Ten years ago on February 7 2011 my wife Ari and I (along with our cat Evie) moved from Michigan to California. Time is a strange mistress, in some ways it doesn’t feel like it could possible be as long as ten years, and in other ways it feels like an entirely different life. For the both of us, California has been a land of incredible opportunity, success, triumph, and struggle.
To suggest that California has been life-changing is an understatement. It’s been the journey of a lifetime, and without our move out here I wouldn’t be writing here at Patheos Pagan and now writing (Llewellyn) book number 9!
On one of our first nights in California, around 11:00 PM, we settled into bed with the window open. It was probably only in the 40’s that night, having just come from Michigan that might as well have been 80 degrees, but along with the breeze came something else, the guitar of Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page. A neighbor had decided to blast Zeppelin’s Ten Years Gone to the entire neighborhood. There was no follow up, just Ten Years Gone, and then silence. This happened the next couple of nights and we took it as a good omen.
What follows are some reflections, some happy, some sad, from our time in California. This has been a wonderful adventure for us, thanks to everyone who has been a part of the trip!
Our first year in California was rough. This state was far more expensive to live in than we ever dreamed, and it took us about a year to really establish the amount of friendships needed to call where we were living “home.” But we eventually got there, helped a lot by changing addresses in January of 2012.
I can’t put into words just how much finding our very small house changed our lives for the better. Before our current place we were living in a townhouse, about 40 minutes away from anything (on foot at least). It also meant that we really couldn’t have very many people over at a time, certainly not enough to form a coven or host a regular circle. That changed when we moved.
Two months after moving we hosted our first ritual, by December of that year we had a pretty awesome coven. Our coven formed by accident, it just sort of fell into our laps. Because Ari works in the medical field and is often “on call,” leaving the house was often something we couldn’t do on the weekends, hence hosting our own events. And during that time friendships were formed and bonds were forged and the people we initially invited over (many of them anyways) became a coven.
Our first few years with the “Oak Court” (named after our street, it’s not meant to be pretentious) were something we had never experienced before in our nearly twenty years of Pagan practice: a thriving and really active coven. Regularly meeting, and practicing magick, made me realize how much I truly didn’t know, and I owe my precious Oak Nuts for everything I’ve been able to do over the last nine or so years. We had been a part of ritual groups before, but they had generally flamed out after a year or two, we will celebrate ten years as an official coven at Yule in 2022 (maybe we’ll even be able to meet in person!).
We were initiated into the Gardnerian tradition in Michigan in March of 2010, we moved away ten months or so later. It felt like a missed opportunity for awhile, but in 2014 we returned to Michigan where we were elevated to the second degree. Eventually we were made third degree Witches and started our own Gardnerian coven on the West Coast. Having two covens, and two different practices, has made us better Witches and hopefully better people. None of it happens without moving to California.
I started writing for Patheos Pagan back in 2012 when Star Foster was the channel manager here (I owe a great deal to Star Foster). Like many who have written at Patheos Pagan over the years I started out on the Agora, our shared blog (one of Star’s many brilliant decisions at P Pagan). Five months after my first post on the Agora I graduated to this here blog and have been writing here ever since (though much less than I used to).
My early days as a “blogger” were mostly fun. There’s something satisfying about seeing something you’ve written get shared on social media and start conversations. One of my early favorite pieces was a three part series on The Twenty-Five Most Influential People in the Modern Pagan Revival. That was way back in 2013, back when people still left comments on the blog proper instead of only on Facebook, and I enjoyed the discussions that series instigated. I remember people sending me messages actively awaiting my “top 5” influential people, and how cool it was that people were genuinely excited about something I had written.
In 2015 I became the channel manager of Patheos Pagan, something I never saw coming. Despite a lot of people who don’t seem to like me because of Patheos Pagan, I’m incredibly proud of the work I’ve done here the last six years. It’s been extremely gratifying to watch many of the writers who have started here go on to write books for Llewellyn, Samuel Weiser, and other publishers. (I deserve none of the credit for that, I just opened a door.)
Perhaps most of all, I’m over the moon proud to be the first channel at Patheos to feature trans and non-binary writers. (This means the world to me.) It’s not enough of course, and we have a long way to go, but every step forward matters. I hope it’s one of the things I’m remembered for when my time here ends.
Patheos Pagan has also been incredibly heartbreaking. Every rose truly does have its thorns. I have lost friends over the fallout of certain happenings at Patheos Pagan. Much of that acrimony was both incredibly petty and intensely personal. Some of those wounds will never heal. That also has been a part of my experience in California.
I have always wanted to be a writer. My first book project began in the third grade when I started keeping a scrapbook full of clippings related to cryptozoology. (There’s not a plesiosaur in Loch Ness, but I wish there was.) Before moving from East Peoria Illinois to Wytheville Virginia in the fifth grade I gave that book to my elementary school library, getting the “card catalog” cards from the library felt like quite an achievement at the time. In college I day dreamed about writing fantasy novels, but despite coming up with some cool characters and even a map of my fantasy world, I was never very good at figuring out how to get my characters from point to point (in other words, story was a problem).
