Friday, April 5, 2013

In Memoriam: Nikki

Nikki teaching a youngster flute, Camping Athens circa 1981

And so it is.

Blessèd Be,
Michael Bright Crow

See here also.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Walhydra's Lament, or
Can't I trade this incarnation in without having to die first?

Note from the amanuensis: This story was originally published eleven years ago via email to The Crone Thread listserv, back in January of 2000, when the amanuensis was still in library school, before the move to Florida. A lot of water has flowed over the bridge—or under the dam, or something—since then.

At the time, the story began with the following
Walhydra is a crone of unspeakable age, who, in her own cantakerous way, does her best to deal with her present incarnation as me: a 49-year-old, gay male would-be writer. She insists that I explain this, because she doesn't like sharing the blame—though she doesn't have much choice, being, as she is, my muse.

Walhydra's Lament, or
Can't I trade this incarnation in without having to die first?

In which Walhydra realizes she's not having fun anymore

Walhydra has been struggling for some time now. The almost-fifty-year-old gay white male she is riding around in has been feeling physically uncomfortable, unhappy and scared for several years, and he doesn't seem to know how to enjoy the rush of this free-fall he's in.

Midlife Crisis in Men
"I wonder," she says—only the cat is listening—"I wonder why women go through a 'change of life,' but men think it has to be a 'midlife crisis!!!'? Don't men ever expect anything to change?"

Of course, she knows it's really just several millenia of lopsided patriarchal conditioning that's made them vulnerable

But she sometimes wants to stand up and shout: "Grow up! It's just your hormones ticking over for the second half!"


Well, anyway, it's not been fun lately.

Then again, to be fair, she has to admit that once in a while he at least owns to it's being "scary fun." He's not that unenlightened. In fact, right now it's getting to the point where so many of the pieces are falling at once that he realizes he can't catch any one of them without dropping all of the others.

"That's progress," Walhydra offers. "Now, if you can just spread your arms a bit for balance, breathe deep, enjoy the plunge and land on your feet—or at least your butt—you might survive all the falling masonry." [Hint, hint]

[Walhydra is determined to make a Tarot reader out of him yet—once he gives up being scared of it and has totally sworn off trying to use it to serve his ego.]

What she remembers is that in seminary in the early 70's, during one of those "touchy feely" group exercises, he drew an imaginary lifeline which had him dying at age fifty. Surprised himself, he did, with that one, but he laughed it off—sort of—explaining, "Well, anything after fifty will be gravy."

"Um," says Walhydra, "that's just about seven months from now."

"Yes, I know," he shudders. "And everything I've counted on till now is either aching or too old-fashioned or suffering memory lapses.

"All that's left is my Mom, Senior Witch, whom I'm getting ready to move several states away from. And Hubby Jim, Light of my Life, who, I remember way more often than I want to, is as old and vulnerable and mortal as I am."

"But isn't it exciting?" Walhydra coaxes.

"Like falling out of a tower." [Hint, hint]

Walhydra tries to quiet her own curmudgeonly sense of fear and loss and resentment by remembering that she's lived through this before.

"I have, haven't I?" she asks the cat.

Miso, staring at the imaginary axe murderer in the kitchen

He just stares at the imaginary axe murderer in the kitchen and ignores her.

Sometimes it doesn't pay to take any of this too seriously. Like, for example: while you're alive.

You arrive here knowing everything and then, after learning the new language you've been assigned for this go-around, you spend the rest of your life trying to remember what you knew when you came in.

If you're smart enough—and blessedly reckless enough—at twenty-two or so, you do like the soon-to-be seminary dropout and give yourself just a few decades to reach your shelf-life. That way, all the stuff you thought you knew is soon out of date, and you have to start over with just the clothes you were wearing when you came in.

So to speak.

Walhydra stands outside on a January midnight. "But can't I at least get rid of all these dumb habits and false fears and useless notions I picked up during the first half?" she whines.

