Ok, a little backstory to set this one up; I was raised completely atheist – second generation, actually. As an adult, my general take on life was that if science couldn’t explain something, it wasn’t real, but then some paranormal-ish experiences kind of turned that all upside down about a decade ago. Since then, I’ve been very inquisitive about all sorts of things. Some I’ve still discounted as nonsense, but a lot more winds up in my ‘I can’t prove it one way or another’ box and there are things that I don’t understand, but feel are definitely real.
I also began studying a lot of different spiritual belief systems and philosophies at that time, including Buddhism, Taoism, and various Pagan spiritualities. Some things just didn’t resonate with me personally, others did to some extent, though mostly as more a philosophy or way of being than an actual religion, in fact anything that gets too close to religion makes me uncomfortable. I guess it’s because the only exposure to religion I had at all, growing up, was negative run-ins with a few of of the more notoriously intolerant flavors of Christianity.
I actually do belong to a Druid order, and would consider myself an animist and a pagan. I immerse myself in a lot of Pagan books, podcasts, and music, and interact some online, but it’s a mostly solitary thing. There’s actually a fairly sizable Pagan community locally, even in my little town, but I’ve never really gotten involved. I’ve tried, a time or two: the social anxiety involved in trying to go out to events with a bunch of strangers is pretty debilitating – and this is one situation where I can’t just hide behind my partner.
You see, while I am somewhat leery of anything overtly religious, she is downright hostile to any and all religion. Her upbringing was the opposite of mine – fully immersed deep in the bible belt, and it left a pretty bad taste in her mouth. She refers to my interests good-naturedly as kookery, but even my little eclectic practices make her uncomfortable, so if I want to go out to a Pagan’s night out meetup, or anything like that, I am strictly on my own.
Anyway, lots of build-up but it will make sense in a moment.
About a month or so ago, I was catching up on some podcasts and one of them was mentioning the musical lineup of one of the big regional Pagan festivals that was coming up. Four or five artists and bands I really like were all going to be there, and I briefly thought how much fun it would be to see them all in one place. This of course, was immediately followed by the acknowledgement that there’s no way I could ever handle the sensory experience of a music festival. I would completely shut down before I even made it through the first couple of hours.
“It’s too bad that none of these performers ever play anywhere near where I live,” I thought to myself, “If it was close by and a small enough venue, I would totally go.”
I kid you not, the very next day I saw an announcement that one of them was going to be doing a small acoustic performance at a town a half hour from me! It was going to be such a small show that there were only going to be 25 tickets sold. The coincidence was actually almost creepy.
I got excited, then dismissed the idea. I couldn’t go by myself, and I couldn’t ask my partner to go. Oh well. Later in the day, I brainstormed and reached out to the head of the local group that had shared the announcement; I didn’t know them well, but had actually been to one or two of their meet-ups and they were nice people. Were any of them going, I asked her? No, no one was able to make it, was the response, but she agreed that she couldn’t believe that something like this was happening near us, it was really an amazing opportunity. So I dismissed the idea again, regretfully.
The next day I was still thinking about it, and the irony was not lost on me that I’d made that proclamation about how I’d go to a small local show, and then when something really cool presented itself almost immediately, I backpedaled. So I decided that it couldn’t hurt to at least ask my partner. If she wasn’t interested, then I’d give up on it and move on, because no way would I be able to manage it by myself, but at least I would have made that much effort. And for the record, I pretty much expected not just ‘no’ but ‘hell no’ when I told her what it was.
I broached the subject tentatively (and by text, which is my go-to for uncomfortable conversations) and said I doubted she’d want to go and would totally understand, since she didn’t know the music and it was a Pagan artist, and I knew she wasn’t real comfortable with that stuff, but I figured I’d ask just in case…”Sure,” she said, “I’m always up for some live music.”
So for the second time in as many days, it felt like I’d been cornered into putting my money where my mouth was, in a manner of speaking. I bought the tickets, and added this to my background stress for the past month. A small venue was both good and bad, because I hate big crowds but it’s harder to make myself inconspicuous in a small group. Also, the artist is actually a witch, and I knew enough from interviews I’d heard that I was expecting there to be a bit of ritual to the performance. I didn’t do a very good job of communicating that to my partner, I suspected; how was she supposed to understand what I was talking about when I awkwardly mumbled something about there being some ‘elemental stuff’?
The day of the event, I confessed that I was really nervous about dragging her off to this event, and she reassured me that she was sure it would be fine, but joked that I might have to go to the cat circus that was coming to town to reciprocate – or maybe even the symphony. I said that she could determine what event to drag me to by the level of discomfort she experienced, and we both laughed.
I got more nervous the closer we got, and when the directions took us further and further into a residential neighborhood I really started to get anxious. When we pulled up, we realized this was actually someone’s house, and there were people standing around outside that all seemed to know each other, and if I’d been alone I surely would have turned tail and ran (wouldn’t be the first time) but because I’d made my partner come all that way, I marched onward to my doom. I joked that at least I was giving the new heart monitor a good workout.
We went inside and sat down; there were chairs set up all around a living room; even seated at the back I’d be watching the performance from about ten feet away, which was really cool but also really intimidating. When the artist (I am being vague, I know, but I try to write this blog anonymously so I’m being deliberately sparse with identifying details) was ready to start, she began by casting a circle with an athame, and my first thought was, “Oh shit, it looks like I am going to be attending the cat circus AND the symphony.”
It was both a wonderful and a painful experience.
Wonderful, because I’ve been a fan of her music for years and it was such an incredible experience to see her perform, especially in such an intimate setting. She is a great songwriter with an amazing voice and also a really cool person.
Painful, because the social anxiety was absolutely paralyzing, because at first the sound of that beautiful, resonant voice in that small space actually overwhelmed my senses, and because I knew that my partner was probably not having a great time.
The artist asked for requests a couple of times and there was a song I would have loved to have seen her perform, but there’s no way I could have forced myself to speak up. And at the end, I wanted to thank the host, and thank the artist for such a great show, but instead bolted for the door and crept away as soon as everyone started getting up and milling around.
It has probably cost me quite a few spoons for the next few days, but I am glad I went and my partner more or less survived unscathed. She was able to joke about how she felt bad that she probably damaged the circle that was cast, with her presence. She said it wasn’t really her cup of tea but that the artist really was a great performer, and as she’d said at the beginning, she loves to see live music.
There is totally a cat circus in my future, though. And possibly a symphony.