[Einar] #2 – Blood and Dust

Stepping out of the cottage, Einar felt numb. Villagers knew basic charms. His father knew battle magic. More importantly, he had mastered the art of fixing the spell in one’s mind, binding intention to the world without chalk or slate.

But the prospect of becoming a full wizard? A man who knew what the Revealers did yet owed no obedience to Mindseye?

“Are you excited or terrified?” Maera asked.

“Can the answer be both?”

“Of course!” She chuckled, which drew a smile from Einar. “But if you are to learn effectively, if there is a new magic out there….Faren cannot be your only teacher.”

“You saw him cast-”

Maera smiled, but shook her head. “To learn my art, there’s something more required. But I can’t explain here.” She looked around, closed her eyes for a moment, then returned her gaze to him. “Can we go to the old mill you showed me?”

Three pok into the forest lay a mill that had once ground flour for three villages around. Then, at least a hundred orbits ago, the river jumped channels, making the once ideally-sited mill useless overnight. The forest had begun to overtake its grounds, but enough of the wards and structure remained that it was safe to use as a meeting place.

They’d come here two days ago, the first stop on a much longer hike up the former river channel. Maera had asked about the history of the area. Despite fertile land and easy access to the open sea, there wasn’t so much as a hill fort between Shadowsbane to the west and Xia to the east. At least not so much as was recorded on any maps not decayed and crumbled to dust.

But a quarter pok upriver from the mill, you could see the square fossilized timbers poking up from picked over foundations. The easiest stones had been pried and carted away centuries ago, but the skeleton of the ancient city was protected by wards whose power still coursed so strongly only the most magically illiterate couldn’t sense it. The magic was ironclad enough only fools attempted to circumvent it, even for good quarried stone.

While the flesh of the city had rotted away with its fall, its skeleton was content to hang on until the forest buried it under ages of decomposition and growth. By comparison, the mill was charming. Spiderwebs glistened in windows, but it had windows. Chinks of mortar were missing in many places on the fieldstone walls, but it had walls. The clapboard roof was wet, green, and spongy with algae but remained watertight enough.

Maera climbed the short steps up to the yard from the forest path. The former riverbed was already deep in shadow from the afternoon sun, but enough of a clearing remained the she and Einar stood in full sun.

Einar looked up at her curiously. It was warmer here, away from the sea breeze. Her sleeveless arms were folded together as she stared, seemingly at nothing. He looked at her for a time, trying to guess what was in her foreign brain, but eventually he gave up.

“What is it?” He asked.

She startled a bit, then turned and smiled. “Sorry, I was lost in a memory. Come-” she took his right hand in her left and led him over to the well. Beneath the grit of the charcoal impregnated in her ashen-colored hand, her skin was warm but leathery – as if she were far older than she claimed.

A long stone bench sat opposite the well. Maera released his hand and straddled the bench. Einar did the same, facing her. Their relative torso lengths put them exactly eye to eye.

“Why here? I thought when you wanted to go to the mill, we needed to be indoors.”

“Patience,” she smiled. “If,” and she placed an odd stress on the word, “you accept the conditions of being my apprentice, we will head indoors. But decisions such as this.” She laughed uncomfortably, smiled, and looked away. “Well, I think they should be made in the full light of day.”

“Okay,” Einar said unsurely.

Maera giggled, then tied her hair back in a loose ponytail. “Seven orbits ago, I had studied the theory for three orbits, but I had no power. I had to be of a certain age before my master could take me on as his apprentice.”

“I don’t know much, but I’m already thirteen, so I don’t understand what the big deal is.”

Maera coughed and smiled nervously. “Smoke and ash, now I understand why my master hated taking new apprentices.” She looked away, and a tear fell down her tattooed cheek. “He knew it would hurt. You’re a boy, but I think it will still hurt some.”

She looked directly at him. “The Revealers’ magic is purely intellectual. The syntax, the arithmancy, even the final binding act of will – it’s all pure mind. The magic of the Shadow People is rational…but it is also animal. It comes from here,” she tapped a finger on his chest, “but it truly comes from here,” she leaned in, cupped his ear in her left hand, and kissed him full on the lips while gently cupping his groin with her right.