"That would be cheating," says the Crone. "What would be the use of doing the first fifty years if you didn't accumulate that lot of rubbish to figure out how to recycle?"

"Aw, that's not...."

"...Fa-air!" the Crone finishes, mimicking Walhydra's pout. "'You're right: it's not fair,' to quote your father for this incarnation."

As a little boy, Walhydra had always thought her Dad was a "bad dad" for not fixing the unfair stuff. She was in her thirties before she realized he was just telling her how mortal life is.

"Fair" is an honorable human aspiration, but it's not a book of rules one can impose upon the sublimely terrifying randomness of Creation.

Adam 1507 Albrecht Durer (1471-1528 German) Oil On Wood Panel Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
"The trouble with you lot...," says the Crone, pretending to forget for the moment that Walhydra is not stuck with only one life, since Walhydra seems to have forgotten it herself....

"The trouble with you lot is that, when you got that 'Knowledge of Good and Evil' thing from the apple, you assumed you knew which was which."

[Of course, the Crone knows they actually got that story ass-backwards, but never mind that for now.]

"You want this incarnation to land on its feet," She continues, "but you don't want to have to work hard at it. Well, sorry. You asked for the job."

Walhydra sticks out her tongue.

"If you want to have an interesting second half," Crone goes on, "you've got to help him watch every single piece as it falls, notice why he valued it, why he might either mourn it or wish it good riddance—but not try to save anything.

"Not an easy task for anyone, though you gave yourself something of a head start by deciding to be a queer male witch in an age when they're not using such people for kindling.


Walhydra glowers.

"Is that the beginning of a giggle I detect at the corner of your mouth?"

"NO!" Walhydra insists, hiding her lips with her hand.

"I thought so! 'I'm not having fun anymore'," the Crone pouts. "Eeee-hee-hee-hee-hee-hee-hee-hee!"

"Oh, go piss up a rope," says Walhydra.

"Glad to," the Crone answers.

She stretches Herself high over Walhydra's head, spreads Her menacing cobra hood wide and hisses venom, twists Herself into a cord of hemp and disappears toward the blood-orange ball of the Wolf Moon's full eclipse.

Lunar eclipse, by Patrick Seeger, European Pressphoto Agency
"Don't pretend you didn't hear all this," Walhydra hears Her sibilant voice whisper.

"Oh, pooh!" Walhydra huffs, smiling despite herself.

She shivers and hugs her Leo hubby, who's been watching the Moon too.

As they go inside and climb the stairs back to their apartment, he slips his hand down the back of her pants to caress her butt.

Nice and warm, as his hand always is.

And so it is.

Blessèd Be.

Afterword by the amanuensis: Rereading this story at the age of 61 is rather interesting.

Fifty turned out to be great. Then it was the approach of sixty that became the even scarier year. That was largely because mortality had become too real.

It sometimes seems that one can go through a number of reincarnations
within one mortal lifetime. Each time—at least if one is attentive and brave—one comes around a little higher on the spiral than one was the last time one visited a particular challenge.

Or something like that.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ron Weasley and the Chess Knight of Doom

Note from the amanuensis: I wrote this movie review on November 28, 2001, shortly after I had seen the then just-released Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

Almost a decade later, having just seen
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, I am glad to see that Daniel Radcliffe and his colleagues Rupert Grint and Emma Watson have all become mature young actors, able to sustain an intense interpersonal drama with only minimal support from established adult actors or special effects. It's good to see such artistic growth in the midst of a megabucks Hollywood franchise.

I've not revised my original review, though I might have done so given this current movie. Having watched the original and its sequels several times, now, I have a better opinion of it than I did in 2001.
Ron Weasley and the Chess Knight of Doom

Please understand me.

Though I’m not an uncritical Harry Potter fan, I genuinely enjoy and admire J.K. Rowling’s books, and it was great fun to initiate my sweetie into that world by taking him to see director Chris Columbus' new movie. This is indeed a film to share with friends and loved ones.

