Archives For Stories by Lydia

A life without love is of no account. Don’t ask yourself what kind of love you should seek, spiritual or material, divine or mundane, Eastern or Western. Divisions only lead to more divisions. Love has no labels, no definitions. It is what it is, pure and simple. Love is the water of life. And a lover is a soul of fire! The universe turns differently when fire loves water.

~ quoted from The Forty Words of Love, by Elif Shafak (a historical novel about the Sufi mystics Rumi and Shams Tabrizi, which I read during Burning Man)


Fire in a Burning Man sculpture
Fire spreads across the roof of a sculpture at Burning Man


This year, I’ve gained a new interest in personal spiritual experience — so my approach to Burning Man 2016 was very different. In the past, I’ve focused on art and dancing and stuff, with triumphant articles like The Best Art At Burning Man 2015. (Note: Anything I say about Burning Man that includes the word “best” is a joke.)

So this year I did less art-hunting, but there’s always plenty to see. On my way to the desert, I was reading Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind and I encountered a section with this heading:

No Trace: When you do something, you should burn yourself completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself.

One of Burning Man’s Ten Principles is Leaving No Trace. Officially, this is about our environmental impact — we don’t want to leave a mess in the fragile desert. But Suzuki started the San Francisco Zen Center, which became active before Burning Man began in San Francisco, and someone in the original Burning Man crew probably read the book.

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Foxes have nice tails

October 17, 2015

This story will be true until the night ends; only if the night ends will you know the story wasn’t true.

* * *

There is a type of fox spirit whose power is measured in their tails. A three-tailed fox is adolescent, while a nine-tail is ancient and powerful. Still, even the weakest fox spirits have power. They send dreams, bend minds, take any shape they like. They can look like anyone, even your child or closest friend.

Naturally, such spirits are mischievous and mercurial.

There was a young three-tail who fell in love with a mortal noble’s son. While passing through the forest near his home, she saw him rescue a wounded rabbit and was intrigued. She followed him silently for a time, watched him go home and take care of the animal. But she had to take the form of a bird, and watch him from the air outside his window, because the boy’s family had invested in powerful spirit-wards.

The wards were thorough; every door and window was like a solid wall to the fox-girl. Soon she realized that around his neck, the boy wore a protective charm so that he wouldn’t see or hear spirits.

The three-tail fell so quickly that she could hardly think, hardly breathe. The world only held color when she was near him. Soon, she haunted the boy’s home. She wept at the threshold and she slept, night after night, in the nearby wood. She tried to speak with him, but of course his protections rendered her invisible; he thought her voice was only the wind.

The fox-girl could only reach the boy through his dreams. Even there, she saw him rarely, for he almost always wore his charm while asleep. And he almost never recalled his dreams upon waking. After speaking to him there, she realized that although he could learn things in dreams, he rarely remembered her at all.

After months of this, the fox-girl became so distraught that her father noticed and decided to rid the world of this pesky mortal. Yet although her father was a powerful eight-tail, he could not himself penetrate the wards, so he sought other spirits to do the dirty work. He found a lowly river spirit who specialized in water-borne illness, and he ordered the spirit to contaminate the river for miles around and thereby poison the noble’s son. But the three-tailed fox-girl — ever-watchful at the boy’s house — saw the water spirit sneaking about, and she threw herself on the ground to beg mercy.

The water spirit told the fox-girl: “My river is blocked, and this pains me. If my river is unblocked I will spare the boy,” and so she worked for weeks to open the river. She made alliances with animal spirits, to move stones and branches. She sowed omens in human dreams, showed them visions of clear-flowing water. The river was soon cleared, so the river spirit defied her eight-tailed father, and the boy was spared.

Several times, her father tried to arrange the boy’s destruction, and several times she outmaneuvered him. The fox-girl grew in cunning and influence as she built her network across the realm. Soon, she had another tail: she was a four-tail now.

Eventually, her father tired of trying to outsmart his obsessed daughter, and he took a new tack. He went to spirits all over the world to find new suitors for the girl. He told them that she was creative and charming and clever, and some of them believed him. The fox-girl received visits from handsome spirits, noble spirits, brilliant spirits. Star spirits came to shine with her, and air spirits made her laugh.

Yet none of those spirits held the humanity of the noble’s son. So, still, her heart remained with the compassionate boy.

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Jul 23

The endless world-changers

An evening’s tale:

* * *

We were hand-chosen for an elite crew that skipped through millennia examining strife. We believed that with enough effort and data-gathering, we would find the solution for human conflict and bring it home to our original time.

We were invulnerable: swift healers, nearly ageless. We had worked hard to get into the program, worked hard to earn our rare and flawless artificial biology, but we didn’t feel privileged. We merely believed in the mission with all our hearts.

We slept through interstitial periods between the frenetic times we examined. Through those dark ages, we lay locked in underground cocoons.

This was the only sleep we received; otherwise we needed none. Our hibernation dreams were so slow and abstract that they melted completely when daylight arrived.

Throughout each mission, you and I made slow orbits around each other. I saw you rarely, a former lover from a time when my life was different. We’d been recruited separately after we broke up.

Now we saw each other at crises, exchanged hugs and whispered encouragement as the centuries wore on. That was all. Our mission was all-consuming.

* * *

We arrived in a time of desperate strife. Shortages led to starvation, fighting in the streets, and numberless atrocities that we’d all seen before. Once again, we had high hopes for our latest theory, but hope dissolved as we tested and iterated.

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