Their lips parted slowly, Maera’s eyes opening slowly as if in a dream. Einar, in contrast, was wide-eyed and slack-jawed.

Maera giggled again. “You look like you just kissed your own mother.”

“No! I think you’re-” He blushed. Her hand was still exactly where she could feel how he felt. His eyes dropped. “I thought you were just toying with me earlier.”

“Well, I was,” she laughed – a more sultry laugh this time – “but I had an inkling of why Faren pulled the both of us aside. It was my way of getting used to the idea. You see, because Shadow magic is seated in the whole being, you must have a guide in learning to harness the power. By having sex together, you borrow some of my power, and you eventually learn to use your own.”

“Now,” Einar chuckled, “now I understand why Faren couldn’t teach me. So, ah, how should we do this? Is it just one time or are we mates for a long time?”

“It’s not just once – I promise you that. As to how long, it depends on your progress. It took me six orbits to attain my mastery. For the act itself, there is some extra ritual the first time, but please – please – do not be forced into this.”

“I’m only thirteen!” He sighed, but managed a wry smile. “How can I not feel a little forced? Didn’t you? I saw the tear go down your cheek.”

Maera shook her head slightly. “Eventually I may fall in love. It’s sad that all of my experience so far has revolved around power sharing, but it is different in the City. I’d been separated from my parents since my tenth nameday. After a year of study, we were exposed to the sexual acts of the older apprentices and their masters. The energy,” she closed her eyes, “it was so strong. At first I was abashed, stifling a giggle or wishing I could gossip, but soon I wanted it myself. I hungered to feel what they felt, harness the energy we could see rippling in the air and lightening even my own chest.”

Einar could see she was telling the unvarnished truth. The sparkle in her eye, the blush on her cheeks, even the way her breathing had changed – it was clear these were very fond memories for her.

“The reality,” she laughed nervously, “was enjoyable but it’s a lot more work than mere sex.”

Einar tried to clear his mind and consider – truly – what Maera was offering. He briefly considered whether his parents knew, but banished the thought severely. Truth was, he’d been attracted to Maera from before he learned of their age difference.

She watched him, smiling and at ease. With her arms folded across her chest, he could see her ample cleavage. He’d felt the muscles in her thighs and imagined how they’d feel gripping his hips, which caused him to shudder in pleasure. Maera cackled out loud.

“Was it that obvious?”

“Come, dear,” she smiled and took his hand.

The door to the mill squeaked on its hinges, revealing an interior littered with blown leaves, dust, and general clutter. Maera looked around with a critical eye. “Not here,” she said, instead pointing up the ladder to the loft. “Let’s find a broom, though, if there is one.”

A few minutes later they were kneeling next to one another, sunlight streaming in from windows cut in the western gable. Inches of dust had been pushed off the edge of the loft to the floor below, but the many agitated particles still caught the sunlight. The floor boards they knelt on had once been roughly planed but were now worn smooth. Amazingly they had barely warped despite orbits of being exposed to the full temperature swings of Nelara’s rather vicious weather cycles.

“Try to be as immersed as possible,” Maera explained. “Don’t worry about staying in the circle. I’ll draw it big, but I’ll warn you right now I’m a rough and very active lover.”

“I don’t know what I am,” Einar said, forcing a laugh.

“You know what you are?” Maera pivoted on her knees to face him. She took his head in both hands, kissing him deep and langorously. “Someone I’m genuinely excited to take as my first apprentice. You’re acting as you were raised to, but I can see the curiosity within you. How many of your classmates take long hikes out to the ruins? How many aren’t afraid of a foreign mage?”

She kissed him once more on the lips, then grabbed his hair to tilt his head and began biting his neck. Einar moaned with pleasure. Who knew pain could feel so good?

Maera locked eyes with him once more. “You have some measure of power by virtue of your birth, but I can help make you so much more. I will ask you once more: do you want this?”

“Yes!” Einar felt bold enough to grab her head to kiss her, then locked her hair in his right hand to bite her neck. Hearing her moan and change breathing was almost more rewarding than his pleasure when she did it to him. He could see what she was talking about and they hadn’t even gotten to the magic yet.