Nonetheless, as one of those older critics who grew up on Spin and Marty television adventures and remembers when cinema special effects were mostly done with lighting, I confess that my boyish heart was disappointed.

Like many bookworms, I’ve always believed in the magic of nerdy kids who transcend bullying and self-doubt to save the universe. I wanted to see it played out once more with the best FX Hollywood could buy. Unfortunately that’s almost all I got. Great FX, but no genuine, struggling kid who conquers.

In the books, Harry repeatedly stumbles with misgivings. The gap he sees between his self-image and the hero expectations placed upon him by his pedigree seems so great. As a true hero does, though, again and again Harry pushes past his fear to attempt what he is actually capable of…and succeeds. But not without pain.

Not knocking young actor Daniel Radcliffe, but this movie Harry always seems to have read ahead in the script. Even when he’s portrayed as grieving his lost parents before the Mirror of Erised, it’s as if he knows things will all work out.

So there I am at the theater, anyway, relishing the artful setting of the stage in the first half of the film. I’m entranced as we move from Muggleland into the Dickensian streets and shops I remember lovingly from boyhood fantasy. As the ramparts of Hogworts first rise from the torchlit lake, I am almost in tears at the joy of coming home. And then….

And then it all turns into an action movie.

Fine old actors are squeezed into character roles to sketch out a plot in cartoon. Short shrift is made of the classroom scenes and the interpersonal struggles of faculty and students, all of which were so central in the book for teaching Harry—and the reader—the differences between magic as a tool for service and magic as power.

There’s an almost pedestrian Star Wars rip-off quidditch match, some monsters, some stock humor and sentimentality, a crisis and an obligatory, flame-encircled showdown with a stand-in villain.

Rowling’s superb surprise ending, so carefully constructed in the book, comes almost as an afterthought here. Her shrewdly plotted moral conflicts seem lost on these filmmakers.

The deepest art in Rowling's writing comes in her motivating of characters. They are not two-dimensional role-playing game figures.

Professor Snape, for all his lusting after the Defense Against the Dark Arts professorship, is discovered at the last to have been stubbornly loyal to his school and headmaster. Conversely, Professor Quirrell, who does hold that chair, is portrayed as a full-fledged personality caught—and eventually lost—in the terrible ambivalence such a responsibility always poses for real human beings.

For entertainment's sake, Alan Rickman does give us an ominous movie Snape. He seems to long for a richer drama to star in, stopping every scene he’s in with a well-crafted glance or gesture or, simply, with a line delivery full of Tim Curryesque antici…pation. Yet he is nearly forgotten once he's served his purpose of dramatic misdirection.

Meanwhile, poor Ian Hart, as Quirrell, is never allowed to be much more than a bit player until the showdown with Harry. Even then, we are almost forced to see him as an innocent victim of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, not as a soul who strove and failed.

Given all these disappointments, where do I find any redemption in Hollywood’s Sorcerer’s Stone?

In Ron Weasley, played with naïve honesty by newcomer Rupert Grint. From his first appearance on screen he captured my attention. He is wholly present in whatever happens. With no halo of expected heroism, with no inner sense of giftedness or promise, he nonetheless perseveres through every humbling challenge.

And, in the classic sense of the narrative hero, it is Ron Weasley—not Harry—whom we see, during the pivotal wizard chess game, undergoing moral transformation and embracing the sacrifice which makes “saving the universe” possible.

Wizard Chess, HP 1
Perhaps this switch is an unintended blessing from Sorcerer’s Stone’s filmmakers. Few of us in the audience are stars in our own shows. We are mostly people who stumble along, doing our best, without special gifts or pedigrees, to be honest and loyal and—when circumstances cannot be avoided—courageous.

I liked the Harry Potter of this Hollywood version well enough, and I don’t resent his acclaim. I greatly enjoyed the rich visualization of Hogworts and its denizens.

