The things that have happened in the last few months have been completely wild. My life has been utterly changed, and it’s so weird not being able to talk to anyone about it. I’m so glad that I can finally share this stuff with you now. Most people just wouldn’t understand. They might even try to pathologize me for the very things that are making my life better. Learning magic, self defense, and community organizing from a bunch of comic book characters? Yeah, that’s definitely not a good look. I know. But there it is, and it’s been incredible!

OK, first off, let’s get a little background out of the way. I’ve pretty much been depressed and feeling useless since I returned home from the water protector camps at Standing Rock in early 2017. 

You’ve heard about Standing Rock, right? A company called Energy Transfer Partners was going to put a pipeline through Bismarck, North Dakota, but the nice white people of Bismarck complained that the pipeline would be too dangerous around their families, so they agreed to run the pipeline through Lakota territory instead. Real sweet. But of course, the pipeline wasn’t any less dangerous for the people on the Standing Rock reservation than it was for the people of Bismarck, and if a leak occurred in the wrong place it could poison the water for millions of people downstream. So, the youth of the Standing Rock reservation ran across the country all the way to Washington, DC to protest the pipeline, and then they set up a prayer camp to block the pipeline from going through. They called for other people to come, and people from every corner of the planet came. For a while, the camp population made us the 3rd largest city in North Dakota. I went there to make myself useful however I could. I stayed for 6 months.

During the one week that I led the morning meetings in the big dome tent I told people who had just arrived, “Welcome to the land of the Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota people. If you’ve never been outside the US before, congratulations! You are now an international traveler. You are here on a visa waiver program, and you didn’t even need to show your passport.” I told people that they were guests in a foreign land, just as I was, and that they needed to remember that the culture and rules were different than they were used to. 

That difference was everything. It would be wrong to say that life there was easy. We were in a literal war zone, after all, and we survived some brutal winter storms together in an assortment of tipis, yurts, tents and temporary huts. There was a lot of hard work to do: wood to be chopped, food to be cooked, insulated floors to be built, fireplaces to be built, mini solar and wind power grids to be set up and maintained, an Internet connection to set up and then keep running. Everyone did the work that they were able to do and everyone had the things they needed for survival: food, clothing, shelter, medical treatment, music, friends and family. 

I had to leave shortly before the Feds came in and dragged people out of there at gunpoint because of my health. I’d gotten the camp cough in November 2016 and it never went away. In December I had to go to the hospital twice, and the doctors and medics kept telling me that if I didn’t go home I might die out there. Thankfully, I didn’t die, but I did do some mighty damage to my lungs and heart. I needed to stay because I was doing work that helped keep the camps safe and more importantly because my Lakota friends and mentors at camp kept asking me to stay. I left when it got to the point where I physically couldn’t do the job I needed to do any more. 
After living at Oceti Sakowin, the world outside of camp wasn’t home anymore and everything just felt wrong.

I was not alone in that. Pretty much everyone who spent more than a couple of weeks at camp felt something like I did. I don’t know if it’s entirely accurate, but it was said about a year later that everyone who had spent more than 3 months at camp had PTSD. I do know that everyone from camp that I spent time with in the couple of years afterward was affected in both positive ways and traumatic ones, myself included.

While I was at camp I kept saying that this wasn’t going to change my life, because I was already on the path that brought me there in the first place. It wasn’t until after I got home that I realized exactly how six months in a transient Lakota village transformed me forever. In those six months, a way of living that had only ever been theoretical to me before became my reality, and I didn’t want to give it up. But that’s not all that changed in me. Before Standing Rock I would have told you that I knew that certain kinds of magic work, at least sometimes, but I would tell you that I didn’t exactly “believe” in it. It was just something I had seen and experienced, but I couldn’t explain it. I would also have told you that I believed that prayer was helpful, but I couldn’t give you a clear example of a prayer that was directly answered. The camps at Standing Rock were prayer camps, first and foremost. Prayer filled the day, even if not everyone participated. We woke up to a call to prayer. We ate only after prayers were made and spirit plates were offered to the ancestors. A sacred fire burned all day and all night. If you needed something, all you had to do was pray and it appeared.