“Now, because of how vigorous we’ll be and that this is two-person magic, my standard charcoal won’t work. I’ve a bowl here,” she unclasped a pouch on her belt he’d never noticed. Filled to the brim with the heady whiskey from Q’tor, it would be enough to inebriate them, but not past that. “I will crush the charcoal, then we’ll mix it with blood from each of us to make a paste.”


“Just a scratch.” She pulled out a very short, slender blade inlaid with symbols. “See? I’ll even go first!” The cut across her forearm seemed like more than a scratch to Einar, but for each to bleed enough to fill a scant half of the bowl, why, he’d barely be light-headed.

The knife stung, but Maera’s fingers worked deftly to wrap his wound the instead she had enough. He flexed his first experimentally, wondering for the first time how he was going to explain his appearance – or Maera’s – the two together. Well, you can’t cross a bridge without getting to it first.

And getting there was the whole point.

Maera showed him the cup, dipping her finger in it to show the viscosity of the paste as it slowly dripped off her skin. “We’ll make more if necessary but this should be enough, even if the wood proves quite porous.”

“Is it smooth enough to work as a good casting surface?”

“Faren was right when he said precision is less important with my art. This is double so for today, when we want a lot of power.

“Now, with your Revealer magic you use your arithmancic arguments to narrow, specify, and focus your power. Here, it is more like a lens with the geometric layout. Do you remember how many focusing elements Faren’s summoning had?”

“Five?” Einar answered tentatively.

Maera nodded her head slightly and gave a curt smile. “Good memory.” Her smile widened. “Now, we’re after bigger energies with this, so I am going to place my initial construction in a triangle.” She eyed Einar up and down. “Hmm, I’ll say here,” she bent over and wrote GENERATE in firm, angled strokes, “here,” she added ENTWINE, “and here,” she finished with IMMERSE.

Einar watched patiently as she connected the focusing elements with double lines, his attention shifting between the spell and watching the feline way Maera bent and stretched forward to write. He stopped her to ask questions periodically, which she answered excitedly. His head was spinning a little with all the details by the time she enclosed the spell and bound it with CROWN.

“Such a high binding?”

She shifted on her knees to face him and kissed him deeply before answering. “This is ethereal work, even if it deals with the animal.”

“And how would you like me to deal with you?”

Maera laughed – not the reaction Einar was going for, but it got a smile out of him nonetheless. She unfastened the buttons of her vest and slipped it off. Her nipples were in the open, breasts supported only by a minimal leather sling.

Einar shifted so he faced her directly as well, eyes eager, looking to her as if for permission. Maera smiled, took his left hand in her right, and cupping his hand to her breast. What surprised him wasn’t the softness but the warmth of her skin.

He instantly wanted to touch both breasts, then they were furiously kissing, and cleaved together. The kissing felt so good, but his hard penis pressed against her clothed pelvis made him ache for more.

Einar had nothing to compare the experience to. He knew it would surpass wet dreams and masturbation. But being with Maera shattered all his expectations. The moment he entered her, there was warmth, then suddenly a fire up his entire spine which tingled down his limbs. And things only got better – and weirder – from there.

Afterwards, Maera lay gently moaning as he massaged the hollow at the edge of her hips. Both of them were sweaty – and thus grimy – from the exertions which had been every bit as athletic as she’d threatened. Maera’s hair lay tousled all over the floor, and covered half her chest.

Einar breathed deeply, closing his eyes and rolling onto his back. Something had changed in him, something his young mind sensed but could not pin down.

Without opening his eyes, he said softly: “You’re a witch, you know that?”

Maera laughed and scooted over so she could drape one leg over him. He felt her hand idly tracing lines on his chest. He opened his eyes to see her looking down at him, torso propped up on an elbow.

Something flickered on her forehead. He startled, touching his finger to her skin and peering closer.

“So you see it – that’s good.”

“See what?”

“The subcutaneous fire writing. We’re connected at a very deep level now – and this connection will only get stronger.”

“Why does it move like that? Does it hurt like a tattoo?”

“No,” she chuckled, “it doesn’t hurt. After all, look at your own hand.”

Written along the veins on the top of both hands were shifting three-symbol ‘words’. No words – no alphabet – he’d ever seen, or could translate, but they were undeniably the same script he could see on her forehead. And, looking carefully, many other places on her sprawled out naked body.