Yet the spark I came away with, the one which still keeps me going back in Muggleland, is Ron Weasley. He is the boy I admire and hope to emulate.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Walhydra's White Slave Adventure, Conclusion:
In which Walhydra finally gets a clue

The final chapter in the serialized 1981 travel adventure which Walhydra first published on The Crone Thread in 1997.
WWSA, Part 1
WWSA, Part 2
WWSA, Part 3
WWSA, Part 4
WWSA, Part 5
Conclusion: In which Walhydra finally gets a clue

By the time Walhydra's political refugee problem had been resolved, the day after the landing in South Hampton, she felt as if her hurricane of rage had pretty much blown itself out. She and Nikki rode the hydrofoil across the Solent to Cowes on the Isle of Wight.

On the way, a distracted Walhydra alternated between adrenalin rushes at the Space Invaders video game in the galley and bouts of forlorn moping on deck, watching the drizzling skies and choppy waters. Once they reached the Island, she let Nikki lead the way to Ventnor, where his folks lived, and then to pitch camp at Comforts Farm, where Nikki had boarded his grey Arabian horse named Horse.

The Isle of Wight is one of those rare, uncluttered places of power where the sorting out of who stays and who leaves is done very quickly.

The story goes that when the Romans tried to capture the wedge-shaped island, which they called Vectis, they were met on the shores by woad-painted naked warriors with hard-ons. They wisely decided that the larger island to the north (Britannia, that is) would probably be a conquest.

When Christian missionaries came along later, the Oyl o' Woyters (as the natives call themselves) said, "Right, we can do this," and proceeded to put on the cloak of the new public religion, while quietly continuing their no-nonsense Pagan faith.

And, when modern barbarian tourists from the mainland—i.e., England—tramp over the beaches and downs each summer, the locals just shake their heads, count their change, and wait for autumn.

Having learned something of this history from Nikki, Walhydra was pleased at how quickly she felt at home on the Island.

She of course overlooked the fact that, just as with India, whomever the Island claims, it also transforms, usually in deep and subtle ways, and with little sympathy for ego's narrow agendas. Only as she retells the story now does she notice—with perversely witchy delight—how great the transformation has been.

But, we're getting ahead here....

Within a week of landing on the Island, Walhydra was being given her first lesson in riding by Horse. As with all of his tribe, Horse had a bemused yet unsympathetic view of this little animal on his back. It was clearly kindhearted, yet it seemed stupidly convinced that Horse was some sort of mammalian automobile, to be steered and controlled by reins and knees.

To counter this misconception, every time Walhydra "got" Horse into a trot, he headed directly toward the jumps. Whenever Walhydra "steered" him away from a jump, Horse slowed to a walk. This game proceeded for some time, with Nikki muffling snickers on the sidelines.

Finally Horse walked up to a jump and stood still right in front of it. Walhydra, still in an auto-driving mind set, relaxed...and Horse jumped.

Needless to say, this surprise reminded Walhydra that large, jumping animals do not need a running start. On the other hand, Horse was reminded that small, stupid but unfrightened animals do not necessarily fall off. Walhydra landed painlessly on Horse's forehead.

A laughing, teary-eyed Nikki helped extricate Walhydra from her perch and "scolded" Horse for giving such a helpful first lesson.

All was well as they walked to the stable, until Walhydra noticed the patch of blood on her jeans. It seems there had been a minor internal injury to a certain precious male organ. Thus began an interesting three-day side trip "into hospital"—which, by the way, British socialized medicine quite sensibly paid for, despite Walhydra's being an unemployed alien.

In retrospect...

Walhydra is noticing a lot of things "in retrospect," and begins to feel somewhat dizzy, as if she's riding backwards….

In retrospect, Walhydra suspects that the Crone was behind Horse's "throwing her" into hospital.