Yes, I know, that sounds impossible, but hear me out. I have so many examples, and every person I know who was there has examples. Here’s just a tiny one: In September we were setting up the power for part of the camp and we realized that we were short two inverters. We were stuck and couldn’t finish our day’s work without those inverters. I walked away from the crew I was working with, took a bit of tobacco from the pouch in my pocket, and stood by the fire on Media Hill to pray. I did a small ceremony by myself, threw the tobacco into the fire and said my prayers, and then walked back to the crew. Just then a truck pulled up next to us and someone got out to ask, “Where should we drop off these power inverters we brought for donation?” That wasn’t an anomaly. That was just how things worked.

But in the outside world, I was no longer surrounded by that culture of prayer. It got harder and harder to hold on to the lessons I’d learned. The synchronicities kept happening, especially whenever a few of us water protectors were together in one place, but it was harder to stay in the mindset we had at camp. 

At the same time as I was dealing with the culture shock of returning to ordinary European American culture and the PTSD of six months of living in a conflict zone, I was also struggling to feel like any of my work after camp was useful. I struggled with money and practical survival. Several projects that I was involved with ended in ways that I was less than happy about. It’s not that they were failures, they just didn’t live up to my hopes for them. 2018 brought a couple of personal upsets I won’t bore you with, and then by 2019 I’d moved into the in-law unit at my son’s house because I couldn’t afford rent anywhere else. Then 2020 and the pandemic hit. You know how that was… I mean even people who weren’t already depressed had a hard time at that point.

Oh, my goodness, and I’m skipping over the whole part about Trump being president and the world being on fire. Yeah, there was all that, too. The US got really, really scary for me in 2016 and it pretty much hasn’t gotten less scary since. There are brief moments when it seems like the tide might possibly shift in a more positive direction and then WHAM! Something horrible happens to remind me that our whole country is in a metaphorical cattle car speeding toward destruction.

So, yeah, I feel like by 2022 I should have gotten over the post-Standing-Rock-blues, but I definitely had not. Those five years feel like they were just piling disappointment on top of disappointment as I fell deeper and deeper into depression. Antidepressants could keep me out of the actively suicidal zone, but they couldn’t wash away the sense that I’d done all the really interesting and useful stuff that I’d ever do in my life and the rest was just waiting for the end credits to roll. But there was this one thing that was bringing me a lot of joy. Comic books and their affiliated stories in other media. 

I have always been a comic book nerd, since grade school. I would photocopy the pages of independent black and white comics so that I could color them in while I read them over and over. The first novel that I read cover to cover was an adaptation of Elfquest. For the last couple of years, though, I’ve been really into the AV comics universe. In 2019 they came out with a book called 19 Crows that hit all the buttons in me that I’d been missing since Standing Rock. It had a group of people fighting for the rights of all living things, setting up communities that functioned on alternate life-affirming economies, standing up against overwhelming power and succeeding. These were some of the same superhero personas that had been vigilantes in the 70’s and 80’s and agents of the government in the 90’s and oughts, but now they seemed to be something completely different. The heroes were full fledged social justice warriors, and the writers did a masterful job of referencing old historic comics from the golden era to show that this was not a new look for the “Woke”. The writers made it clear, this is what these characters were supposed to be all along. As the real world burned, this imaginary world soared with possibility.

One day I realized that I should just go and ask those characters to help me become useful again. 

This is exactly the sort of thing that I mean when I say that when you don’t live in a culture where magic is accepted and expected that it’s hard to keep it in your life. I was trained in energy healing when I was 9 years old so that I could help an aunt who was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer. She was told she’d be dead by Christmas, but instead she was declared to be in remission a few days before Christmas. She's been living a pretty healthy life since then. From that point on, the Universe has just brought different teachers into my life at seemingly random points. I’ve learned a bit from books, and a lot from experimentation, too. So, one of the techniques I learned along the way was a meditation where you can ask anyone you want – from history or even fiction – for information, advice, even long term teaching. There’s no guarantee that they’ll agree to answer your questions or help you, but if they consent to help, the stuff you learn there tends to be pretty useful in the “real” world. I knew this tool and had used it many times in my twenties and thirties, but hadn’t done it at all in more than 10 years. 

