How the Earth learned to dance

thalassa:

oooh, lovely! here’s one for the wee grimoire!

Originally posted on Adventures and Musings of an Arch Druidess:

Once upon a time the Element of Earth was sad. She had been looking all over and no matter where she looked the other elements and things around her danced. She wanted to dance. She knew if she danced people and animals would get hurt.

The other Elements noticed that Earth was silent. So they came to ask her what was wrong. Fire was the bravest so they let her ask the question. “Earth, what’s wrong? Is there something we can do?”

The Earth thought and then said,” I don’t know if you can. I see all of you dancing alone and with each other but I can’t join in and I really, really want to.”

Fire was quiet and then said, “Wait here a moment.” She went to the other Elements and they met in a huddle. “Is there some way we can each let her dance with us?…

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Connecting with Spirit: Part II

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IMG_20131108_131657When you need to pray, go down to the sea.  Breathe with the rhythm of the waves. Become the sun, the surf, the sand.  And when you no longer know one from the other, let your hopes, your fears, your dreams, your very soul become one with the world, with the universe.

Don’t worry, when you are finished you will find your way back to yourself.  You will have cleansed the stain of civilization from your soul to one again embrace your true self.  And you will know that you can come back anytime, you are only a small thought away from god.

If you lack a handy nearby ocean, don’t worry.  You can do this anywhere…just shut off your computer or put down your book, open your front door and go outside (shoes are optional, but generally not recommended).

Connecting with Nature

Earth-centered Paganism would include those Paganisms concerned primarily with ecology, those more local forms of Paganism that I would call “backyard Paganism” or are sometimes called “dirt worship”, and many forms of (neo-)animism which view humans as non-privileged part of an interconnected more-than-human community of beings. The Pagan identity of earth-centered Pagans is defined by their relationship to their natural environment. Authenticity for these Pagans is defined by one’s ability to connect with the more-than-human world.
~John Halstead, Three (or more?) Centers of Paganism @ The Allergic Pagan

Nature Centered Pagans find the Divine in Nature – their primary concern is the natural world and our relationship with it. You may hear terms like “Earth centered” “tree hugger” and “dirt worshipper.”

This may be a non-theistic practice, though not necessarily so. It includes Animism, the idea that whatever animates you and me and the birds and bees also animates the wind and rain and even the mountains.
~John Beckett, The Four Centers of Paganism @ Under the Ancient Oaks

My “Connection with Spirit” is primarily a connection with nature.  Yes (as mentioned in the last post), I worship deities, but do so in relation to their relationship to the natural world. My connection with nature is specifically a relationship with my bioregion (but not an animistic one), the Chesapeake Bay watershed. I worship personified natural forces as a way of worshiping Nature Herself (through the Nereids). Land is steeped in sacredness, whether one sees these as individual spirits (what one might call land wights, or nature spirits) or part of a greater (almost pantheistic) spirit is (IMO) beside the point. It has been my experience that the land doesn’t care about what you call it, it cares that you have heard its call (and it doesn’t care whether you believe that call is literal or figurative).

A Nature or Earth centered Pagan may work with only one of these aspects–spirits, nature, and Nature; a naturalistic Pagan might work with nature, an animist might work with their local bioregion, a pantheistic Pagan with Nature Herself, etc. Or a Nature-centered Pagan may work in the area where Nature and the gods overlap (if we think of this as a Venn diagram), or with all three aspects. Either way, the focus for most Nature centered Pagans generally seems to be building a relationship between the various aspects of nature and one’s self. This may mean building a relationship with one’s local land spirits, incorporating service and/or activism as a sign of reverence (which can be as simple as picking up trash at the local park), or creating a tradition unique to yourself and your bioregion. For me, it includes all of the above, as well as things like being ecologically thoughtful about my offerings, being a conscious and responsbile consumer, and striving to teach all of these things to my children.

