Category Archives: Blogging

Thoughts on the blogosphere, and updates about this blog.

The Balsamics of Belvedere

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A good collaboration is worth its weight in gold. Or artisanal vinegar.

Those of you who have had experiences with collaborations that did not quite pan out will understand my enthusiasm for being co-organizer of the Bay Area Bloggers Society. A year in, BABS founder Suzanna Stinnett and I are having even more fun creating events, publishing books, and advocating for authors in the age of digital publishing.

One of our regular venues is Belvedere City Hall in Marin County, a lovely faux Tudor building serving the very, very clean communities of Tiburon and Belvedere. The first time we met there in May, I stopped beforehand at the local market to pick up some dinner. And proceeded to have my mind blown.

The Woodlands Market on Tiburon Blvd. is an unassuming mid-century market, modest on the outside despite its upscale location. I was pleasantly surprised to find reasonable prices at their deli counter, and ordered a sandwich. While I was waiting for it to be made, I browsed around the aisles, curious about what a market in this neighborhood would have in stock.

Right away I encountered a grocery item I had never seen before in my life: an almond product that was neither whole nor slivered almonds, not almond butter, marzipan, or even almond milk. It was almond water. Glass jars of milky liquid, clearly labelled “Almond Water.”

My questions (internal) were roughly as follows: What is this? Who buys this stuff, and what do they do with it? Is this really a must-have item here in Belvedere?

I have lived in Northern California all my life. I’ve seen some swanky boutique grocery stores and foodie emporiums. But never before have I seen almond water for sale in a juice aisle. Fascinated, I looked around some more. And found such a surfeit of exclusive and obscure items that it made me wonder how much it cost to hire the chef who actually used these ingredients.

Sadly, I didn’t have my cell phone with me to take pictures of this embarrassment of riches. But I was prepared earlier this month when we again met in Belvedere!

Of course, snapping photos in a small, sparsely populated market is bound to attract management’s attention.Seven types of capers at Woodlands Market But before that happened, I took this shot of their entire selection of capers. That’s seven different varieties, in case you have trouble reading the labels, with some cocktail onions and green peppercorns thrown in.

Inspired, I moved on to the oils. Specialty oils at Woodlands Market Skipping over the more pedestrian (for Northern California) small-batch olive oils, for this photo I decided to capture the truffle, hazelnut and grapeseed oils, since I have never (yet) had the occasion to use any of them in my own kitchen. The impressive size of the bottles to me says “lifetime supply,” yet their sheer number on the shelves would seem to indicate much more frequent usage—a conundrum I stashed away for future mulling.

Emboldened, I moved on to vinegars, the place where Woodlands Market really shines. There is no way, without a wide-angle lens, to even capture their floor-to-ceiling array of artisanal vinegars. In fact, I was still framing this hasty shot when I was approached by Curtis, the very friendly assistant manager, who cheerfully asked what I was doing. Artisanal Vinegars at Woodlands Market

I replied in all honesty that I was completely bowled over by their selection, and was taking a few pictures so that I could remember, when I got home, just what it was that I had seen. And then I really got into it, picking out some of the more obscure bottles and rhapsodizing about their contents—had he ever seen fig vinegar before?

Curtis admitted that no, he hadn’t. And then he too started to get into the spirit of the moment, realizing that as assistant manager he should probably be more familiar with his balsamics selection. That’s when Curtis found the pièce de résistance, the jewel in the crown, so to speak, of the entire Woodlands Market vinegar aisle.

Teeny tiny bottle of balsamic vinegar from Italy with a little hand-written labelIt was a small paper box, no more than 3″ square, with Italian writing on the front. He picked it up in wonder, and I asked if he knew what was inside. By this time it seemed like a good idea to all concerned to take a look at the bottle within.

We were not disappointed. As you can see, it was a lovely jar with what appeared to be a hand-written label on plain white paper, in Italian, of course. The top was covered with a bright orange wax seal so smelling the contents was out of the question, but it won our admiration all the same. The box listed 1.4 fluid oz of (I believe) balsamic reduction inside. Alas, I neglected to check the price.