The gentle reader will surely have recognized by now how Walhydra clings to the notion that spiritual growth is simply a matter of acquiring spiritual knowledge. Even though she now knows better, she still tends to resist those bone-deep transformations which involve real pain and loss. Until she can't ignore them, that is.

The myriad voices of India had indeed captured her attention, yet she remained merely fascinated. It took the one, deep, chthonic voice of the Island to get through with the simple message: Be still, already!

To make certain that she heard, the day Walhydra came out of hospital, she and Nikki were asked to move into the vihara (monastery) of the Isle of Wight Buddhist Fellowship. In exchange for free housing, "all they had to do" was to prepare the one daily vegetarian meal for the Fellowship's spiritual advisor, the Venerable Khemadhammo, Bhikkhu (ordained monk).


Walhydra had met the Bhikkhu six months earlier, just before she and Nikki left England on their trek "round the world." She had not been impressed.

Ever the suspicious Protestant, Walhydra is rarely impressed with the trappings and titles of people said to have spiritual authority.

Given the escapade of the saffron dhoti, the reader may wonder what this wariness is about. In truth, it has less to do with guarding against hypocrisy than with two basic fears: fear of submitting to the genuine authority of another, and fear of exercising one's own genuine authority.

But don't tell Walhydra that.

All that Walhydra saw was an ex-actor from Portsmouth, England, who had gone off to the forests of Thailand for a number of years, come back with shaved head and robes, and "set himself up" as a spiritual leader with a loyal following. She did not "feel" enlightenment streaming from him, so she gave him merely courtesy and well-cooked meals—and kept his house clean.

Nikki, who had taken off his own saffron out of respect, kept his opinions to himself and watched. What Nikki saw surely must have amused him.

He knew that one of the best ways to teach a Virgo is to distract her with a well-written book of conceptual analysis, one which she thinks is about the living, breathing lesson one actually wants to give her. Then, once her rational mind is fully preoccupied with the ecstasy of "new ideas lucidly and convincingly argued," one yanks the existential rug out from under her…at which point, how can any conscientious Virgo argue with the concrete reality, since she has already bought into the idea of it?

So it was that, on the day they moved into the vihara, Nikki gave Walhydra a copy of Walpola Rahula's What the Buddha Taught. Each day, while she went dutifully through the motions of the vihara practice, Walhydra devoured Rahula's crystalline words.

Up at 5:30, chanting and meditation from 6 to 7, cooking the day's meal in time to present before noon to the Bhikkhu.

Then off to market or to visits with Nikki's many Island friends, and back home in the evening for a second meditation from 9 till 10.

And, all the while, plunging deeper into the conceptual labyrinth of Buddhist thought.

Meditation Tankha at the Vihara
Walhydra made her way well enough through the First Noble Truth, DUKKHA, the notion that all of existence, both pleasant and unpleasant, is imperfect, changeable, conditioned...and so on. She could understand that this did not mean, as Westerners often mistranslate, that "all is suffering." Merely that "all passes."

So far, so good, she thought.

Things got a bit more tricky with the Second Noble Truth, SAMUDAYA, the arising of dukkha.

Easy enough to understand "thirst," or desire for and attachment to pleasures, wealth and power, as origins of the struggle found in dukkha. But desire for and attachment to ideas and ideals, conceptions and beliefs? Walhydra's mind tried to stretch itself around the idea that desiring enlightenment was a cause of suffering.

She needed even more of a stretch to get hold of the Buddhist twist on the theory of karma. Will, volition, desire, thirst to exist, to continue, to become more...all of these persist after physical death, yet there is no permanent Self or Soul which "re-exists" from life to life to remember these things?

Well, Rahula's exposition was so systematic and elegant that Walhydra had to just cram this all in, too. Nothing like the authority (oops! there's that word!) of a finely-crafted argument to help her suspend disbelief.

It was at the end of her second week out of hospital that Walhydra ran up against NIRODHA, the Third Noble Truth, regarding the cessation of dukkha.