I found it surprising that Albertsson didn’t address nature worship much as part of “connecting with spirit”, as he comes from an ADF background (though I suppose one could argue that he does address various ways to do so in the rest of the book).  ADF considers nature part of the Three Kindred–gods, nature, and ancestors.  The ADF Dedicant Path though the Wheel of the Year (a book that can be used to help complete ADF’s Dedicant Path) explains Nature awareness as having three facets–awareness of the physical and material existence of nature, an awareness of the spirits of Nature, and the awareness of the Earth as a sort of Mother deity (akin to what I call “Nature, Herself”).   One of the activities incalls upon its new members to find a place near enough to their home that they can visit it at least weekly for at least an hour, and to observe and experience that place with their entire being for the entire year of their Dedicant Path work.

I’m a big fan of the “find a place in nature and exhalt in spending time there regularly” practice as the most effective way to connect with nature. Too bad there isn’t a simpler word for that idea the English lanugage–after all, the Norwegians have the word friluftsliv and the Japanese have the term shinrin yoku, both of which come close…  The myriad of physical benefits from spending time in Nature–decreased stress, improves memory and attention (especially for persons with ADHD), an increased sense of vitality, and a strengthened immune system (to name a few) should have Pagans (of all sorts) lining up to go outside on a regular basis.  Physical reasons for going outside and spending time in nature aside, Paganism is ultimately a religion steeped in the idea of gods that are of this world–gods that are imminent and accessible, that are the forces and features of this existence.

If we truly believe this, whether we do so literally or figuratively, I would hope our worship would include getting to know those forces and features beyond the personality said to represent them. Spend an hour in nature (at least) each week. Learn about your bioregion, your ecosystem, your backyard.  You don’t have to do anything crazy or go anywhere fancy, though activities (like flying a kite to get to know your local Air or planting a native garden to attract your local animal spirits) can absolutely be a part of this process.  Pick up a field guide or two, go on a plant walk with your local Native Plant society, volunteer for a bird count with your local Audobon, pick up trash at the park where you walk your dog.  Talk to your garden, sleep in your woods, swim at your beach.  And do them all with reverence. But no matter what you choose do, let your feet greet the earth and get to know your bit of land, in both the mundane sense and the spiritual sense.

Once you’ve gotten to know your bioregion, make an offering to it or to an aspect of it that you are interested in working with, or to a particular spirit of your region, or to a deity or entity that you feel is representative of your bioregion at large or a particular aspect of it.  Whichever one of these options you choose (or which ever one chooses you) is, in my experience, largely unimportant–it is my experience that the land doesn’t care what you call it or how you relate to it (provided it is in keeping with its features and forces), it “cares” that you are called.  Beyond that, the process of getting to know a landspirit can be much the same as the process in getting to know any other deity.    I would also hope (and here’s where I will take great effort to stay off my soapbox as to not get off topic) that if our spirituality includes the idea of these forces and features as sacred that our everyday actions would reflect that concept of sacredness…particularly once we get to know them.

Thalassa’s Recommended Reading for the Nature-Centered Pagan:

*The Wakeful World: Animism, Mind, and the Self in Nature by Emma Restall Orr
*Biophilia by Christopher Marley
*My “bioregional awareness” post, as well as a post on bioregional witchcraft, and another on spiritual bioregionalism
*The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World and Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology by David Abram
*Bless the Waters Thrice: Making Environmentally Sustainable Offerings, What Will Druidry Look Like on Mars?, and Talking About Anthropocentrism in Modern Paganism (blog posts by Alison Leigh Lilly)
*The Song of the Land: Bioregional Animism, Land Guardianship, and How to Create a Genius Loci Profile (blog posts by Sarah Anne Lawless)
*The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert
*The Sacred Depths of Nature by Ursula Goodenough
*The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature by David George Haskell
*A Pagan at Donner’s Pass, The Collapse of the West and the Future of the Human Species, and (blog posts by John Beckett @ Under the Ancient Oaks)
*Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You by Clare Walker Leslie
*Deconstructing Local Mythologies, Only Connect, and Lost Watercourses and Resacredization (blog posts on Gods and Radicals)
*How Earth-Centered is Neo-Paganism Really? (blog post by John Halstead @ Humanistic Paganism)
*The World in One Cubic Foot: A Portrait of Biodiversity by David Liittschwager
*Depth Ecology (an essay by David Abram)
*A Natural History of the Senses and The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us by Diane Ackerman
*The Meaning of Human Existence, The Social Conquest of Earth, The Future of Life, On Human Nature, Biophilia, The Diversity of Life, and Conscience: The Unity of Knowledge, all by E. O. Wilson

