Thinking About: Too High, Much Too High

I’m writing this blog a day early, as I will be on the road on Thursday and the weekend. It just makes sense to me to write the three blog posts for the week at the same time. Don’t ask, its my insanity. 😉

The following showed up on Facebook as a November 15th memory from three years ago (2018). I thought this might be a good starting place for this blog post.

PM Q: Who do you count as a mentor?

Oh wow. Uhm, I’m not sure I can count anyone as a mentor nor would I want to curse them with that title or position within my life. A lot of that is placing them on pedestals, no matter how small or large, and that is just a lofty location I would not want to put anyone.

I do have folks that I consider to as influences in my life. Cat Treadwell, Nimue Brown, and Joanna van der Hoeven have all played roles in my growth as a Pagan and a Druid to this point in my life. Their books and blogs have served as starting points for discussions in my own life on topics that I needed to sort out. Kristoffer Hughes continues to be an inspiration on how to approach life with a zest and passion for the good stuff, in whatever form it can be found. And there are so many others that I could continue to name for one reason or another…essentially, if you are in my life, I draw a piece of my daily passion or a slice of growing from you…and I wouldn’t want it any other way. But none of these folks are mentors or folks that I look up to. Each of them are people I look in the eye…because to treat them any differently would be an injustice to what they have helped me to discover for myself – people are people. Besides I cannot get awesome hugs from them when they are so far above me…its far easier if we are standing toe-to-toe with one another. And hugs…are everything.

Me, 11/15/2018, Facebook

We’ve all watched the entire issue happen before, particularly if we know someone who became popular in the wider Pagan community. A person writes a book, gives a series of public talks, offers classes, publishes/creates music, or any other number of things – any of which catch the fancy of the wider Pagan community. That popularity elevates them to an unspoken status of being a “BNP” – a “Big Name Pagan.” Their elevated status places them in a position of being consider some kind of “hero” or “mentor” to others. When those BNPs attend public gatherings, people tend to treat what has been conveyed in a talk as some kind of “holy writ.”

I’ve known a handful of these “popular” Pagans over the years. Many never wanted to be elevated to any status that placed them over others. My first was the late Pattalee Glass-Koentop, the author of two books in the late 1980s/early 1990s with Llewellyn. She was my grandmother Priestess in the first Wiccan group I joined. She was co-owner (I believe) of a locally run Pagan bookshop in Grand Prairie, Texas called “Flight of the Phoenix.” I was stationed at Carswell Air Force Base in west Forth Worth, a fairly decent drive away (a little over an hour, as I recall). When I first met her, I had no idea that she had written a single book, much less two. I just knew she was the grandmother Priestess of the group I had joined, and that I could find Pagan books and music at her store. I always took the time to strike up a conversation with her, and she was very down-to-earth with me. When she finally noted that she had written two books, I purchased one and took it back to my dormitory room to read. When I returned, we struck up a conversation about the book. When we finished, she casually commented that she was pleased that I didn’t give her the “author treatment.” My reply basically noted that she was a human being just like anyone else. Besides, I noted that if I placed her on that pedestal, I couldn’t get a hug from her. Her saucy retort was that this was true, but I could look up her skirt. We both had a belly-laugh over that.

Over the years since then, I have encountered and befriended quite a few more Pagan authors, as well as those that some would refer to as BNPs. I’ve always found that these folks tend to be very aware of their infamous status and are always relieved when you treat them like anyone else. My experience has been that most folks don’t like the lofty heights that a pedestal or hero worship can place someone in. When I was podcasting, I ran into much the same issue…though not nearly the lofty heights that others may have encountered. Both of my podcasts never really took off, even though I put nearly a combined eleven years into that effort. I would surmise that my pedestal that I was offered would only be a few inches in height, but its not the height of the pedestal that seems to be the issue. It’s the matter of being held in a position of being “more important” than anyone else.