Curtis really was a sport to let me take a picture of him with this find. Then I figured that it was time to make my purchases and move on to our Blogger’s Society meeting down the street.

Suzanna was suitably impressed with my adventure, another way you can tell that your collaboration has legs. Later she sent me an article about some wayward Belvedere youth who faced possible felony charges for egging 11 cars along the street, causing thousands of dollars worth of damage.

I thought about that one for quite a while. What do you have to do with an egg to cause thousands of dollars of damage to a car? Wasn’t dried yolk removable with vinegar? If so, the residents of Belvedere were uniquely positioned to remedy their situation.

The other day I strolled through the Whole Foods in Petaluma, a market twice if not four times the size of Woodlands Market. I was curious whether the Woodlands selection really was that unique, or if I simply needed to get out more. But I found only four different types of capers. They carried most of the oils and vinegars I’d seen, but Whole Foods simply does not deliver the high end, small-boxed, wax-sealed balsamics that I have now come to hold as a benchmark for truly superior selection.

Not that you will ever need this information. But if you have been stymied in your search for the ultimate balsamic reduction, and based on this article can finally move ahead with creating a culinary masterpiece, I would appreciate being your official taste-tester. Who knows? It might be a fruitful collaboration.

An eBook Rises from the Bathwater

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When I started the Blog o’ Gnosis in 2005, I considered it a way to attract a publisher for my post-Circle Round books, the first part of building my “author platform.” Luckily for me this move coincided with the complete downfall of the publishing industry, and none of the three books I pitched over the next three years were picked up by any publisher, large or small.

If I had been able to sell a book proposal in 2005, 2006, or even 2007, chances are that I never would have written the long series of posts about Reclaiming that make up my latest ebook, The Baby and the Bathwater: What I learned about spirituality, magic, community, ecstasy and power from 25 years in Reclaiming. It was from commenters on this blog that I realized that there was a story in these posts that went beyond my efforts to make sense of personal experiences, and that writing about it might help more people than just myself. The ebook is made up of several posts I wrote here about Reclaiming over a period of four years, updated and with a new introduction that gives some backstory and puts them all into context.

If I had gotten a publishing contract for one of those early books, I also would not have followed so closely the rise of ebooks and self-publishing, and most importantly the shift in what is considered publishable material. Back in 2005, no publisher would consider printing anything that had been previously posted on a blog. Blogs were considered okay for marketing, but never for writing actual book content. This month, comedian Steve Martin is publishing a book of his previously tweeted tweets. Or rather, I should say that Steve Martin’s huge publisher Grand Central is releasing his book of tweets, which are no less funny for having been published first on Twitter. It’s a whole new world.

My professional life has become much more focused on publishing, with the new Authors Go Public meetups that my friend Suzanna and I are conjuring up in the Bay Area. On April 10, I will be speaking about my self-publishing journey, and how blogging has changed the power dynamics in Reclaiming and other organizations more than meetings or gatherings ever could.

Meanwhile, The Baby and the Bathwater is available here in pdf format. If you like the book, please help spread the word by telling your friends to buy it, and posting reviews on Amazon, the iBookstore, or the Nook store. (It will be available on Kobo soon.) If you are a blogger or podcaster yourself and would like to interview me about the book, I would be delighted.

Now that this book is launched, I will continue to use the Blog o’ Gnosis to develop material for future books. I definitely want to keep working with the California Cosmology idea, and will be writing more humorous memoir pieces as well. Meanwhile, you can read more of my thoughts on publishing, marketing and social media for authors here, and see all my stuff for sale at the newly revamped Serpentine Music & Media.

One thing that hasn’t changed since 2005 is the amount of effort it takes for authors to sell books. I have been doing this for a while, and I’m still learning how to navigate the landscape, how to engage with readers and sell the old stuff while writing the new stuff and making a living meanwhile. I am more excited than ever about what is possible, and know now from my own experience that it really can work. Here’s to all of us taking our empowered, writing selves, and going public with what we know, and the wisdom we have to share.