“It’s not a spell,” she explained, “not in the sense that the Revealer’s tattoos are. Nor,” she touched her eye tattoo, “are they precisely autobiographical like our facial markings.” She sighed, “I could explain it the way my master once did, but I’m no longer convinced it’s the best understanding.” She sat up, cross-legged, facing away from him.

The silence stretched on and on, until Einar sat up, shuffling his bare butt awkwardly across the floor to face Maera. She grimaced when he came into view. “Sorry, it’s just difficult to change what was ingrained in me. I’m connected to you, it’s true, but my connection with my master-”. A pained expression flitted across her face, but she calmed herself and soon managed a patient teacher’s smile.

“The orthodox perspective is that the script is a reflection of one’s knowledge. Apprentices like yourself have little knowledge, and thus are rather plain.” She chuckled. “No offense. Young masters like myself know a fair amount. Old masters – if they take an apprentice, which is rare – are so brilliant that they’re actually distracting. Or so I am told. My own master was rather young.”

Einar looked at his hands. “Well, it certainly seems plausible, but what do I know? What’s your belief?”

“I hate calling it a belief. I wish I could say I know, but I can’t prove it,” she smiled, “not without an apprentice willing to experiment with me.”

“More ‘experiments’ like today? Sign me up!”

Maera chuckled. “It will be a little more involved to prove it, if we do at all. But my hypothesis is that the script isn’t a reflection of anything. It is something – a positive being. I think,” she grabbed both of his hands firmly, “the script is literally our soul, manifesting in a way we can perceive it because of our special connection.”

“You’re a soul believer?”

“Does that scare you? That I’m a heretic who believes in an afterlife?”

“No! I mean, I know what the Revealers teach, but they are by definition low-key. My dad says he feels silly even calling them a religion. But I had heard the City was far stricter in its teaching about the single life.”

“Yes, the one Path. Questioning it there, well, it’s not a death sentence, but it wouldn’t be a life I’d want to live, either. I’d be exiled, but my identification for passage is here,” she traced the tattoo around her right eye. “They’d insist on complete removal – no mere branding is sufficient.”

Einar gulped. “So why do I want to help you? No offense, but now I’m in over my head.”

Maera shook her head. “Einar – away from the City there’s no danger at all. Ashes, even in the City you’d be safe as long as you didn’t speak about it. Belief in the soul, it doesn’t change your magic; it does, however, give it a depth of power I wish I could convince my brethren of. The places I’ve seen in the Tree,” her eyes went dreamy and unfocused before snapping back to his. “When you are prepared, I will show you what I mean – and you can make your own choice.”

“And if I say no?”

“Say what you say. What we started today still stands. In fact,” she smiled, “I think it’s a good time for your first test.”

They first gathered up their clothes and Maera re-tied her ponytail, tucking the last few uncooperative strands behind her ear. Her cheeks were smudged with the dark red of blood mixed with charcoal. Comets knew what his face looked like – it sure itched enough!

“How about we go back outside now that we’re decent? Your test won’t require a big circle. We could even draw it on the bench we were just sitting on!”

Einar smiled wryly. “Why are you so excited?”

“You wish your teacher was boring and uninterested?”

“No! It just seems weird that you can be so-”

“Childlike? It’s something I intentionally cultivate. Maybe I seem naive to some, but if nothing else it serves to have people underestimate me. It’s certainly not a natural innocence. Not with the sex magic, nor the fields of death I’ve been a part of.”

“Fields of what? There hasn’t been a war here since-”

“Hasn’t been a war here. The City is in a different region, across the isthmus, across the Dawn Lakes. Many a tribe or city you’ve never heard of likes to attack our farms and settlements. Ashes, the eve of my seventeenth nameday, an army of ten thousand punched through to the walls of the City itself.

“Magic and steel in such close proximity,” she shuddered. “It was terrifying. Blood, gore, that’s bad – but the screams! They would haunt me – if I let them.”

“Did the City win the battle?”

