“Heather was a source of stress for you, and the more you collected anguish, the more you associated the bad experiences with her.” My friend Laura Bolt (@la_vie_bolt) helps me feel less cuckoo about projecting every problem into a tiny wooden figurine. “The act of performing something, like releasing Heather, is a sense of theater, which is a valid way to stop bad things: Taking performative, ritualistic measures will often free the mind. Maybe you cursed her, not the other way around; maybe she was just an object and was representative of this part of your brain that you were pouring all your anxiety into. You had all these happy feelings towards this new life: great job, great friends, finally a great apartment, and suddenly a likely boyfriend. But there was still within you this bad energy that was harboring your guilt and emotional baggage and a belief that you aren’t worthy of these good things. I don’t think what you did is crazy. It’s the opposite; it’s healthy.” I jokingly compare it to Catholic reconciliation, though: Whenever I would go to “confession” as a child, I would only tell the priest as much as I was comfortable telling him—”I lied once. I did things I shouldn’t do. I watched MTV at a sleepover.”—and the priest would tell me to “say 10 Hail Marys” and all would be absolved. Heather just feels like some stupid carryover of that ritual to me: “Get rid of this idol and all problems will go away.” Laura doesn’t subscribe to any singular belief system, but instead pulls ideals from many. However, Catholicism is not one of them: “I have no perception of Catholic guilt, but it’s fascinating how so many western, binary religions tell you that you must repent in order to feel free of anguish. In Buddhism, you are taught to examine your intentions. Were your intentions to cause pain? Do you honestly believe that Strings and Buckminster getting together was punishment for you dating Romeo? Really? Love-triangle karma? And that this guilt started your apartment-moving hell? Getting rid of Heather can’t change those things that happened. But it can serve as a reminder that you’re ready to move on from it all…. Embrace the ritual.”
Laura has been my spiritual advisor lately. I find solace in holing up at the two-blocks-away Crown Heights apartment she shares with her best pal Jon (@jonmroth). The two of them, both editors as well, were laid off at @DETAILSmag in November, and they tackled unemployment with a good, healthy sense of humor; their energy and few-steps-ahead-of-me perspective has been especially helpful in preventing me from feeling too wounded in my own unemployment. (Also, the cookies Jon bakes.) Just a couple weeks before losing her job, Laura moved out of a shared apartment with a long-term boyfriend, and into this one. She’s done a lot of embracing the unknown since then—and who wouldn’t, when job and home and love crumble in succession? And while I’ve seen her endure some pretty shitty days, the persistent sentiment is that “this too shall pass”, and that she will emerge strong, resilient, happy. Laura’s advice to me: “We tend, especially as New Yorkers and people who are driven and put a lot into their work, to craft an identity out of our jobs, and when that goes away it’s easy to feel like you’ve lost a part of yourself. But something like losing a job can force you to recalibrate, question the path you’re on, and whether you’re really doing what you want to be doing. It gives you a special kind of freedom to explore who you are at this point in your life. Well, you can do that anytime technically, but a big universal push—like unexpected unemployment—will allow you to do it better than almost anything else. Once the thing you are afraid of happens, then that fear is also gone. As important as financial stability is, maybe what you can find now is a better sense of self, which is the best way to align with what you want and how to get it.” This outlook justifies the emotions, and draws a dotted line to the feeling I want to have (security) and away from the one currently felt (fear of the unknown): How can I get from here to there? “The mind will work it out,” Laura says. “Understand that stress is part of that, and trust that you’ll get there, maybe quickly but maybe slowly. Just hold onto that.”
Most of my friends’ parents tried at some point to introduce religion to their children. Some of these baby boomers will get through life without ever questioning the belief system into which they were born, while accepting it as moral law—wow, cool life—while others have accepted their kids’ dissonance and the fact that maybe religion is just one way of processing the unknown; it’s socially structured spiritualism. Laura’s mother is in the latter camp; the daughter of a Methodist minister, she tried taking Laura to church but knew it was futile when Laura would spend the entire service looking for ghosts and spirits—“It seemed like one of the best places to communicate with ghosts, so that’s how I would pass the time.”—and when Laura was insubordinate as a 13-year-old acolyte: “That’s where they give you robes and a big candle-lighting wand. When I was walking down the aisle during church, I put on these huge Joan Didion sunglasses and just sat there on the bench with the light pouring in on me. Mom was so mortified, but she never punished me. She just accepted that I didn’t buy into it.” Neither does her father; her parents are still together but Dad has never gone to church: “They’re so philosophically and temperamentally different, but the vibe just works. Dad is really into existential philosophy, and we talk a lot about Buddhism together. Mom doesn’t talk about religion or make other people engage with it. It’s a thing she does, a thing Dad doesn’t do, and they leave it at that. Seeing them balance that was a big reason I stayed spiritual once I rejected religion; these two people existed in harmony while processing things in different manners. All I had to do was find my own manner—some malleable way of thinking, one that would keep me stable if nothing else made sense, if and when things get turned upside down.”