I discovered Witchcraft and Paganism at age 21 and by the time I was 23 I had started writing a local Wiccan ‘zine with my buddy Dwayne Sortor. I’m rather embarrassed about some of those early attempts at writing but we mostly had a blast over the five or six years we were putting The Wiccan Read* together. Writing bad magazine articles led to me wanting to write books, and by 1998 I tried to write a book about Wicca (going as far as to submit something to Samuel Weiser) and a few years after that something on the Horned God (to Llewellyn, I still have the rejection email!).
There are people who are probably born with natural writing ability, I am probably one of them, but to actually be a good writer you have to practice. When I lived in Michigan I did not practice much, I believed that if I put in just minimal effort it would come to me. Sadly, that’s not the case, and to be a decent writer you really have to write with frequency. Blogging, and writing two or three times a week minimum on this here blog, was what opened the door to writing for Llewellyn.
By 2014 I was familiar with a lot of people in the Pagan Community through going to festivals and things, and one of those people was Elysia Gallo, the acquisitions editor at Llewellyn. After reading an article here on athames she asked me if i would be interested in writing a book for Llewellyn on that subject. That email was one of the ten happiest moments of my life. The Witch’s Athame (with its pumpkin cover) is a tiny book, and my first draft was a scant 30,000 words long (in hindsight that’s absolutely hilarious, the published version was 45,000 and many of my books now are over 100,000 words). It also took me over eight months to come up with those 30,000 words.
Writing a book is absolutely terrifying and there’s no manual for how to do it. The hardest part of that experience was simply starting. My brain liked to tell me that I wasn’t worthy, and I can be a painstakingly slow writer, which only added to the doubt and fear. I started putting my manuscript together in chunks, picking out little pieces I felt confident writing about. Eventually I had cobbled together enough of a book that I was able to hit “send” and put my manuscript in my editor’s inbox.
Her comments after reading the manuscript were quite supportive, “it’s fine, but can you write more?” is most of what I remember from the experience. The wait for the book to come out was just as excruciating as the writing. Did you know it takes a little over a year (in most cases) for Llewellyn to publish a book after you send in the manuscript? None of it was going to feel real until the book was a physical product I could hold in my hands. That happened in December of 2015, just in time for our New Year’s Eve Party. I did my first book signing a few days later.
Athame was not a successful book. Llewellyn really misjudged how much people might care about ritual knives and swords, but they let me write another book anyways. The Witch’s Book of Shadows (an idea I had) followed in February of 2017, and was an entirely different experience than Athame. I was confident while I was writing the book, and got it done fairly quickly, five months this time, and when I hit “send” the second time I was beaming. I had to rewrite about 60% of it before it was published. However, it was actually successful, and as I write this, it’s on its fifth printing which is pretty cool.
In the Summer of 2017 Laura Tempest Zakroff and I were on my living room couch drinking wine talking about books. “What are you working on?” Tempest asked. I described the book that would become Transformative Witchcraft and how I was going to spend several years writing it to make sure it was “perfect.” She told me that I was stupid and that it would never get done unless I had a firm deadline and that I should submit my idea immediately to Llewellyn. As she always is, she was right. We also discussed writing a book together that night, The Witch’s Altar, which was one of the most fun projects I’ve ever worked on. We wrote that book in three months, while Tempeset was writing Weaving the Liminal and I was writing TW.
We were at Universal Studios Orlando when I got the offer letters for those two books from Llewelyn. It was an amazing moment, I didn’t cry or anything, but Ari and I did have an extra Flaming Moe that afternoon to celebrate.
Since then I’ve been writing like a man possessed, and this June will see the release of my seventh book. I turned in book eight just a few weeks ago, and I’ve started book nine. My second attempt at writing a book, became book number 7. The Horned God of the Witches is a book I’m immensely proud of and I can’t wait for you to read it. It would not have happened without California.
While writing about my time putting together books has been quite cathartic for me, and I love what I do most days, it does come with a price. There are times when you disappoint people (certainly never the intent) and there are moments when the criticisms feel far more personal than professional. There are times when I wish I had chosen to write under a nom de plume, and even certain days when I wish I had never started writing at all.
What most people don’t realize is that there’s no manual on how to be a Pagan and/or Witchcraft author. In the age of social media, nearly every reaction a person has can be tracked in real time. An angry tweet or Facebook post can’t just be deleted because someone has already taken a screenshot of it. It’s a small world, and when someone is talking about you behind your back, you’ll always find out about it. I have had “friends” say some pretty horrible things about me over the last five years, that’s the part no one talks about when it comes to writing. This is making me feel pretty awful just writing about it, so I don’t want to dwell on it, but there are a lot of people who seem to love tearing other people down for no real reason.
ARI & JASON
Our marriage was good in the days right before we moved to California, but it’s grown ever more perfect in our ten years here. Ari is my heart, and this is all a journey we’ve taken together. She’s been there when I’ve run around the house screaming “10,000 page views!” and she’s been there when I’ve sobbed and broken down from the pain that sometimes comes with being a part of this community.
In ten years we’ve built a great life here in the Golden State. Thank you California, we look forward to many more great moments in the future.
*I recently discovered a huge cache of Wiccan Read back issues that I might be willing to send to the curious.