“The enemy’s main battle force was shattered, but it wasn’t decisive enough for the Shadow Lords. As an apprentice from the mages legion I was allowed to observe the war council. Our army is a professional fighting force. The council pays rather well, in fact. But professional or amateur, lives are just numbers to them. They had a book,” she scoffed, “with casualty reports tabulated for the last millennia of campaigns.”

Einar whistled. Despite being in the eastern third of Nelara, everything west of the City was culturally ‘West’, or influenced by the Grey Steppe and – further west – the Revealers out of Mindseye now, and originally from Lyria to the southwest. It was easy to forget how long the City had been a force in the East.

“And purely on the numbers, knowing next to nothing about the tribe which had surprised us all in its aggressiveness, they argued that an extended field campaign was needed. It would be costly. Two, maybe three orbits with legionnaires in the field. But the cost over the next ten orbits would be less if we hunted down the remnants.”

“Let me guess – none of those so-called Lords would even be on the campaign?”

Maera laughed. “It would make a better story, but one did. Lord Etrun, a tall thin man with salt-and-pepper hair, someone who was a legend with a blade. Rumor has it that he is far older than anyone has a right to be.”

“Did you ever meet him?”

“I fought in his cohort all three orbits, but as an apprentice my interaction with him was limited to receiving orders. On the other hand, I was a pace to the side and behind my master through many of their conversations. The way Etrun spoke during the Council, but especially the way he related stories and fleshed out orders – he talked about battles from centuries ago in such a personal way. I’m convinced the rumors about him are true.”

“Did that scare or excite you?”

“You’re trying to escape your test,” she chuckled. “This is the last question I’ll answer for now, then back to business. Though I am glad to have an apprentice with interest in so much beyond magic and the Tree.

“The Ancient Ones, Ageless, or Epochians – whichever term you prefer, I’ve read many of the legends. We have ours, the Revealers as well, and many of the most unusual come from the Sunset Lands. At first I was worried. When I asked my master about the rumors, he warned me never to speak of it. And that was our second night in the field.

“By the first month, I never felt a twinge of fear. And soon, yes, I would say the concept excited me. I honestly don’t know if I would pursue it, but I could admire that here was someone who had attained a pinnacle of magical praxis.”

“You have no idea how badly I want to ask another question right now.”

Maera laughed, her eyes twinkling. “Another time. You and I, we have orbits together, but today is waning. Let me test you, then we must hurry if we’re to make dinner. For your sake, I don’t want to push the patience of your parents’ hospitality.”

She began coaching him through what she described as a basic ‘light emission’ spell. It only had a single focusing element, so Einar was a bit scared to make the final binding, but the arithmancic arguments were designed to shield their eyes.

It was an impressive spell. A pencil-thin column of blue-white light which shot straight upwards from the center of the binding circle. No heat, no sound, and easily visible in daylight.

“And what would have happened if I drew that a few hours ago? I’d just have a fancy drawing?”

“Exactly. Did you feel anything when you closed the spell?”

“Honestly?” Einar exhaled and looked away. “I was concentrating very hard on your instructions. I was also quite tense, tense deep in my gut-”

“And now?” With the smile on her face and the way she sat with her arms crossed, she knew what his answer was going to be.

“Relaxed. Better than relaxed, even, and the change was a rush.”

Maera wiped the spell away. “Cast it again, but take it slowly. Breathe in, breathe out. Let the breaths expand to illuminate what’s going on with your body. Feel the changes.”

Einar did as he was told. On completing the focusing element, he felt something deep in his gut change. He looked up at Maera, who smiled. “I’m not sure how to describe it, but I felt something.”

She inclined her head. “This close to you, I can sense it if I try.”

“Can you modify the spell using just your body – not what’s written in the circle?”

“Let’s learn to walk first. Even I prefer to build with words than feelings. Finish the spell please.”

Einar built the triangular arithmancic arguments she had taught him. With each new logical section, the locus of the feeling in his guy moved around. And until he placed the final one, his inner ear protested that the bench listed to the right a few degrees. He drew the binding circle and noticed that the fire writing on his right hand was noticeably brighter than his left – but only until the binding was complete, and whatever power hand been building in his gut released, shooting outwards to the tips of his toes and fingers. He whistled before looking up at Maera.

“If you were to quantify it,” she asked, “was the feeling less, the same, or more intense when you paid attention to it?”