Serving the Elements: Learning About Your Bioregion

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Everywhere we go, the elements of life, of magic, are present.  Long before we had microscopes and models of the atom, the ancients of many cultures distilled the world down to what they felt were its most essential components.  For the (pre-Aristotle) Greeks, this was Air, Earth, Water, and Fire (Aristotle added aether, or spirit).   While we now know that the elements aren’t scientifically accurate constructs, they are still enormously useful tools for separating out the different aspects of ourselves and our environment.  This is particularly true when it comes to learning more about our bioregion.

How much do you really know about where you live?

Getting to know Water: What watershed do you live in? How much area does it cover? Where does your watershed start? Where does it end? How much precipitation do you get where you live? What time of year gets the most precipitation? What wildlife lives in the water part of your watershed (lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands)? How do you interact with those species? How many people reside in your watershed area? What species are native? Non-native? Are any of them economically or culturally important? How many can you identify by sight? What do people in your watershed use water for (agriculture, industry, residential)? If you live somewhere where water is plenty, is there a dam or mill, is the economy dependent on commercial fishing or recreation such as boating or fishing, is there a naval base or coast guard station, or a port? If you live somewhere where water is scarce, how is water use managed? Where does your water come from, and how is it treated? In your home, what do you use water for? How much water do you use? Where does it go after you flush or pull the plug in the drain? Historically speaking, how were the waterways of your watershed used by earlier in habitants? Are there folktales or myths associated with them? How do they impact the culture that lives there now?

Meet Crimson Clover (or Italian Clover), not to be confused with Red Clover (which is really pink), a non-native cover crop frequently planted in the southeastern US.

Meet Crimson Clover (or Italian Clover), not to be confused with Red Clover (which is really pink), a non-native cover crop frequently planted in the southeastern US.

Getting to know Earth: What geologic province do you live in? What is the soil order of your bioregion? What is your biome? Your ecoregion? What are the geological processes that shaped where you live? What fossils can be found in your area? Was your land once a mountain, a desert, an inland sea? What rocks and minerals are prevalent? Where do you live in comparison to sea level? What’s your latitude and longitude? When does your growing season begin? When do the first trees change color? When does it end? How has this changed over the years? What wildlife lives predominantly on the land portion of your bioregion? What species are native? Non-native? How many of them can you identify? Who are the historical inhabitants of the land where you live? Are any of them economically or culturally important? What did their homes and towns look like? How did they live in relationship to the land? Where there battles fought where you live? What stories and myths are told about the land where you live? Do you get forest fires? Earthquakes? What sort of land was your modern home, neighborhood, and town built upon? How many people live there now? How does the local population impact the land? What is consumed by humans from your area–food, livestock, minerals, coal, something else? What is the biggest environmental challenge that the land you live on faces?

Getting to know Air: What is the prevailing climate where you live? What is your climate zone? What is the coldest month of the year by average temperature? What is the hottest? What is the coldest historical temperature? The hottest? What birds in your area are invasive? Where are you in relation to the jet stream? What is the major driver of weather in your bioregion? What direction does your weather come from? If you live in the same area as your family, how has the weather changed since your parents or grandparents were children? When do birds in your region begin to nest? When do they leave on migration? What birds in your area are threatened or endangered? Where is the best place to fly a kite? What wildlife lives predominantly on the land portion of your bioregion? What species are native? Non-native? How many of them can you identify? Who are the historical inhabitants of the land where you live? Are any of them economically or culturally important?? How are bees doing in your region? Do you get tornados? Hurricanes? Do you live at an unusual altitude? What sort of interaction do people in your area have with air–is there a local airport, a military base with jets?