This is the bit where a person understands how consciousness, as well as all pleasant, unpleasant or neutral sensations, merely appear and disappear, without having permanent existence. Where her mind becomes detached and she finds "a pure equanimity which she can direct towards the attainment of any high spiritual state...."

And where—zip!—the rug gets pulled!

Altar in the Vihara shrine roomIt happened this way.

One morning, in the minutes before chanting and meditation were to begin, the Bhikkhu was quietly lighting candles and incense at the shrine in a comfortably empty upstairs room. Walhydra sat at the back of that room, doing yoga stretches so that her knees would let her be still for an hour. Nikki soon joined them, as did another guest, and the meditation began.

"Araham samma-sambuddho bhagava...."

At the end of the hour, as the others went downstairs to the kitchen, Khemadhammo stopped Walhydra in the hallway.

"Please do not do those exercises in the shrine room while I am preparing for meditation."


Wherever that hurricane of rage had been hiding, it rushed back suddenly in full force. Walhydra was so offended by this "imposition of authority" that she slammed through the house, seized up her backpack and the rolled up tent, and stalked out.

She informed Nikki that she would be pitching camp at a campground they'd seen a week earlier. Then she caught a double-decker bus into the town of Ryde, where she had already committed to staffing the Fellowship's vegetarian food stall for the day.

All the way up and down the hedgerowed lanes into town, Walhydra seethed. How dare he?!

Customers at the market that day must have wondered if the compassionate Buddha had been replaced by a stand-in vengeful Yahweh.

By the time Nikki met her for a late afternoon trek to the campground, Walhydra had revisited every grievance back to Allahabad and before—in a remarkable recapitulation not only of dukkha and samudaya, but of numerous other not-so-noble truths.

When, sometime after dark, the two of them made their way back to the vihara from a campground which was—oops!—closed for the season, a rather meek Walhydra crawled into her sleeping bag on the threadbare carpet of their room and said not a word.

To this day, she cannot remember if or how she apologized to Khemadhammo. He neither mentioned the incident nor changed his attitude toward her of...compassionate detachment? They all merely returned to their daily routine without comment.

From her journal, Walhydra knows that she resumed her reading long enough to get to the part of nirodha she had missed before. That's the part where the practitioner realizes that even if she reaches a "purified and cleansed equanimity," should she focus it upon anything, even upon the "highest spiritual state," that is still a mental condition and, hence, still dukkha.

Sheesh! You can't win at this game!

Her notes do not reveal whether she kept on reading through the remaining two Noble Truths.

Or through the Noble Eightfold Path, the Twelve Factors of Conditioned Genesis, the Five Hindrances, the Seven Factors of Enlightenment...

…or the Fifty-Seven Varieties.

What she did do was to sit in the back of the shrine room twice a day. She continued to cook and clean. She and Nikki prowled the hedgerows to gather blackberries for jam and rosehips for tea. They visited friends. Nikki pondered—briefly—becoming a postulant.

And Walhydra started a new journal, in which she wrote a rather steamy short story about a young man on New Year's Eve, a guy in a pickup truck,…well....

And, after several more weeks of this, Walhydra noticed one morning, as the Bhikkhu began the closing chant, that she had been fully awake and aware of nothing in particular for an hour.

The journal says merely, "I was meditated upon." The next day's entry says, "Meditated alone. Felt as if dissolving." And the next, "Awoke sad and restless. Rain."

Walhydra will not pretend that at this point she became "a good Buddhist." The gentle reader knows her too well to be fooled.

Twenty-nine years agoTwenty-nine years later, she knows that she is still “capable of unbounded indignation" when someone appears to her to be abusing authority. Now, though, as soon as she notices the pieces of scenery in her mouth, she stops chewing.

"Hmm," she says. "Anger is happening here. Wonder what button got pushed? And just what Work was being done before ‘Little Me’ stole the spotlight?"

She gets amused more easily now, watching how this person she is goes through things over and over again—even though she "already knows this stuff."