In a Position to Write

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June may have been Pagan Values Month for some bloggers, but for me it was the Month of Random Shit Breaking. Among the random items breaking down all month: various car parts, household goods and appliances, and worst of all, my laptop.

It was a 7-year-old laptop, so old that it barely talked to other, newer pieces of hardware, or even rendered web pages reliably. But I didn’t really care since I used it mostly for writing. Not work-associated writing, though. The laptop was what I used for lying back on the sofa at the end of the day and reflecting, churning through feelings and impressions to come up with blog posts that answered some question I had been asking myself.

In its absence I realize that it is hard for me to get that same receptive state of mind while sitting up at my desk in my office, writing with a desktop computer. My analytic mind dominates in the office, while my poetic mind perches on the couch. And so here I sit tonight, weirdly upright and with too many papers spread out around me, trying to re-enter the musing frame of mind I just had on the couch before coming in here to write. Nope, not really happening.

One thing I have learned in the last few years is that even if I can’t see the way forward, things come through when I really need them to. So while I feel stymied by not having a working laptop I also feel weirdly serene about it, and kind of curious as to what will happen next. I have had to find serenity with a lot of things this year, mostly with my nephew’s death which is still very much an open wound. I don’t have as much energy for taking care of things as I used to have, so when stuff breaks unless it’s essential to my livelihood I tend to just leave it.

If it were my desktop computer that broke (God forbid) I would be all over the internet finding a replacement asap. But it’s my laptop, an almost ethereal companion that helps me dive deep and surface with something to say. Its loss I am taking more as a conversation with the Universe about what to do and how to do it right now. Maybe I need to bring that poetic mind into my office more. Who knows? At least I was able to write this tonight, and hopefully I’ll be back with more to say in the weeks to come. Meanwhile I’ve been writing a column for SageWoman Magazine the past three issues, so if you’re looking for longer musing pieces there is at least one other place to turn.

6th Annual Brigid Poetry Festival

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It is that time of year again, when bloggers around the world post a favorite poem in honor of Brigid, the Irish goddess and patron saint of smithcraft, poetry, and healing. Brigid’s feast day is February 1st, so between now and then is the perfect time to publish a poem to celebrate.

Last year many great poems were published all over the web. This year, I have set up a Community Facebook Page to help people easily view each other’s poems and to share them around as much as possible. If you post a poem on your blog, please share the link on the community page so we can all go there and read it. If you don’t have a blog or website of your own, go ahead and post your poem in its entirety to the community page.

I haven’t quite decided which poem to post, so I have a week ahead of me to wander through books of poetry. May you enjoy the same pursuit, and by February 1st may the web be overflowing with poetic offerings!

Business is Magic

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I am not happy about publishing only one post in June, but while not writing I have been very busy mulling over how to make the best use of this space, and all the other spaces I have on the web. Some of you may have seen Jason’s post about the changes at Serpentine Music this summer, to which I would only add that if you want great deals on great music, the albums are going fast so order now!

Serpentine Music was my first business, a start-up back in the home-based business craze of the 1990s. It has been my do-it-yourself MBA, a crash course in music production, publishing, distribution, planning, niche marketing, sales, web design, direct mail, customer service, database management, and small business ownership. Winding it down has taught me a ton about how to carefully assess which pieces of a business should be tossed out for the useful stuff to thrive. Having an objective eye for something that you’ve poured your heart and soul into, and not being afraid to kill things that don’t work—that is tough, and it is also exactly where transformation happens.

This summer I have also undertaken the birth of a new business, Creative Content Coaching, which combines my experience as an educator and writer with everything I have learned about small business, consulting, and building a public presence. Shifting in such a short time from one business model to a completely new one, while not really shifting the essence of what I do at all, has taught me the biggest diy-MBA lesson yet: business is magic.

Allow me to explain. I have spent years helping people understand the spiritual messages in their dreams, while my dreams were advising me to make all sorts of changes in my professional life (which I followed). Eventually, the spiritual and practical streams in dreams merged for me, and I began doing dream seminars for businesses, while clients came to me looking for career guidance in their own dreams. (It is easy to find once you know how to look.)