Getting to know Fire: What is your latitude? At the Summer solstice, how much daylight do you get? At the Winter solstice, how much daylight to you get? Can you see the aurora from where you live? What constellations can you see on a summer night? In the Winter? How has fire traditionally played a role in the health of your ecosystem? How have humans changed the role of fire in the health of your ecosystem? How do you use fire–directly, or indirectly in your home? If you have a fire pit or fire place, where do you get your fuel from? Where does your electricity come from? What do you use your electricity for? Where else do you use fire (or a byproduct of fire, like electricity or an engine that relies on combustion) in your daily life? What products do you use that require fire (or “fire”) in its manufacturing? Do you live somewhere that the fuels for fire (such as coal, oil, natural gas, uranium) is extracted or produced? How is your bioregion effected by these processes? How much air pollution in your community comes from the byproducts of combustive processes–cars, factories, etc?

 

Connecting with Spirit: Part I

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I’ve gotten a bit behind on my Read-Along of To Walk a Pagan Path by Alaric Albertsson (chapter 1, part 2) plans… As usual, life happened. Hubby is out of town for 2 months for work (again), and Sharkbait is needing a slight medication adjustment (sleep issues). Also, I’m trying this *get my butt in gear to apply to grad school* thing again. But, one of the things (in 3 or 4 parts, otherwise its super long) that I wanted to address before I moved on to Chapter Two was the whole idea of “Connecting with Spirit”, because I think the book really short changed it a bit in favor of a pantheon-specific polytheism perspective, and failed to consider the other ways that Pagans connect with spirit…

My daughter starting assembling her own pantheon at 4. Some of the names are similar to the deities she’d heard in myths at bedtime story time, but others are unique. Over the past few years, some of them have left, and new ones have arrived. Still others remain, though her interpretation and experience of them has changed. Mama O’shen looks very much like Oshun now but still has a dolphin daughter, Mr. Neptune, Luna (instead of Mother Moon), H’sheth, and G’geegle have been joined by Bast, Aset, Ma’at, Apollo, and Mars. My son (Sharkbait) isn’t quite as interested in the gods, but I chalk some of that up to the ADHD–he’s too busy to listen as deeply as Chickadee…but I have the feeling this might change as much as he loves it when his big sister reads mythology to him before bed.

Everybody is on a path, but everybody is at a different point on the path. In real life, if two people are on the same path, and look at the same tree, each will see it differently.

(You can do an experiment: Set a cardboard box on a table and look at it. Move one foot to the left, or to the right, or forward, or backward, and the box will look radically different. Did the box change? No, that’s an illusion. What changed was the perspective of the viewer).

So, two people on the same path, looking at the same tree will each see it differently. Arguing about “who sees it correctly” is foolish.

~B. de Corbin, Pagan Forum member, speaking on the subject Buddhist traditions…something perhaps that applies to Paganism as well.

My personal experiences have left me with a quite different perspective and practice than that offered by the author of To Walk a Pagan Path.  Lets face it, not everyone that is drawn to Paganism is drawn to a specific deity, pantheon, or culture. Albertsson suggests that the first step to living as a Pagan is “connecting with spirit”, and to this end, he suggests that we can do so through connecting with deity (which he goes on to describe in some detail), or with nature spirits or with one’s ancestors.  While I largely agree, I think the idea of “connecting with spirit” aligns better with the Four Centers of Paganism that I mentioned awhile back–deity centered Paganisms, nature/earth centered Paganisms, self centered Paganisms (don’t confuse this one with being self-centered!) and community centered Paganisms.

Connecting with the Gods

Deity-centered Paganism includes many forms of polytheistic worship, many Reconstructionist or Revivalist forms of Paganism, including those which are closer to Heathenry, and those which borrow techniques (i.e., aspecting) from African-diasporic religions. The Pagan identity of deity-centered Pagans is defined by a dedication to one or more deities. Authenticity is determined by one’s relationship with those deities and/or one’s relationship with the reconstructed practices of ancient pagans who worshiped those deities.
~John Halstead, Three (or more?) Centers of Paganism @ The Allergic Pagan