In fact, twenty-nine years later, feeling somewhat beat up at almost sixty, Walhydra notices rather tiredly that she keeps rediscovering fears and resentments she thought she had grown out of.

"This enlightenment business," she sighs, shaking her head.

"It's not at all like flipping a switch. Each next moment you have to pay attention all over again, you have to notice whether you've wandered off into the past or the future or the weather or the next driver's rudeness or your Mom's Alzheimer's or…."

She pauses.

"At least, each next moment is a new moment. I do seem to be getting better at returning to that awareness."

"Oh, you do, huh?" the Crone asks, feigning surprise. "I'll bet I can still piss you off, easy."

Walhydra blows a raspberry.

At the Vihara
And so it is.

Blessèd Be.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Walhydra's White Slave Adventure, Part 5:
In which Walhydra burns with unholy fire...
and tastes ashes

Another chapter in the serialized 1981 travel adventure which Walhydra first published on The Crone Thread in 1997.
Part 5: In which Walhydra burns with unholy fire...
and tastes ashes

Walhydra doesn't want to tell the next part of this story.

Looking back on these events from the vantage point of nearly three decades, she knows that she has to eat her words. Not to mention her thoughts, her emotions, her actions...and several large, black, Indian crows.


House Crow, Corvus splendens
Very much out of character, she girds herself to disclose a series of unenlightened behaviors which no amount of humor can trivialize.

But wait! She remembers that frank confession of one's failings—when there is absolutely no way to avoid it any longer—is another great Virgo virtue. Alright, then, she decides: Get on with it!

The patient reader will remember that we left Walhydra, three episodes back, doing a slow burn at the Indian Foreign Registry Office, where she had just been pegged as an illegal alien. This event in fact came only three days after she had donned the saffron, and only two after her dinner with Gupta-gee.

"How dare they?!" she thought.

She was already fuming that, only the night before, she and Husband #3 had been turned away from a native restaurant because of their dress. "How dare they?!"

Walhydra is capable of unbounded indignation when she thinks she faces abuse of authority. All sense of proportion vanishes, and she is ready to lash out with the Sword of Justice.

(Hey. Libra Ascendant, with a very surly Mars in Scorpio in the First House. What can you expect?)

Unfortunately, personal effrontery doesn't make for a very good gauge of injustice. But we are talking here about Walhydra, the self-important apprentice, not Walhydra, the sadder but wiser…, et cetera.

"How dare they?!"

And, of course, they dared again the very next day.

Walhydra and Nikki were again turned away from a restaurant. Militant American Flower Child that she was, Walhydra saw this as another lunch-counter-in-Selma situation.

Only now as she recalls the story does she notice the incongruity—probably offensive to the natives—of a white man in sacred saffron expecting to buy dinner with traveler's cheques in a middleclass Indian restaurant.

Oh, the perils of righteous blindness.

Walhydra sulked around for days on the rooftop patio of Hotel Palace Heights, feeling stalemated and stir-crazy. Pissed off at every fly which landed on her, every puff of air which blew her hair. Wanting nothing to do with anyone, yet—of course—wanting Papa Nikki to "make it all better."

Naturally, Papa Nikki merely said something annoyingly profound about "the difference between remembering unity and experiencing unity" and left it at that. Smartass Buddhist!

Walhydra did actually manage moments of lucidity, as her journal from that week attests:
Enlightenment doesn't mean constant and perpetual bliss; it doesn't mean forever sailing along, unruffled by the petty annoyances of life. What is it then?

Clearly, for one thing, it means recognizing that these are, in fact, petty annoyances. There is no cosmic plot against me. There's nothing wrong with me, either. I'm not failing in my practice. This is simply “how things are” at present.

On the other hand, while it's silly to keep feeding my bad temper, I don't want to fight or repress it either. I can't make it go away any more than I can make the bloody Indians give me a tourist visa. The inner world is just as “real” as the outer one, as far as the need for observing and accepting goes.