Similarly, I started this blog on a whim five years ago, mostly to write on spiritual and personal topics. By hanging in there month after month, I’ve built up a large readership, leveraged it into writing for the Huffington Post, and now know more than most business coaches about the different kinds of web-based writing and how to do it well.

Magic is the art of sensing patterns, following the energy, and doing it all while staying centered and tapped into your creativity. What emerges is total transformation. What can also emerge is a very practical application of all that esoteric stuff, a vehicle through which we can use our whole skill set to bring positive change to the greatest number of people, while living by our core values. In other words, a very cool business. I hope to blog more about magic and commerce in the near future, and meanwhile I welcome your thoughts.

Toward a New Pagan Ethics

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I’ve got to hand it to Jason over at the Wild Hunt Blog, he does not shy away from the tough issues. In response to this horrific story, Jason raises a concern many of us share about the decentralized nature of nature-based spirituality:

A vast percentage of modern Pagans aren’t part of any established group, or are members of groups and traditions so small they hardly count as “established” on any national or even regional scale. This creates a culture where we tend to ascribe a certain amount of legitimacy to any individual practitioner as a common courtesy, which creates fertile grounds for those who want to abuse that trust. I’m not saying we should stop trusting, or that everyone should join a national organization if they want to be taken seriously, only that our decentralized nature makes us uniquely vulnerable to con-men and monsters.

It also makes our organizations susceptible to undue influence by the attention-seekers, power-mongers and loosely-tethered personalities among us. This has been an issue in Reclaiming for decades, and also to some degree in organizations such as COG and Cherry Hill Seminary. If you are a small group trying to do a big thing, you need all the helpers and volunteers you can find. The common courtesy that Jason describes goes a long way toward explaining why we give difficult people the benefit of the doubt, instead of questioning their motives and making sure they don’t wield undue influence in the group.

I have seen many a well-intentioned group grind to an absolute halt by the dissention and ill-will caused by a single individual. In response to the current case, Jason is putting out the call:

What can we do about it? Along with a culture of love and trust, we also need to create a culture of responsibility and frankness about what will and will not be tolerated within our communities, and make in known to the wider world.

Having been through this in recent years, trying through our local teacher’s guild to establish standards for ethics and transparency in the international Reclaiming camp network, I wish him well. One thing that process taught me is that no matter how long the process takes, it is a very good thing to have ethics and standards on the front burner in our various subcultures. The longer it is up for debate, the more reasonable people will come to realize that holding ourselves accountable to an ethical code is not a loss of freedom, it is a gain of maturity, and insurance that our group’s vision and goals may actually come to pass.

A New Poem for Brigid

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This poem may not be finished—I have spent the evening taking it apart and putting it back together, and still have some tinkering to do around the edges. But what fun to have a new poem to share for Brigid! And to be writing poetry again. The stress of the past few years must be easing up. May it be so.

Fresh Powder

My mistake was thinking
I had been down this slope
before. A night spent traversing
the ridge, looking for tracks as phantom
traces of moonlight and tree shadow guided
me first to one route then another, a faint
smoothness to the land here, hints of
familiar curves waiting there,
around the bend. But
no sure match, memory
promising what the moment
did not contain. Backtracking,
confidence giving way to doubt,
the lift and heave through hip-deep
powder, a strained ascent for another run.
Then, dawning wonder: I had not been here
before. Never these woven flanks of land, never
this finely-tuned air warming to dampness in
my nostrils. I pause to listen, fingers
flexed like dowsing rods sweeping
across the mountain. Minutes
pass, possibly days.
From behind me an owl flies
low, disappearing into the shadows ahead
and my feet follow, maneuvering rise and swale
with harnessed speed. The boughs overhead give out a soft
cry, and a rustle of downy feathers, sinew and silk. Such unearthly
beauty this night, the heavens keeping watch, and so many miles before we both can sleep.

Anne Hill
Feb 1, 2010

5th Annual Brigid Poetry Festival

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I had to go back to this post to find the earliest reference (Reya’s original blog post is lost in the mists) to the now Jan28moonannual Silent Poetry Reading in honor of Brigid (Saint or Goddess, as you prefer). And while the first invitation was for a single day’s blogging event, watching the misty full moon tonight got me thinking of a favorite line from a poem that I want to offer, so I will simply declare that this year’s event has begun!

