic. My fashion taste being in the ballpark of post-apocalyptic barbarian and Diane-Keaton-joined-a-cult. (An ex once described that ballpark as the “elegant retiree”, this before the advent of menocore.) “That’s a wicked woman”, a friend’s child remarked upon seeing me in an old opera coat of my mother’s with a $2, satin, Chinatown dragon hat.)
This ideal shoe must be practical, serving a range of weather, supporting varied occasions, and functioning in different walking conditions. While all of these pose unique challenge, I’ll wager that the topline to hem relationship presents the make-or-break situation, one with elaborately specific exigencies for each person. It’s a moving target because these shoes must work with a variety of pants, skirts, and dresses.
My memories of the incipient quest take me to grade school, where sneakers sufficed. Not to say that the type of sneaker was not a consideration, but once that decision was made, it was truly the shoe for most of living. The narrow range of situational requirements in that time of life eases the task. I had a pair of pale blue, Converse high tops that lasted through quite a bit of 5th grade. At some point near the end of high school, I moved on to black low top Converse, which I revisited again 15 years later in graduate school. A mistake I’ve now made too many times, alas, those shoes do not have arch support.
Several years ago in graduate school, I committed to a pair of black, mid-calf, motorcycle boots from J.Crew. (At the time, I also wanted the sweater to end all sweaters and jackets, a tall order. I ended up with a grey, cocoon shaped cardigan, which that same ex with a knack for sartorial nomenclature coined my “Romulan” sweater. I don’t think Romulans actually wore sweaters, but if you take a sidelong approach to imagination, you kind of get the idea.) I still have the boots, several soles later. My dog, Petey, once ate through the buckled straps and I had those repaired, too. On the last trip to the cobbler, a strap was lost and they again face sole repair. So I’ve come to terms with my waning enthusiasm for them. I consider throwing them away, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it. My perspective on their topline to hem relationship has changed over time (or maybe my body has changed), while they have stayed the same. A classic growing-apart.
The ugly sneaker seems to fit the bill for many, but I’m not there. All I see is “trend” in flashing neon. I imagine commuters changing out of these kinds of sneakers once they get to work, a kind of reverse Mr. Rogers. The comfortable shoes get you where you’re going, but the right pair is waiting for you when you get there. They’re forever relegated as the means in a troubling ends-justify-the-means scenario.
When you ask for my help I will let you sit in the garden.
I will invite you to sit in my garden, the one that I built, but only after you invite yourself. This insinuation on your part lets me know you are weak and avaricious and I will plan to care for you like I have cared for that garden. I will have you sit on the ground and I will cut your hair, watching it fall amongst the blades of grass. I do not like touching you, but I continue, marveling at how the thick, greasy masses are so unlike my fine, discrete strands. You may have cried, because you were lonely and also failed, but it doesn’t so much matter if you did. My hair is short then and I cut your hair to appear like mine, only slightly damaging it with a knife. This was to let you begin again, saying at the same time ‘Kappiyam bhante’ or ‘I am making this allowable’. I invite you to move into my home, although you also invite yourself because the movement is beginning. I invite you into my home, the one that I built so you can learn how to be me.
I know that I am leaving. I packed for the inn over a period of months. I drove through the mountains and lakes and drove back and forth past the front of the white building. Waiting to see if it would be my home and it did not answer, not with a flock of black birds, not with anything, but I was already packed. I collected all of the memories I could find and arranged them neatly and beautifully into small wooden boxes. I made sure these memories were the elaborately specific ones, the ones that could never be replaced or recreated. I left the more obvious ones out, the generalities, so that no one would really notice that the unusual ones had disappeared. (Being unusual, they were harder to see anyway, so it is never so difficult to make them disappear. Their absence rarely raises suspicion.) I wrapped the small boxes in strips of white paper and glue so that they could not be opened again. Looking at the small mummified boxes was a reminder of necessary omissions, but not of those things themselves, those would be lost forever. You hid things, too, with craft, using a small knitted pillow to conceal spent casings from bullets used to shoot law books, which were lined up for execution in the back woods. A facile and darkened mimicry.
A tree grows around a rope.
I considered taking you with me, but I was sacrificing you instead. An offering to make peace in my absence, to heal over the wound. I could not take you with me. When offering such things, a layperson can either remove the seeds or make the fruit allowable slightly damaging it with a knife. This is done by piercing the fruit; it is a form of seduction meant to reveal what is inside the skin. And I could count on you to be weak and not of your word. I saw that in you from the beginning. And your insinuation, your striving. If not for these things the replacement could not have happened. Now it would simply be a process of “making allowable”. Just the body sitting in for another body, learning to speak the language.