Some of us have it easy when it come to figuring it out what tradition of Paganism we are meant to follow–perhaps we felt “called” by a particular deity, or maybe we we’ve always been drawn by a certain mythos or culture (maybe its our ancestory or a book we read as a child or a trip we took as a teen or, whatever).  If you are one of these lucky people that have an idea of where to start looking for their connection with deity, then you can jump right in!  But maybe you are someone that only knows what you *aren’t* interested in.  Or maybe you don’t even have that much of the elimination process down.  Or maybe you can’t decide between one pantheon and another.  Or maybe you are drawn to two different deities from two different cultures.  Or maybe…

I’ve tried, but I’ve never been able to muster any more than an academic interest in the Celtic, Norse, Saxon, or Egyptian pantheons or cultures (with a few exceptions).  I quite love history and mythology, but not from a personal religious interest or spiritual inspiration.  The gods that I am interested in do not have a pantheon in common (for that matter, many of them have no myths to themselves), so much as they have what I call “proper context” in common.  I’m (unabashedly) an eclectic–one of those people that Albertsson stereotypes as “scattered” who are “leaping from one pantheon to another, collecting “patron” deities like Hummel figurines” (p 17).  But I know very few people that actually do this in practice (except maybe when they are still in that seeking newbie stage).  Eclecticism done well depends on thoughtfulness, particularly as it relates to how one views godhood, how one develops their relationship with their gods, and how one integrates their deities into their practice.

Let me say that again… Eclecticism done well depends on thoughtfulness, particularly as it relates to how one views godhood, how one develops their relationship with their gods, and how one integrates their deities into their practice.  I’d do it a third time, but I think we all get the point here.  Eclectic is not a dirty word.  It is not a lazy practice.  It is not something that should be dismissed out of hand.  It is not because someone didn’t want to do their research.  Its not because someone was hedging their bets.  Are there eclectics that do these things?  Sure there are–negative stereotypes always have anecdotal stories to accompany them.  But by and large, eclectic Pagans have their own reasoning and understandings that they have come to with just as much research and practice and experience as a pantheon-specific Pagan.

When it comes to practice, I’m quite polytheistc.  I worship one god at a time, through prayer, ritual, meditation, through mindful attention–because, to me, a one-on-one date makes more sense than a speed dating marathon. I also worship the gods in that same idea of “proper context”–for example, Psamathe, a Nereid and goddess of the beach gets worshiped at the beach (or with appropriate items of hers) for purposes under her domain while Hestia gets worshipped in my kitchen while I’m cooking for purposes under her domain.  This “proper context” is highly personal–one might see “proper context” as derived by the historically accurate portrayal of worship in a specific culture, or as relating to the culture the deity hails from without the emphasis on historical authenticity, or on the basis of the deity being representative of something valued…for me, context is centered around a deity’s identity and purpose.

Unlike Albertsson, who recommends starting with mythology as a way to find the gods that one is interested in developing a relationship with, I would recommend figuring out what one’s “proper context” is.  What is sacred?  Where do you feel the most connected?  Perhaps that connection actually comes from a specific mythology and culture–the ancient religions of the Greek or the Romans, or the Canaanaites or the Norse, or whatever.  But maybe it comes from the ocean or from being a mother or from mountain climbing or from working in a homeless shelter or from teaching.  Start where the feeling is and worship the deity that represents what you find sacred.  Don’t depend on what someone else tells you should be your proper context. The worst thing that can happen is that is that a relationship doesn’t develop and you move on (but even from that experience you can learn and grow).

From there, I can’t argue with the rest of Albertsson’s advice; its good–get to know the god or gods that speak to you (literally or metaphorically).  Read their mythology, look at devotional artwork and poetry, prayers (ancient and modern), get a sense of who they are.  And once you are ready, make an offering to them and then sit back and listen. You might need to do this for a while.

