When and what to sacrifice

My current browser seems to be cooperating with WP a little better, so there might be more frequent updates; we’ll see.

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This is not a simple post to make, and I’m guaranteed to get it wrong.

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No system of complex elements is ever going to produce optimal outcomes for every participant in that system, certainly not in every cycle of activity. While any observer, participant or not, might bring their own rule(s) of measure to the search for meaning within those systems, we should probably remember that the desire for significant experiences and meaningful connections of self with community (which can include human and non-human personalities) involves an ongoing and (hopefully) maturing quest. This trajectory will certainly include no small measure of hurt done to others, even if we don’t intend it as such. This trajectory will certainly include no small measure of hurt done to others, even when we do intend it as such.

Sometimes a participant will continue to abide in a system because, by their rule of measure, good things can be amplified over negative things. To put this in more specific terms, let’s say I choose to remain within an environment (a party perhaps, or a conference) because I thought I could help improve the good things and thereby mitigate the bad things. Maybe I thought if I just kept trying only the good things would remain, or that the harmful things would hurt less, or that the people I loved wouldn’t be so impacted, or that I could focus only on the things I enjoyed, or that others could have more fun, or that the whole experience wouldn’t be so stressful for everyone involved in cultivating what made the whole system worth fighting for in the first place.

Maybe for a while it was like panning for gold – like the glittering flakes were worth more than the human capital of sweat and pain and toil. Maybe the euphoria made the extraction costs easy to ignore for a while. I didn’t taste the mine tailings leaking into my internal rivers until I’d retreat to private rooms, hear the things said to Black and Brown friends, to my trans siblings, reflect on things said to me; wrap myself in a weighted blanket of discontent all through the flight, wondering if I was the asshole, if I was the one with the problem when it seemed like everyone else what having a good time only to find out later that no, lots of other people were angry too, they just hadn’t said anything either (or they had and were ignored); come home and unpack the many ways I had failed, then sit with my shame for months until I talked myself out of it or committed to grow with it, and decide to do it again and this time do it better.

Eventually it wasn’t like panning for gold – a simple exchange of my personal human capital for euphoria. Eventually it was like extracting tar sands – a resource-intensive extraction process that would never pay out more than I put in.

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Look – I love PantheaCon. I love seeing people that I *maybe* see once a year, tops. I love getting to share my knowledge with people, getting to talk to people one on one, getting to smile and nod at people in the hallways, getting to smell the trees, getting to see the California sky, getting to see the ravens and the squirrels and the Bay as I fly in. I love spending money I don’t really have to spend on books and scented candles and probably some incense, too. I like finding out about who’s presenting for the first time and who’s come back with some brand new material. I love encouraging people to try their hand at presenting. I get so excited to meet people who have come to PCon for the first time and I’m in awe of those who have been coming since Year One. I spend way more time in hospitality suites and just talking with people than I do in formal programming; that’s how I’ve discovered I like to do PCon. I get way excited about the clothing exchanges and the caucuses and the meetups all the other ways we get to connect with each other – all the ways that we might not have expected to even though we’ve chosen to come together under one roof, at one time. I always come home with a lot of flyers and postcards from the info tables. It’s amazing to meet people I super admire and they’re all like, “oh wow it’s so amazing to meet you!” and I just stand there flapping and I just mumble “oh hey can I buy your book pls?”

The good things about PantheaCon are great. The great things about PantheaCon are amazing. People have mind-blowing experiences at some of those rituals; they might change their entire spiritual trajectory because of something that happens over the course of that February weekend, who knows?

I want these things to happen. I believe in these things happening. I’ve tried hard to do my small part in facilitating positive things happening at PCon, and hopefully I’ve accomplished that. I sincerely hope I haven’t made anything negative happen. If I have, I genuinely and truly apologize. While that certainly wouldn’t have been my intention, I recognize that that was my impact, and I hope this apology goes some way towards addressing that.

However – the drawbacks to PantheaCon are rough. They’ve certainly been addressed in much better ways in other places; those are the voices that need to be listened to. Many POC, QPOC, and trans people associated with PCon for many years have spoken in detail about hostility and marginalization they experience on individual and collective levels. Although small victories seem to be made, on a macro level things do not improve.

I am trans, though may not be as visibly so as some of my siblings. I am of mixed heritage, though pass as white. I’m part of contested religious minorities even within polytheism. If I’ve encountered marginalization (and I have), then how much harder is it for others? You shouldn’t have to have me saying these things for you to believe them.

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For many years, I chose to continually sacrifice my labor, my finances, my intellectual capital, and my emotional resilience to helping PCon happen. And in many ways I’m absolutely glad I did. It was frequently an amazing experience that helped me grow as a person, as a teacher, and as a practitioner. No one forced me to do it, this isn’t a sob story, a poor me story. PCon isn’t an event that happens without sacrifice.  The people who make it happen deserve thanks – this includes the attendees. After all, a party doesn’t happen if no one shows up.

It felt, well, noble for a while. It felt good to make this sacrifice again and again. Yes, it cost me an awful lot of money (virtually no presenters are helped with travel expenses or reimbursed in any manner; all expenses are on their shoulders), but I justified it over and over again, even as I left in emotional distress and anger. At least I got to see my friends – right? Well, I got to see my friends cry.

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I’ve chosen to sit out PantheaCon 2020. I didn’t apply to present, and I’m not going to try my luck at the room lottery or make reservations in neighboring hotels or book a flight specifically for the event. For me, it’s a bit of a deliberate protest, but not a very loud one. I don’t think anyone will even notice I’m not there. I’m just tired of throwing myself in the fire. Loki’s lessons have a lot to do with sacrifice, and I guess I need to finally pay attention to when I’m playing the martyr. Who am I laboring to serve, and do those forces really love the person I actually am? Who am I laboring to serve, and do those forces really love the people I say I love?

Plus I’m like super broke because I’ll be spending all my money going on pilgrimage to India again. I thought I could do both in fall 2018/spring 2019 and ugh. Didn’t work out as well as I thought it would. With any luck I’ll have a chance to do some more online conferences or something like that where I don’t have to leave home or wear pants.

(ETA: I should probably add that I really don’t care what other people do or choose. This isn’t a call-out post or a persuasive essay or anything like that. This is the linguistic expression of a thought process that’s been several months – several years, even – in the making. This is highly personal. It’s about the process I’ve been going through about the choices I want to make. What you choose to do with your resources – your money, your time, your human capital – is entirely up to you. )

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