Would you be poisoned forever by your own treachery? Never whole? Never integral? Word always loose and false. There are twenty more years to diverge now. But those years are already past, not the future.
Stories are written as if they are the past but I am foretelling this story not telling it. I know what will happen. I see the world coalesce around my pain and my birth. You tried to burn a silk scarf with an iron and we were surprised at the length of time it took to create the dark impression on the peach silk.
Monks will refrain from carrying on correspondence with women, other than for matters pertaining to the monastery, travel arrangements, and providing basic information. When teaching, even in a letter, it is easy for inspiration and compassion to turn into attachment
The earth will move with me as collateral from these violent observations. Nations will change too, because language will change. When female background is born the world will lose its words. All scrambling to put like with like instead. Consumed with fear and compulsion. It will be foretold with the undifferentiated, incessant voices of women escalating to a violence. Against one another because they cannot learn, they’ve become small, trivial.
Part 2: Chatter
I will practice replacing girls with other girls. With moving them into the background. All of them, so there is nothing to be distinguished between a landscape and a swath of hair. The hills around my house and the back of an animal. I will have a puppet theater in the bathtub: two twins moving back and forth between personalities with a simple incantation “you be me.” And then to switch, “ok, now you be me.” Mimicking each others speech and manner. Telling one another’s story. Becoming one another like jumping rope double dutch style.
I will cast spells of objects and actions over time. I will take the puppets into the woods, as snowy trees move back and forth and I’ll have them whisper in alternation: “you be me, ok, now you be me.” I will change my body and my dress. I will wear glasses, pretending not to see, and then dye my hair. My costume will make us indistinguishable to the untrained eye so that when I am ready to leave, you will not notice me gone, will not feel the absence.
Women’s voices will be indistinguishable from one another; as the sound and number escalate, like a flock of migrating birds marking the time to go, the effect is dissonant, raucous, desperate, and volatile. It portends a violence. The are no distinctions, pure background.
Part 3: Fertilization
Once a single sperm has penetrated, the cell membrane of the egg changes its electrical characteristics. This electrical signal causes small cortical granules just beneath the membrane to empty their contents into the space surrounding the egg. The contents swell, pushing the other sperm far away from the egg in a process called cortical reaction. The cortical reaction ensures that only one sperm fertilizes the egg. The other sperm die within forty-eight hours.
I move away from the plot of land in the midst of trees demarking, but only barely, parts of the rural hillsides. I move up through celestial spheres, I watch these earthbound parts getting smaller. You try to follow, grasping skyward. I see the perspectival distortion of your form as I look backwards, your head striving large and body trailing small behind you. Passing the boundary from one sphere to the next, it is time to let go. The sphere’s membrane closes, forever. Your rapid mutual descent to earth tempered by snow falling quietly and gently. Nestled together back into the hillside, the bucolic sphere rests on a small wooden stand, which rests on a small wooden, bedside table. This makes it all easier, more stable.
“I didn’t really fall in love with you until you fell in love with someone else,” my husband said. The light of this insight would soon be blotted out by the darkness of his affair with my friend, a young woman whose age nearly matched the length of our twenty-two year relationship.
I’d met someone over a decade before at Haystack, an artist residency on the coast. I saw him as soon as I stepped from the gravel parking lot onto the wooden deck upon arriving. My palpable response to his presence had more to do with a sense of movement than with appearance. Something tangible, yet invisible. We grasp at forces like magnetism and electricity to explain the kind of tugging and sharpness.
When I found that he and I were assigned to the same studio, I was deeply relieved. I felt inexplicabley safe. His proximity allayed the familiar, but long latent, social anxiety that blindsided me with it’s resurgence upon my arrival to this place.
I experienced my feelings more like the memory of feelings. I felt like a person I’d been long ago. This alienation was provocative, like a traveler’s estrangement, revealing intimate things that never seem to change, though sometimes they’re forgotten. This reverie made me miss my husband and I began, almost immediately, writing him letters. I reflected on how we’d been ten years ago, when we’d met at a tiny liberal arts college on the East Coast. Our connection then forged by some shared version of what I was feeling again in that present moment. An inquisitive and observational drive meandering back and forth over the line between excitement and anxiety. I bummed a cigarette from another artist and smoked alone on the deck, enacting another memory, a regression.
That first evening of the residency, all of the artists gathered for a communal dinner of homemade pizza in the lodge. After eating with my new studio mates, I suddenly felt acute pain in my abdomen. A doubled-over, face-flushed, leave-me-alone, but someone-please-help-me kind of pain. Without missing a beat, my new friend, confirming my most immediate intuitions, took charge. He made contact with the staff after hours, procured medicine, tea, and sat next to me until I was well.
