I spent all of last week traveling: first to a job interview in Seattle, and then to speak at a conference in Tucson. If you’ve never gone through an academic job interview, consider yourself lucky: it’s a grueling, 12-hour affair, consisting of meeting after meeting and a public teaching demonstration and two meals with people who are sizing you up. The morning of the interview, when I dressed in my hotel room before sunrise, I looked at myself in my black business suit and laughed. It wasn’t the first interview I’ve had in this suit–and the last time I wore it, I got an offer–but I still can’t get used to the sight of it. Shapeshifting can be tough on the psyche.
The job seems great and I hope I get it, but the conference was much more fun: a bunch of librarians and other educators gathering to talk about critical pedagogy and social justice. My talk was on alternative media (you can see my slides, if you want). It was well received, I think. I hope people found my ideas useful. When it was over and I didn’t have to stand at the front of a room anymore, I nearly collapsed with relief.
The day before, in the shuttle from the Tucson airport to my hotel, I was suddenly overcome with the strangest feeling. I felt like I was a passenger in my own body–a body that was moving of its own accord, getting on one plane and then another, answering interview questions and preparing Powerpoint slides while I passively looked on. All week I kept wondering why I felt so disconnected from the deepest parts of myself, unable to think about my religion, my writing, anything except the work I was immersed in. Did it make me a bad witch, that I couldn’t hold onto my livelihood and my true self simultaneously?
But then I thought of all the pressure I was under, the stress that manifested in headaches and heart palpitations and teeth-grinding, the relentless preparations for the interview and the talk. I thought of something my husband had once told me about karate, that martial artists often don’t remember the moment of impact when they break a board because the brain switches to a very rudimentary, fight-or-flight state. Something similar must have happened to me last week. Just focus on the task. There is nothing but the task. Only when it was all over and I could relax again did I start to come back to myself.
Not that my travels were all business. In Seattle, I had the good fortune to meet up with Rhyd Wildermuth, who’s even lovelier in real life than he is online. I was in the middle of a low period when A Beautiful Resistance #1 came out, and I kicked myself when I heard that it was sold out and I’d missed my window to get a copy, but then Rhyd pulled one out of his bag and I got to take it home. I’d wondered if it was a bad idea to go out for coffee instead of prepping more for the interview, but our conversation was nourishing in a way that only Pagan conversations are for me. The next night, I met with a Reclaiming witch who gave me the lowdown on housing prices. Then, after the conference ended, I had my cards read by a member of the Dry River Witches Collective and we chatted about witchcamps.
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I thought the last of the adrenaline would wear off once I finished my talk, and I could coast through the second day of the conference. But just networking was a source of stress, and I didn’t really start to calm down until the conference ended and the sun set. After getting my cards read, I walked back to my hotel and, seeing a dark street, kept going. I didn’t truly feel like myself again until I was alone, outside, at dusk, picking my way through the weeds. I stopped and looked up at the stars. I breathed in the desert air and had a download: that the purpose of the witch, in this historical moment, is to steer civilization back to the natural world. Obviously there are many types of witches, and here I’m talking about one specific type. Sometimes I worry that the veneration of nature is a form of escapism, but it isn’t–or, at least, it doesn’t have to be. Rather, it’s a call back to what we’ve lost. If we hadn’t lost it, then the witch would have another purpose.
I’m not putting that out there as a proclamation. I don’t know if I completely believe it myself. It’s just a thought I had in the desert.
When I got back to the hotel to eat after my walk, there were other women from the conference in the restaurant. It was the type of conference where I’ll bet there was another witch or two in attendance, but I still kept my distance. I sat down for dinner with twigs and leaves in my hair. Now I await news from the job, wondering if I’ll be traveling again soon.