He closed his eyes and thought carefully before answering. “The intensity no, but I didn’t notice any of the nuance the first time.”

“As you guessed, that nuance becomes important. Pay attention to it. See how your body reacts to each element. I could offer you a guide, but my map and yours would be quite different, biology notwithstanding. I guarantee even Faren feels different things in different places than if you were to cast the same spell under the exact same conditions.”

“But does that mean anything?”

Maera laughed. “Maybe, maybe not. It is one of the places we will search for answers. But today? Not as important as an empty stomach. Let’s get home.”

[Grey Empire] Magic and the Tree of Life

For a long time I’ve based the magic system in the Grey Empire off a very free interpretation of the Kabbalistic concept of the Tree of Life. Usually drawn as ten spheres, or sefirot, in three columns of 3 4 3, the idea is akin to the Neo-Platonic concept that all of the world is an emanation of the One/YHWH. In fact, in order for creation to have happened in the first place, the divine had circumscribe or self-limit itself in the Tzimtzum.

sephiroth 01

I like certain aspects of this philosophy and the way it lends itself to a mythology, but it’s time to break with my previously more literal model and create my own. The Grey Empire is a non-Earth universe and shouldn’t have Earth-specific mythos in it. I will use the phrase ‘Tree of Life’ in the stories but it has its own construction. The skeleton may evolve as I write (I am definitely a discovery writer), but I thought I would share it here.

In overall feel, the magic system of the Grey Empire falls somewhere in between a heavily rule-based one (like Brandon Sanderson’s many books) and a very vague, fantastical one (like Tolkein). Overall, I think my closest model would be Lev Grossman’s system in The Magicians series, where there are lots of rules implied but very rarely sussed out in the text. At the 10,000 foot level, certain spells require being bound with one aspect of the Tree. Each aspect is both a source of a certain kind of power AND a real, physical ‘dimension’ to which one can travel.






KINGDOM is the real world. FOUNDATION is somewhere many of my past characters have traveled, and based on hints already laid in the first chapter of his story, I’m guessing Einar and Maera will end of there at some point. The other dimensions will gradually get explored. I originally had 10 spheres*, but I think I’m happier with the simplified 5, and especially keeping them laid out in a single column.

Nelara specifically is not a very religious planet, nor do I think I will make the Grey Empire a very superstitious universe. Magic has laws, just like science, and in fact could be considered science in the Latin connotation of scientia or knowledge. Modern, Earth-based science describes and analyzes the interactions of force and matter in all its various forum. Magic in the Grey Empire draws on forces, which have rules, and the principal magic users (the Revealers) will be seen later on to be very much like scientists.

The interplay of science, magic, and the human condition is at the very heart of the Grey Empire’s history. In other stories I’ve written, there’s very much a schism between science and magic, the first cracks of which start happening within Einar’s lifetime.

*Which will require editing stuff I’ve already posted. I reserve the right to retcon at any time ;)

Bike Versus Car – November 2014


November 2014 Report

  • Vehicle Miles (this month): 677
  • Vehicle Capital (this month): $255.78
  • Vehicle CPM (all-time): $0.38
  • Bike Miles (this month): 282
  • Bike Capital (this month): $145.53
  • Bike CPM (all-time): $0.47

bike versus car november 2014

Car spending was mostly normal usage. We’re having trouble with our second car, but with the holidays and the weather I haven’t really wanted to monkey on it right now. I will try a few things, but we were looking to ditch it soon anyways, and even fully fixed up, it’s worth very little.

Bike spending is high, hopefully for the last time. The big purchase this month was studded tires (Schwalbe Marathon Winter 700×35). A bit spendy at ~$65 per tire with shipping, but worth every penny already on first impressions. I’ll likely do a review of them once I’ve gotten at least 500 miles on them. There’s at least one upgrade I still want for my bike (a Pletscher double kickstand to make cargo loading much easier), but it can wait until we have enough points to get it for free.


Spending Breakdown – Grocery November 2014

Grocery Spending Breakdown for November 2014


  • Family of 5: two adults, goblins aged 8, 7, and 4
  • Primarily shop at Woodman’s (regional grocer), Costco (once a month), and farmer’s/produce markets.