The two of us spent the next weeks working side by side in the studio. We learned how to make nets by tying different kinds of strategic knots. We used crochet for sculpture. We tied silk and cotton yardage around small and various objects and dipped it into steaming, noxious vats of dye. He made me a silk scarf with his newly acquired skills, but added a well-placed iron burn, a contradistinctive gesture in this place where everyone seemed to put the world aside for utopic immersion. For us, the shine seemed suspicious, calling to question what it obscured.
In addition to these sanctioned pursuits, we made creatures from spent pistachio shells. The exquisite corpses emerged from bits of string, bobby pins, and ink throughout the days.
We paused in pleasant surprise to discover our mutual Wu Tang love, further demarking us an incongruous demographic.
We laughed at the messages left in the guest book and added our own under each other’s names. We marveled at the behaviors of people away from their daily lives: I interrupted my roommate getting an awkward massage from a man named Ed. Ed had written in the guest book, too: “Life is short. Haystack is long.”
The day our studio group was tasked with presenting histories of our work to one another; I nervously fumbled with my slides. He loaded the projector for me.
Not only was vulnerability OK; this man helped me. The effect was so foreign I could not then name the experience. Even as a child my well-intended parents would push me, hoping that through immersion or coercion I would unlearn my pronounced and innate reticence. I learned instead that even the smallest bits of life were painful and no one was there to help. It was my moral obligation to overcome, my fear a kind of failure. Through these new kinds of interactions it was as if something inside me dislodged, like a bit of ice melting in a glass of cubes, and soon everything falls just a bit, into a new place, and slowly becomes less rigid, more fluid.
I was flirting, but I indulged it, not because I didn’t assess that risk, but I determined there was none. First, my new friend was surely gay. He even referred to his current partner with gender neutral pronouns, not a usual habit for straight people. Second, he was six years younger than I, which seemed like a lot at the time, especially since those particular years marked different stages of life. Finally, this residency was only two weeks and he would soon return to school 2,000 miles away.
For this moment, I needed the profound sense of safety and belonging that I felt in our small exchanges and quiet work. That sense of security on one front, allowed an opening for growth on another; I glimpsed a new horizon for my work. One day in a group discussion, he said, “I just want to live my quiet little life.” The contrast between the humble content and his enthusiastic confidence was startling. It resonated with me so thoroughly as if we just made our life’s plans together.
The last day of the residency came. I walked alone on a wooded path towards my cabin, a lump forming in my throat. I sat on the ground to quell the vertiginous welling, instead, I began to cry, overcome with grief. Unnerved and mystified, I interrogated the feeling as it consumed me. What was my problem? I was in love and I would never see him again.
I returned to my daily routine, changed. My husband and I continued our work renovating an old one-room schoolhouse, transforming it into our home. I tended to my tasks absently. I was listless, tearful. My stomach ached.
One day, weeks later, I received a letter in the mail. He missed me, too. The partner he’d so vaguely referred to? He was breaking up with her.
“These are the challenges marriage is made of”, I told myself. “Events unfold over long arcs of time. The nature of feelings is transience, the nature of marriage, commitment,” I tried reasoning with myself, inspiration to just wait this out.
“If you feel the same way in five years”, I told myself, “then might be time for action”. The problem was, I had already taken action, albeit involuntarily. I was not present in my life anymore. I had to fix it.
“But, you can’t love two people at once,” he said softly, staring at the steering wheel.
“I guess you can,” I said, heartbroken. In some ways, I’ve been heartbroken ever since. I can say this still, over thirteen years later.
My friend and I continued to write letters and talk on the telephone. “I love you,” I told him, “but nothing is going to change. You should find someone else.”
I dragged my sister to visit him with me almost five months after we first met; she and I drove over thirteen hours and checked into a hotel in the city where he lived. Our next visit would be another eight months after that. Our relationship slowly became a part of reality for me and my husband.
“You have to make a philosophical decision”, a friend warned.
“But, we already have”, I thought to myself. We chose the only path that was not arbitrary, and although I recognize that as a matter of some indifference when it comes to meaning, it was everything when it came to wisdom.
I felt guilt, but not in a way I could have expected. I felt guilty for being with my husband. Was my internal compass broken, or did my instincts reveal a truth I couldn’t understand?