Oh, bother!
Nicely lucid. Clear-eyed. Compassionate toward self and others.

Bloody useless in the moment of outrage.

Walhydra has always snarled at the perversity of this incarnation business. Recall, if you will, her lament at the start of this tale: "I already know this stuff. Why do I have to go through it again?"

Recall also the Crone's answer.

Ah, well....

In any event, after a week of such raging and moping, Walhydra decided—with a nudge from Nikki—to give up on the round-the-world goal and surrender to India's clerkly caste.

The two of them trekked back to the Registry Office, persuaded a victorious bureaucrat to give Walhydra an exit visa, and flew back to their "base camp" in Greece. There they pitched their tent once more at Camping Athens, their favorite tourist campground, where they had already spent several months between jaunts to Delphi, Crete and elsewhere.

It wasn't much fun there either.

Oh, well, of course it was fun for the Aquarian husband! He would probably enjoy falling off a cliff because it would be a new and exciting experience.

He promptly leapt right back into his favorite role of "corrupting the youth"—a sort of Celtic-Roman Socrates in saffron drag. He flirted with any young man who was even vaguely curious, went off to the beach with the lot of them, taught flute, read Tarot, and generally mentored any boy who showed a spark of original male spirit beyond that provided for by the basic testosterone hardwiring.

Nikki teaching fluteWalhydra, on the other hand, glowered and gloomed and found things to be disappointed about. She had cast off her saffron and replaced it with denim almost before they hit the New Delhi airport.

Now she sat.

And sat. And sat.

Bored. Angry. Envious of Nikki.

Reading and writing but enjoying neither. Still feeling as if her future had been stolen. Still resentful that they "weren't going anywhere or doing anything."

According to her journal, actually they did "go and do."

They met lots of new friends at Camping Athens—adults and young folk from all over the Western world, in fact. They tried out new restaurants. They traveled some more. They even had a subdued yet effective sorcerous battle with some rather ominous teenaged boys who resented Nikki's mentoring of their elfin leader.

All the while, though, Walhydra was still subconsciously lost, along with her stolen passport, back at Allahabad Station. She resented every day—even the best days—without knowing why.

She almost broke up with Nikki several times. Again without knowing why.

She resisted enjoying the rich friendships they were sharing. It was somewhat like sulking over being sent to the "wrong" part of heaven.

Eventually they left Greece to head home.

On their way back to England, their plan had been to stop over in Amsterdam for a few days of business and pleasure, and then to cross the Channel to South Hampton by ferry.

At Schiphol Airport, the immigration officer let Nikki through—despite his outrageously longhaired, be-saffroned get-up—because he carried a Common Market passport.

Poor Walhydra, however—obviously an American denim-clad hippie type—looked too much like a drug smuggler for the bored official to pass by. That, or else the official hadn't made his day's quota of hassling longhaired kids and figured a U.S. passport was too foreign to honor.

Portrait of a drug smugglerHe wouldn't let her through.

"How dare he?!"

Walhydra adopted her most imperious civil libertarian pose. To no avail.

She raised great objection to being forced to buy an expensive plane ticket on her credit card when she had cash for the ferry. To no avail.

She seethed with contempt when the bland officials insisted she sit in a detention room rather than in the passenger lobby to await her flight. All to no avail.

Nikki hurried into Amsterdam to do in a few hours the business they had intended to do at their leisure. When he returned, they were escorted by immigration authorities to the very steps of the plane.

Walhydra, in the highest of oxygen-deprived dudgeon, turned and spat deliberately on the pavement.

To no avail.

Well, actually there was karmic outcome of sorts.

That evening at British immigration, an official looked at Walhydra's passport and said, "Why were you turned away at Amsterdam? I'm going to have to investigate in the morning, before I can give you an entry visa.

"Don't leave South Hampton before then."

[Concluded in Conclusion]