When I taught at the community college, I got some similar experience from various students over those three years. After my very first semester, I was determined to extinguish the attitude that I was unapproachable as a professor. That somehow, just accepting the role of professor in the classroom, made me better than my students. That was never true though. After that first semester, I started every first day of class by reminding the students that I was no expert in Information Technology. That the difference between myself and them was merely years of experience. The amount of experience doesn’t make one better than others. It merely means that I’ve done things in that discipline a lot more often than the student has done.

I’ve been the neophyte. I’ve been the student. I’ve been the inexperienced one. I’ve been the one doubting every new step because the environment is new and unfamiliar. And to be completely honest, every BNP that is out there – they’ve been in the same spot too. If they claim that they haven’t, they are being completely dishonest. No one crawls out of the womb with the knowledge of someone that has mastered a discipline. Mastery of a discipline takes a lot of study, a lot of hard work, a lot of experience, and a lot of mistakes. Everyone had the same starting location. Some learn faster and deeper than others. Its part of what makes us all different and individual.

I have my heroes – people that I look at and wish I had their talent. The late-Cliff Burton, the late-Randy Rhoads, the late-“Dimebag” Darrel Abbott, Joe Satriani, and many of the Pagan authors that I have met, as well as conversed with. But I don’t want to place them above me…any of them. I prefer them at eye level, which isn’t always possible. For example, Kristoffer Hughes TOWERS over me. I think I am just below being able to look him in the armpit. With that said, Kristoffer gives the most amazing hugs, where I get dangled a foot off the ground. These folks (and so many more) have touched my life in such profound ways. They are all heroes to me. They are all mentors to my living life the best that I can. But I don’t want to place any of them on a pedestal. I’m only 5’5”. 😊

Remember, all these Pagan folks that you read. All the Pagan folk whose music you purchase and listen to. All of us Pagan bloggers. We’re all people, just like you. I would almost bet the farm that all of them would prefer that you treat them like they were your neighbor, and you were just talking out by your respective driveways. I know I appreciate it when people do that to me – particularly when they tell me that they read my blog and are inspired by what I write. I don’t want to be placed on a pedestal. Besides, I’m scared of heights. No, really I am.

–Tommy /|\

No Pedestals, Please. I’m Scared of Heights!

A long while back, at a Gulf Coast Gathering, one of the individuals that I initiated into the Bardic Grade with sought me out at the very beginning of camp. I think I had been in camp less than ten minutes at that point. He wanted to let me know that he was initiating into the Ovate Grade at this camp, which thrilled me to no end. That was quickly tempered by part of his next statement: “I was motivated by you going into the Ovate Grade last year. You inspired me to do this.” Inspired….I have always been uncomfortable with the position of being a mentor or a leader. So this particular statement really made me hold back for a moment before giving him a big hug (pre-COVID days, you know?). To provide a bit more context concerning my frame of mind and reaction, I need to take you back in time a little ways, as well as provide a piece of lyrical perspective from a Tommy Shaw solo song.

The United States Air Force trained me how to be a leader and a mentor. I learned how to work with people of different personality traits and to show them how to do a task without taking over completely. Because there’s no experience like hands on. I went to two training schools to learn all of that, Non-Commissioned Officers’ Preparatory School and Airman Leadership School. But even when I was being trained to be able to do handle these leadership skills, I had a very difficult time adjusting my mind to the idea that I was “good enough” to be such a person. Yes, I struggle greatly with the perspective that I am not good enough to have success in my life. I have a fairly good idea where all that originates from, but its not so much something that will help me change that mind-set by confronting it.