Despite that, I brought everything to my marriage first. My marriage was the largest circle in a set of Venn diagrams, everything that happened was within that circle. At our wedding we read aloud from Wendell Berry: “Marriage is a perilous and fearful effort… It creates pain that it is the only cure for.” My universe functioned only under the rules of that marriage, but not blind to the realities it faced. Marriage was my shelter, a wellspring of courage. It made meaning by virtue of it’s very structure, calling me to face and solve the problems it created, by revealing my reflection in another.
Our so-called pains and perils were hard to parse. Our marriage now included this third person. More so than conventional marriages, it was political as well as personal. This felt especially true in the rural town where we lived. My husband worked for his parents, conservative Christians who stayed in the small town where their family had lived and run businesses for generations. Despite his daily lunch and video games with his mother, he didn’t share much about his personal life. The decision to reveal our relationship to his family was left to his discretion. I didn’t want to violate his privacy. I had renewed empathy for other unconventional relationships in hostile times and in hostile places.
I had a very close relationship with my mother-in-law and it pained me to feel as though I were keeping something from her. “You’ll find someone someday”, she told my partner at dinner one night as the three of us stared at our plates, finding it suddenly difficult to swallow any food. The secrecy produced feelings of guilt and alienation, weighing heavily on me for over a decade and finding destructive expression in anxiety, obsessive work habits, and excessive drinking.
We were effectively in the closet for over twelve years.
This secrecy was counterbalanced with unwelcome scrutiny. The three of us were increasingly committed to our relationship, even moving in together. My unmarried partner and my husband became close friends – more so even, they were as family, planning a future. Eventually, my partner and I told our geographically-scattered families. His were concerned but supportive. Mine, I suspect, were ashamed, and mostly expressed anger and disapproval. (We spent some time not speaking.) Slowly, as they spent more time with the three of us, they accepted the relationship, albeit begrudgingly. We enjoyed holidays together. We traveled. We behaved much as any other family. Despite some level of acceptance, I felt uncomfortably overexposed – a private aspect of my life, one which ‘normal’ heterosexual couples could expect to be left private, was now open to the salacious, speculative, and critical fantasies of others.
On the other side, there were great joys and illuminations for having given over to this relationship. A pride in attempting to face something so inexorable and culturally pervasive with thoughtfulness and compassion. The three of us took great pleasure in considering and discussing it over the years, how it highlighted dimensions of relationships generally (“in order not to be alone, you need to be two, but in order to be a couple, you need to be three”). Nothing could be taken for granted, imparting a beauty and generosity often lacking once love’s urgency wanes and gives way, even if slightly, to the mundane. Honesty became king among values, a new prerequisite for engagement.
I once heard a sermon at a wedding comparing marriage to a triangle whose sides A and B represented the husband and wife. Alone, their union was unstable. The addition of the third side, C, for Christ, stabilized the marriage, a triangle being the most stable shape. Our trio did, in fact, last longer than most romantic relationships of any kind.
A year before, this friend was going through a breakup. “Can I come over? Will you cut my hair?” she asked tearfully. We sat in my backyard and I cut the thick, greasy mass of blonde hair to a short bob, like mine, as she requested. I offered that she stay with us until she was back on her feet and she admitted to having wanted that, to being on the precipice of asking if she could move in. That was the beginning of a transformative dialectic where through some unwitting, but fateful collaboration I slowly disappeared, leaving her in my place.
Despite the outcome, she initially set her sights on my friend. “Maybe he and I will fall in love,” she calculated. Once she moved in, I had to tell her about our relationship, about the polyamory (a term I employ here, but rarely used and to this day do not relate to). I see only now that she was hunting; she was hungry and looking for signs of weakness.
The affair started once she’d moved out, with frequent text messages and emails. A party they attended together while I was out of town. Like so many years ago at Haystack, I assessed the risk. Sure my calculations were faulty the last time, but this time, the risk was visible from outer space. They followed a tried and true formula for falling in love in a series of various inappropriate interactions. She described and collected her dreams, mostly sexual in nature, for him. In some transparent pedagogical fetishism, my middle-aged husband would analyze them for this twenty-something friend. I protested, pleaded even, but my husband was volatile. She was a fourth side to the geometry of the relationship, irrevocably weakening the figure.
I knew if I pushed too hard, he’d rebel. He angrily assured me there was no risk. He would guard over his cell phone with a bodily paranoia, always angling a shoulder or an elbow against the world, folding inward and turning sharp corners outward. I, knowing better, felt my only strategy was a loose grasp. Sometimes this meant leaving the room to cry out of view. Any display of feelings produced contempt in my husband, coldness. Any resentment he’d buried over the years, he concentrated in this one willful act.