Categorization is always somewhat arbitrary, so I’ve shared the Google Sheet for those who want to see details. Commenting is allowed if anyone wants to.

  • Produce: $118.09
  • Animal Products:  $179.76
  • Grains/Snacks: $117.82
  • Misc/Personal Care: $37.34
  • Beverages: $104.99
  • Total: $587.93


Goblin Hoard Report Card – November 2014

November was another month of solid progress for us. No major or unusual expenses. A good Thanksgiving celebration. Starting work on some of my homemade Christmas presents and buying a few presents, with more to come in the discretionary budget next month.

This is the first month we’re beginning prepayment of student loans, with $280 going to that task. Refinancing the Alchemist’s grad loans went through, so the required loan payments are quite low this month as we switched creditors, but next month we will still save $80 a month and have interest rates almost 2.5% lower.

Budget for November 2014

Income (combined after all deductions): $3,890

Fixed Spending

  • Housing (Mortgage+Tax+Insurance): $1,061
  • Student Loans (combined): $571.61
  • Auto Insurance: $82.58
  • Life Insurance: $60
  • Internet: $58
  • Netflix: $9.49
  • Amazon Prime: $8.42

Variable Spending

  • Fuel: $105.71
  • Gas/Electric: $123.19
  • Medical Expenses Out of Pocket: -$25.79–> we somehow overpaid a bill a few months back and got a surprise refund check.
  • Water: $0 (billed quarterly)
  • AirVoice cell: $0

Sink Funds Spending

  • Groceries/Necessities: $587.93
  • Discretionary: $105.79 (Forward balance: $197.25)
  • Transportation Capital Fund: $43.59 (Forward balance: $180.09)
  • Travel: $38 (Forward balance: $1,055.14)
  • Kids/Education: $29.28 (Forward balance: $83.38)
  • House Capital Fund: $0 (Forward balance: $112.86)

I have no idea what to expect from December. We’ll have two weeks of a trip, which results in 3 lost weekends of me, but reduced standard expenses. The Alchemist gets a Christmas bonus, so everything should balance out and we’ll make progress towards loans, but who knows?

Hope all of you had a good Thanksgiving holiday. We’re about to spend Black Friday taking the goblins to a rare movie in the (budget) theater.


Nothing obligatory about this at all

I’ve resisted writing this post for a while, since it’s so common for everyone in our hyper-connected society to issue a Thanksgiving message (well, in the States at least). But how are you giving thanks by offering an almost obligatory message? Obligation != a genuine giving of thanks.

But here I am writing a Thanksgiving post the day before. Hrmmm.

The older I get* and the more counter-cultural I become, the more I love the idea of American Thanksgiving. Of all our major holidays, it is the least commercialized. There’s an appealing irony to that fact, since it’s also the holiday with the least explicit religious overtone or source material. One would expect to least religious holiday to be the most susceptible to commercialization, but history has proven otherwise. It’s about getting together as a family and celebrating over a meal. That’s it.

2014 has been an interesting year for me. As a person. As a husband. As a father. I’ve changed and grown a lot. With this blog and my other mind palace a number of you have joined me on the journey as fellow travelers. Sages even. I’ve had so many amazing inter-personal interactions this year. It can be tiring since I am an introvert, yet because I’m also highly empathic it touches me at a deep, core level that I find difficult to express in words. Pathos** sometimes can’t be translated into logos.

Those who I love and am loved by know how thankful I am for them. In the interest of breaking out of the traditional Thanksgiving message, and thus its distasteful obligatory connotation, my expression of thanks is going to be a little out there. There’s a lot I could write about, and there’s still more I wish I could, though I lack the words. I’ll keep it simple. Not restrained, but elegant.

I’ve always known, to some degree, how empathic I am. I think that’s why I love to write, even though I’m terrible at finishing anything. I just love exploring the different headspaces – and entire cognitive worlds – of fictional characters. I’m very sensitive to the emotions of others if I don’t intentionally ‘detune’ myself. I think sometimes I’ve done this more as a defense mechanism than anything else. True empathic listening is exhausting. But seeking first to understand, before trying to be understood is amazing. To do this, you must get out of your head. In doing this, you teach yourself it’s okay to be here. Practicing this habit takes a lifetime but I’m thankful for learning about it in a way that’s finally clicked.