Laura and I are having this conversation around her living room on the evening of January 23, which brings with it Tropical Storm Jonas and 26 inches of snow. “Tonight is a full wolf moon,” she tells me, sounding something like a Hogwarts Divination professor. “It’s the perfect night for charging one’s crystals.” She hands me a small drawstring bag filled with four crystals, and I smirk as I posit why she’s gifting them to me. “Maybe you can use these as a more proactive ritual moving forward,” she says. “Crystals provide a good way of stating intentions, and understanding your needs. I believe everything is based on energy. The direction and intention of energy really depends on who you believe you’re talking to: a supreme being, a goddess, the earth.” (I guess my “supreme being” is some sort of god or goddess, though I’ve never imagined it with any physical attributes.) “You’re going to take these crystals and pour your intentions into them whenever you want or need something, as you clutch them in your hands. Think about what you want to get strength from and to achieve. It’s not the most pragmatic way of doing things, but it’s a simple intention, and they’ll give you a good backdrop of energy. It’s like prayer; just channel your energy into them, towards that supreme being. But, before you do that, you need to clear them and charge them in the sun or moonlight. Anything with particular meaning, like a solstice or equinox or full moon, has especially strong energy.” OK, got it. I think.
There are four crystals in the bag: quartz, amethyst, bloodstone, and citrine. “Quartz is the bind that makes everything more powerful; it’s the activating agent, like yeast for bread,” says Laura. “Amethyst is for mental clarity and purity; you’ll be very focused because of it. Bloodstone is holistic; it’s for protection. And citrine is for luck and prosperity.” She shows off her Comparative Religions degree by connecting this stability-seeking practice to a Daoist principle: “We are flowing like the way water flows, and anything against that current is going to disrupt us. Nature is meant to be unstable, and humans have an innate need to stabilize themselves. We work really hard to have definition in our relationships, and the work that we do, and the way that we relate to the world. You can’t hold on to things with a tight grip—except for these crystals, of course—because everything has to change. You have to lose things—people, money, security. If you don’t accept this, then you’ll be constantly bracing for impact and trying to avoid the inevitable. Without an internal flexibility that allows you to evolve and change, you’re going to be in chaos, and you will lead a very tragic, isolated life. Having this flexibility will keep your head above water, no matter what drastic things might happen; it’s the best way to preserve one’s self-esteem. Keep that in mind as you state your intentions; always work with that understanding and openness.”
I did charge the crystals that night, and the next morning I clasped them in my hand and channeled my intentions into them. I wished for a year of stability, of little excitement. I didn’t want to be closed off to changes—I felt ready to handle anything drastic, given my 2015—but my preference was to have a solid block of uneventful months, to be able to focus my uninterrupted attention on whatever was next. Work was steady and I had no plans to leave; my home life was also in perfect shape. I hadn’t dated anyone significantly since Strings; that game felt like a big fucking joke to me, so I was still opting out. Then, a few days later, after all 26 inches of snow had melted away, I lost my job. So much for my desired stasis. “That doesn’t take away from you focusing on what it is you want,” Laura says. “You want stability, security. Either way, you still get to focus on what is next, and look—your home life is still good, you have enough people to ask for work, and you only have yourself to support, so it’s all very manageable. Now you get to find security in your next endeavors. And you can still find it yet.” She’s right. It didn’t seem all that terrible; I got a good severance package, plus a prompt push away from happy complacency. I could pursue freelance writing and editing work and take time to find the next role to challenge me. I had a flashback to that poor, helpless, naïve kid who sulked outside of Pixar in 2009, totally entitled, totally heartbroken. I charged the crystals again the night I was laid off, and the next morning, sent into them my intentions of staying calm, keeping control, and, per Daoist wisdom, for flexibility and strength in times of change.
Laura and I are both 29. She points out that this is our year of “Saturn returns”: Basically, Saturn takes 29.5 years to round the Sun and return to the place in the sky where it was when you were born. Astrologers believe that anyone between the ages of 27-29 crosses a barrier that ushers them into a new phase of maturity, of adulthood. I like the idea, but I also used to think that 25 was the panacea number, and then 27, and now 29 because this theory gives me something to latch onto. I’m not sure what to expect this year, but something about being told by Birchbox that I’m now free of a salary, of subsidized health insurance, of routine, feels like my supreme being telling me that “it’s time to put your practice into play, to test the talents you’ve fostered, the network you’ve nourished, the wall you’ve built around your ego and conscience and heart… don’t hesitate; run.” Adds Laura: “There’s a helpful Mysticism practice of determining your identity and purpose: Turn your focus inward; guide and teach yourself to look at what’s around you and to listen to your intentions, see the signs, and you’ll see that you have far better tools than most people who are, as they say, ‘out in the forest’, searching for answers anywhere but within themselves.” As she tells me this after my layoff, I feel a strange kind of strength and assurance. The barrier around my mind is so tested by time and elements: If Adam 22 had to stumble and fall and dodge arrows in order to lift himself up and evolve into Adam 29, then Adams 35, 45, and 70 could only be born of a widened stance, firmly stated intentions—a god-damned battle cry, for that matter—and a full charge, right into the fire.