“Did your husband tell you about that racy dream he had last night?” her question landed like a blow to the stomach. “No,” I answered as breezily as possible, trying to control the expression on my face. I knew she was no longer my friend despite her pretense, but I had no commitment to her. She was insignificant to our problem.
Months before, the four of us had gone to a table tipping at a spiritualist summer camp nestled into a steep hillside overlooking the ocean. The medium called us at random to the table in small groups. She relayed messages from those who had passed. My grandfather thanked my partner for caring for me, startling not just because of the medium’s adamance, or its resonance with reality, but because we were in a group of strangers. The medium had no knowledge that we knew each other at all. “This is strange”, she began, “for some reason her grandfather wants to speak to you. Do you know each other?” she directed the question at my partner.
She advised my young friend to move across the country.
Hazel, my husband’s grandmother, warned him to move away from his parents and the family business. To take charge of his own life, outside of that small town. My husband laughed it off, “The dead are just like the living, only more benighted.”
“You’ve decided everything. I’ve never made any choices”, he rationalized his leaving me. It was true, I gave direction to our lives. Our house, our four dogs, our finances, our social life, the state we lived in, these were all my choices. The decision to get married; I’d even gotten my own engagement ring.
“You are trying to fix something within yourself, with something outside of yourself,” diagnosed the shaman we saw when trying, if only very briefly, to salvage our marriage. Suddenly, the feelings of sexual urgency that accompany new love were a bright light beaming into his life, which now appeared like a prison cell of inertia. Love was now cause and means of moving away from our marriage. He used it as retaliation, suddenly discovering a repressed anger he’d always vehemently disavowed. “We can’t help you yet, because you haven’t done enough work on yourself for it to take”, concluded the shaman.
At Haystack all those years ago, I’d remembered an older version of myself. My husband was now, too, finding himself through renewed desire. He needed to go back to the place where he’d lost the thread of his own identity. Like a little girl learning double dutch, rocking back and forth until she spots the moment where she understands the rhythm, where she knows it in her body. It’s a version of belonging that calls her to jump in. “She is my truth,” he repeated. The lens of a twenty-something woman became a powerful occasion for self-revelation. This was a middle aged man using this affair as a form of self-discovery, on a quest for a new (or lost) identity. “I need to grow up. I can’t do that with you”, he said. It was a beautiful equation, by choosing someone whose age matched the duration of our relationship and approximated the age that we met, he could go back and undo it all. He could start again in his twenties and erase the history of our pain.
He referred to the feeling of ease he felt in her presence, as an immersion in “fuck-it time.” It was shorthand for a kind of nonchalant, pot-smoking, job-hopping, ethos of indolence, both physical and intellectual, that let him escape his otherwise hyper-critical existence.
There’s only so much self-betrayal one can take before the body rebels and compulsions take over. Heartened by her cavalier and relativistic attitude, he adopted it. Only in him, it mutated into a righteous nihilism. Intellectually, it gave him permission. With a simple, “Fuck it.” Poof! Our marriage disappeared. “I have new ideas about responsibility now,” he defended. “She’s right, it just doesn’t matter”, he argued for her defacto exposé: a marriage ceremony should be just a party, without the added trouble and insignificance of a “piece of paper” or legal sanction.
I experienced his affair, just like anyone would, as trauma. It was in our home, with my friend, and there were so many lies. I lost the home that I worked so hard to renovate and tend: That season alone I’d planted two-hundred ostrich ferns, five peonies, and four rose bushes that I would never watch grow. They even dated at the restaurant in the small town where I worked, culminating in the loss of my job. My privacy destroyed.
My husband told his parents about our twelve years of polyamory in the same breath as admitting his betrayal. The manipulative effect of the timing adding significantly to insult and injury. My in-laws have not spoken to me since.
My husband refused all conversation.
“We fell in love,” my one-time friend explained to people.
“She had someone else and now he does; it’s only fair,” people gossiped. To me, they’d nod, “You got what was coming to you”.
Their relationship was attributed to my selfishness over the years, (who was I to believe I could be in a relationship with two men?) Even my friends pitied him, saying he finally felt his anger and jealousy. It was my job to have emotional oversight, to read between the lines, to act as guardian. He’d let me have my relationship for all of these years, where was the quid pro quo?
Facing this devastation in light of the previous decade did not feel like a lesser betrayal as the community expected it should, but instead a far greater one. I was forced to move out of the state, closer to my family, my life wiped out on every front. I considered my life with my husband one of building: our home, our relationship, but most importantly a very hard-earned story of love, identity, and purpose. It seems he was right that I did those things alone. His one act of will, or work, towards our life was to destroy it, burning its bridges and salting its earth. In this he came alive.