Later in my eight-year career, I became a well-liked shift leader by my subordinates,. My leadership style; however, was far too unorthodox for my supervisors. I did not always follow the Air Force’s idea of military discipline. I treated my subordinates as equals in capability and knowledge. I felt that they deserved that much, since I was pouring my knowledge and understanding into them where the job was concerned. My ideal flight of individuals would be those who could do the job as well as I could. In knowledge and skills, they would be my equals. We just happened to be in the Air Force for different amounts of times. See, this was wrong because in the military there is a reason for rank – so a pecking order of who is in charge can be established. Me? I don’t give two shits about that. My focus was on getting the job done and making sure that the people in my flight were the most knowledgeable and capable that they could be. My job was to keep it all together and make sure everything got done. We worked as equals, not as supervisor/subordinate. See, I took the idea of “the mission’s success, at all costs” that I had been taught in my career and morphed it into my own philosophy. To this day, I’ve utilized that philosophy in my work, but to much less spectacular results. Life outside of the work place is much more important than what you do for a paycheck, a lesson I learned the very hard way.

I have always had an extreme fear about being a leader, especially a Spiritual one. I’ve watched scandal after scandal from Christian leaders and even Pagan ones, to not see the warning signs. Absolute power will corrupt absolutely. Tommy Shaw put out a song that succinctly explains my trepidation with all of this in a single lyrical moment. The song comes his first solo album, “Girls With Guns”. The song is called ‘Free to Love You”.

I don’t want to grow up
To be a preacher
I don’t want your soul in my hands

When I hear people call me an inspiration, these lyrics immediately spring to mind. When I hear those kinds of words, I feel myself being placed on a pedestal (and I really am scared of heights). I am truly no one special. Not to be put on that level. So I hear that kind of praise and I can imagine myself arguing with people and telling them to use the wood they are building the pedestal with for something else. Build a house, make a fire and cook food for everyone….anything but that.

What makes this even more difficult is when people start characterizing me as a person with the “best moral and ethical character that I know.” Back when the tv series The Mandalorian came out, someone wanted to sit down and watch the series with me. “He reminds me of you.” Sure as shit, she was right. The Mandalorian is not a leader. He gets a mission he fulfills it, sometimes using questionable tactics. But essentially, he’s just trying to make his way through life, while trying to do the right thing. This really epitomizes my daily walk. I’m no Saint. I have a moral code to what I do. I have an ethical responsibility to others as well. Sometimes those don’t mesh well with the typical perspective of the rest of society. I have done quite a few questionable things in my career, in order to get the job done. Sometimes even sacrificing my happiness. And honestly, that’s not a good choice. So I wouldn’t classify myself as a paragon of good virtue.

But.

Despite all of that, I have to grapple with one realization. I AM a teacher. As much as I want to deny that, I know I’m good at it. One of my styles of teaching is to inspire people to look at the topic and turn it over and over until it calls to them. I have been doing that since 1988, when my duty section Supervisor put me in charge of learning the new Uninterrupted Power Subsystem for the mainframe we worked on. Then tasked me with teaching all the other shifts. I was excited about a new piece of technology being added to the system. That showed when I tried to teach others. Even the ones that didn’t want to learn. This was exactly the style of teaching that I did in the collegiate classrooms later on in my life. I don’t always reach everyone, but I always said that if I reached a single student in a year, I would be satisfied with that effort.

Now I can’t teach any Druidic students because of where I am on my current Path. However, if I did – and OBOD would want me to do so – I would prefer to be a tutor in their system. Currently, I am headed to Houston, somewhere that I am not aware of many OBOD folks. I may not be able to run study groups, but I can try and build a social perspective within the area. At least gather folks together that have like-minded perspectives and want to spend time together. More on that much later, when I have my feet a bit more firmly on the ground there.

I can be an inspiration to others, just by living my life. Out loud. Out in the open. No fences. No apologies. I am definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, so to speak, but I am not worried about that anymore. I have my own Spiritual practice to work with. I have Gods that I work with. I have an equal partner in my life. I am a perpetual student. Somewhere in all of that, someone is drawing some kind of inspiration to move forward in their life, to seek joy, happiness and positivity in all that they do through the day. And if that is just one person in an entire lifetime, then I have provided my own little spark to their part of the Universe. And in that, I can rejoice. I just have to make sure no one puts me sky-high on a tiny platform.😉

–T /|\