Think about an offering as making a phone call to a person that a mutual friend is trying to set you up with…they don’t have to pick it up.  By listening, I don’t mean with your ears…very rarely are you going to hear actual words, but with your entire being.  Having a pre-established practice of mindfulness is helpful here, but not required.  As Albertsson puts it “You may have a fleeting vision, or smell and odor that evokes a long-forgotten memory.  Or you may experience a “knowing,” a sudden awareness of the deity’s presence and message to you.  Or you may experience nothing at all. Do not be discouraged if this is the case.  You are not going to have a supernal experience every time you reach out to the gods and spirit.  In giving an offering to the deity, you have taken an action and made a connection.” (p 17)

He also recommends “moving on” if you don’t feel someone picking up at the other end after a few tries (to extend the metaphor of an offering being like dialing up a stranger for a date, maybe they aren’t that interested or its not a good time). Personally, I think this depends on why you’ve chosen that god.  If you aren’t looking for a personal relationship with a deity, I don’t see anything wrong with continued offerings (the gods are not, after all, actually a stranger you are calling for a date!). TBH, this idea of “personal gods” is a fairly modern development–not that it didn’t exist in ancient paganisms, but it wasn’t the norm for your average person.  For me, an offering isn’t to curry favor or attract attention; its a symbol of my sacrifice to something greater than myself.  But if you are looking for a “patron” deity of sorts, then moving on might be a good idea…if that deity (or another you hasn’t even considered) is interested in you, they will find a way to let you know (but maybe not on the timeline of our moder attention span)

Basically, how one chooses to connect with the gods is a personal thing.  It is born out of our understanding of the gods, our experiences with them, our interest in them, and maybe their interest in us…  Provided it recognizes autonomy and consent, no one should ever be judged for how they ultimately meet the gods or which gods they interact with.  And while this book (or my blog post for that matter) offer some different experiences and insights into how or why one might connect with deity, its just the opinion and experience of two people–everyone has their own methodlogy, their own story.

dating advice for my children

They aren’t quite old enough to need this in all practicality…but I figure its not too early to start indocrinating them to this idea!

You should date a girl (or boy)* who reads.

Date a girl (person) who reads. Date a girl (person) who spends her money on books instead of clothes, who has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl (person) who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve. (since I’m sure we get the idea by now, I’m gonna let the pronoun usage slide)

Find a girl who reads (as much as I hope you do). You’ll know that she does because she will always have an unread book in her bag. She’s the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore, the one who quietly cries out when she has found the book she wants. You see that weird chick sniffing the pages of an old book in a secondhand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow and worn.

She’s the girl reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at her mug, the non-dairy creamer is floating on top because she’s kind of engrossed already. Lost in a world of the author’s making. Sit down. She might give you a glare, as most girls who read do not like to be interrupted. Ask her if she likes the book.

Buy her another cup of coffee.

Let her know what you really think of Murakami. See if she got through the first chapter of Fellowship. Understand that if she says she understood James Joyce’s Ulysses she’s just saying that to sound intelligent. Ask her if she loves Alice or she would like to be Alice.

It’s easy to date a girl who reads. Give her books for her birthday, for Christmas, for anniversaries. Give her the gift of words, in poetry and in song. Give her Neruda, Pound, Sexton, Cummings. Let her know that you understand that words are love. Understand that she knows the difference between books and reality but by god, she’s going to try to make her life a little like her favorite book. It will never be your fault if she does.

She has to give it a shot somehow.

Lie to her (but never as a habit). If she understands syntax, she will understand your need to lie. Behind words are other things: motivation, value, nuance, dialogue. It will not be the end of the world. (Although it may be the end of the relationship. Strive for integrity. Usually that means honesty, but sometimes it doesn’t. In those few instances when a lie is the comassionate answer, use it.)

Fail her (erm…not on purpose). Because a girl who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. Because girls who read understand that all things must come to end, but that you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two.

Why be frightened of everything that you are not? Girls who read understand that people, like characters, develop. Except in the Twilight series.

If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.

You will propose on a hot air balloon. Or during a rock concert. Or very casually next time she’s sick. Over Skype.

You will smile so hard you will wonder why your heart hasn’t burst and bled out all over your chest yet. You will write the story of your lives, have kids with strange names and even stranger tastes. She will introduce your children to the Cat in the Hat and Aslan, maybe in the same day. You will walk the winters of your old age together and she will recite Keats under her breath while you shake the snow off your boots.

Date a girl who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most colorful life imaginable. If you can only give her monotony, and stale hours and half-baked proposals, then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a girl who reads.

Or better yet, date a girl who writes.

― Rosemarie Urquico

*((my commentary in parentheses)

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