Life is hard enough; why shouldn’t we take all the full moon weekend leading up to February 2nd to celebrate this patroness of the arts and healing, and read her a poem or two?

For those of you with dormant blogs (ahem, Oak and Pandora!), now would be a great time to dust them off and offer up a poem. And for those of you who are more web-savvy (I’m looking at you, Yvonne and Cat), perhaps there is a way to aggregate everyone’s contributions, so that it is easier to have a glass of wine on Brigid’s feast day and browse through all the great poems.

Update: Yvonne has set up a system: if you post a poem this weekend, go to delicious.com and enter your post url with the tag brighid2010. (Or get a geeky friend to do it for you; it’s not super intuitive.) If you just want to read all the poetry, search for the brighid2010 tag at delicious and all our posts will show up together. Magic!

This is a poem I wrote back in 1990. I remembered it because the last line came back to me tonight, and I still really like it. Here it is.

The Basket
(after John Berryman)

What should I do, evenings, cobwebs
swaying in the rafters and three finely
printed invitations nailed to the

message board? (they quote Neruda, say
Bring the Children, or Softball at the
Reception) But marriage? Why flower

the hair or slip new diamonds through ears,
when the chapels are emptying: vessels
thrown with relief into rivers, small

silver placed in the notches of trees and
bells over arms of sky? The bride’s demure
look is not modesty but ambivalence—notice

the primrose which holds her gaze as he
leads her out of the valley. The day I
ate caviar from your navel and we pulled

each other through the brush to gather
the sweetest berries, I thought you were
a finely feathered basket, serpent-coiled

and watertight. We have been each others’
alibis, laughing as the caterers filled our
plates, saying we were too young to know

better, with the happy couple making the
evil eye behind our backs. Now, three-fingered,
I sit nights mending coil, sedge soaking

in the dish pan. I will make them one with
blue feathers, tell them marriage is not bells
but the basket, and we its constant gleaners.

So Many Blogs, So Little Time

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I have never been a blogger that can whip out short, frequent posts on the day’s most Googled topic, in the race to drive traffic to my site. Instead, I am one of many bloggers who write thoughtful pieces about the things that interest me, in hopes that those who are similarly interested will continue reading what I write because it’s good, not because it’s trendy.

Writing blog posts has meant adjusting my writing style to one that is more compact, because in this format a shorter rhythmic flow works better than essay writing. People (myself included) just don’t stay glued to a digital page for as long as it takes to read a long, expository piece.

Last Fall, by a mixture of luck and moxie, I landed a spot as blogger for the Huffington Post. That has caused me to tighten and focus my writing even more, to match the pace of the site and get more people to read my (still on the long side) posts.

I like the challenge. And while I mostly write about dreams, my raison d’être, I have had lots of fun with my last two Huffington posts, “How To Survive a Divorce” and “The Three Most Important Words In Any Relationship.” I will most likely keep experimenting with this style, the “truth-humor spritzer” as I like to call it, in my writing there.

For now, Blog o’ Gnosis and HuffPo are my two main blogging platforms. The third, at annehill.org, is where I upload podcasts from my weekly radio show, and cross-post dream-related articles from my other blogs.

For now, I can keep them all straight, and post once or twice a month to each blog. I have no plans to discontinue any of them, though I may cross-post more in the future. I have several fascinating books to review here in the next few weeks, and several interesting people to interview on the radio show as well. And the irreverent humor part of my brain is always churning up more ideas that are perfect for HuffPo.

For now, this is a workable model. However, I hope to be writing for money sometime very soon, in which case things may shift rather rapidly. If so, this would be good news. And you will hear about it here first, or possibly on my Twitter feed, or maybe in a cryptic Facebook status update.

Meanwhile, what is up with the time changing so damn late in the year? I am against it, and hope that no one is thinking of creating a New Religious Movement based on the “Fall Back/Spring Forward” cycle. Can you imagine the desperate entreaties to the Gods that would be happening right about now?