Alongside the discovery above, I’ve recently learned about karezza. I won’t go into much detail, but the separation of sexual intimacy into two categories – calm, non-orgasmic (bonding) and conventional orgasmic (procreative drive, even if you take preventative measures) – is an incredibly powerful concept in personal union. As mammals driven, at some level, by selfish genes lifelong sexual intimacy with conventional coupling is fraught with peril. The research behind karezza demonstrates first why that is, and second, the amazing alternative at the fringes of many different ancient traditions both East and West.

The final thing is something I’ve talked about at length here but communing with something fundamentally unknowable yet which you can commune with at a level floating fuzzily between logos and pathos (and occasionally beyond both) synergizes really well with the prior two thanksgivings. God, though I hesitate to give that which is hyperousios (beyond-being) a positive name, is fundamentally unknowable but we can commune with it by living according to our natures. Embracing seasonality, living close to the earth and in good stewardship of it, communing with the unknown agency at the core of each other. All of this is worship, not in the stale sense of ritual and the polluted hierarchical functions of organized religion, but worship in the pure sense of giving honor (and thanks, for that matter).

I doubt I could find a way to say it without sounding like an asshole, but I wish in celebrating the winter holidays which come next month by saying – in genuine love and affection – “Happy Midwinter.” I’ve mentioned this series before, but the way the longest night was celebrated in Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series still gives me chills thinking about it. I wish we had traditions half as powerful as either the formal masque or the stoic vigil of Elua. Sigh.

*I’m 30. I realize how absurd it is for me to talk about how old I’m getting :P

**Pathos need not carry the common connotation of dysfunction. Pathos just means ‘emotion’. In contrasting it with logos, it means something closer to ‘language of the heart’ (as opposed to logos as language of the mind).

Steward of the House

wage-slave-small-equal-money-faqThere are a variety of ways a partnership can have friction about money. I’m not going to talk about all of them, and especially not all of the solutions, though judgment free communication about individual and shared priorities will typically allow any couple to work through the problem. No, instead I’m going to talk about one particular type of partnership friction that, in all honesty, mystifies me. It’s the situation where one partner is the primary (or sole) earner, but the non-earning partner is the “spendy” one of the two.

I see this situation time and again. I see it on the forums I frequent. I saw it a ton among the stay-at-home parents when we still sent our goblins to private school. As a frugal person, I won’t defend a spendy spouse regardless of whether they are the earner or not, but something about wasting money when the other partner is the earner really runs core to my values. Clearly I’m a fan of having one partner focus on offense and one partner focus on defense, but that’s just it: you need defense!

The homemaker must be a steward of the family’s finances. A kingdom could have riches beyond measure but ruin itself with poor stewardship. Another kingdom could be poor but secure, given sufficient stewardship.

If you’re a homemaker like myself, you owe it to your partner to be a virtuous* steward. Every dollar you spend on a regular monthly basis requires $300 more to fund in perpetuity. Do you want the latte now or a lifetime of freedom years earlier? What do you love – your partner or your possessions?

The past year has taught me I love being a steward, and while I find accepting praise rather difficult, I’m told I’m rather good at it. I can’t claim success until we reach FI, but lifestyle design and rescripting is an incredibly engaging field of interest. Saving absolutely every penny isn’t the point. The complexity of the cheapskate’s life is just as bad – or perhaps worse – than the servitude of the wage slave. True freedom is elegant, beautiful in its minimalist lines and enduring appeal.

The earning partner shouldn’t have all the power in the relationship. A partnership is not a dictatorship. If you chafe at a section of your budget, try and come to an agreement about priorities. But realize your priorities always come at a price. Therefore, a certain deference should be called for.

I still earn ~25% of our combined income, so I know my perspective is slightly colored by the fact that I still have skin in the game. But even though our plan has me earning my freedom before the Alchemist, we’re both incredibly aware of the fact that every hour you work before reaching financial independence, you are at some measure a slave. White collar or blue collar, it’s still a collar.

*This is a powerful concept if you think of virtue in the original Latin sense of virtu – strength, especially strength of character. Or to borrow MMM’s term: badassity.


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