So, I spent some time thinking about who I wanted to go meet and what I would ask them to teach me. I’ve always wanted to learn archery. I realize now that was kind of dumb, but at that point I’d decided that if I went and asked Mica Johnson, aka Dart, to teach me then I could learn about how to organize a community to resist fascism and how to shoot arrows at things. Maybe I could even work on getting my body back to where it was before I destroyed my lungs so that I could do a little parkour, you know, just for funsies.

One of the motifs in the 19 Crows book is that you can travel through their world using something that they call “Shaman’s Doors” which are kind of like mandalas that are painted, drawn, or carved into a surface. You stand in front of one Shaman’s Door and picture the Shaman’s Door that you want to go to in your mind’s eye, and then a portal opens up between the two doors and you can walk through. This actually pairs up perfectly with the meditation technique that I would use to go find my fictional teacher because it provides a handy landmark to find him.

Mica Johnson spends most of the 19 Crows story in Memphis, Tennessee where he’s coordinating a group of people working on projects locally and around the US at hotspots not unlike the protests that have happened in our world these past few years in Minneapolis, Portland, and a bunch of other cities. So, that was my goal: Go to Memphis. Find Mica. Learn something. Figure out what to do with the rest of my life. Become useful again.

The first time I went there, I was really out of practice with this kind of journey work, so I knew I was going to need every single crutch in the book. I set a sacred circle around my room. I lit incense. I lit a candle. I held a quartz crystal in one hand. I sat on top of my bed, propped up with lots of pillows so that my back wouldn’t start hurting mid-meditation. I played binaural beats in my earbuds. I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing, making each breath deeper and slower until I started to feel soft and floaty. Then I imagined that I was standing in an open field with a shovel in my hand. I imagined myself marking out a circle a little bigger than the width of my body on the ground, and then I imagined the Shaman’s Door on the wall of the Knight’s Mare Pub in the Memphis of the 19 Crows world. I imagined digging out the center of the circle that I had made and digging down, down, down into the Other World. I kept imagining the Shaman’s Door on the other side until I saw a bright light up ahead which expanded and opened up and then I dropped my shovel and walked out of the portal and into the pub.

Mica was sitting at a table directly in front of the portal with three women and one other man. They all stopped talking and stared directly at me in surprise. 

I was way too enthusiastic about meeting them all, “Hi!” I sort of squealed it like a little kid. 

The man sitting with Mica stood up, looked very unhappy and demanded, “Who the fuck are you?” He really put some oomf on the “fuck” in case I wasn’t sure that he wasn’t thrilled to meet me.

“I’m Uriel,” I said, now feeling a whole lot less confident about what I was doing here. “I’m not from around here. Actually, I’m from really far away, and I” the last bit of confidence I had disappeared as the angry man approached me with two long strides and grabbed my arm just above the elbow.

Mica stood up and gestured to the angry man to let go. Angry Man let go, but did not step away. Mica asked, “Where exactly are you from?”

“Geographically, I live in Walla Walla, Washington these days, but not in this world. In my world, you guys are all characters in a book.” I bit my lower lip nervously.

The red headed lady sitting to Mica’s right informed me, “This is not a portal for cross dimensional hops. You do not have authorization to use this Shaman’s Door. How did you get through the wards?”

How could I have forgotten the wards? Of course they were upset about me showing up here. No one who hasn’t been vetted and cleared for this location should be able to cross through this Shaman’s Door. The Pub is basically a secret hideout. It’s a public venue, but the presence of the Crows here isn’t public knowledge. This room used to be for private parties, so it has doors that separate it from the rest of the pub and sound proofing so that if you are trying to have a conversation in here you won’t be drowned out by the chaos in the main dining area and bar. 

“Honestly, I forgot about the wards. I was just focusing on wanting to get into this world and meeting Mica.” My eyes were going back and forth between each of them, trying to read their faces, trying to think if there was anything I could do to salvage the situation. “I’m sorry. I’ll just go back, and maybe I can meet Mica another time under different circumstances.” I nodded my head towards Mica.

Angry Man grabbed my arm and Mica said, “No,” in a long syllable that started low and ended high. “I don’t think you should go anywhere until we have a chance to find out who you really are and what you are really here for. Have a seat.” He pulled up a chair from another table and put it about two feet away from the table they had all been seated at.

Angry Man maneuvered me into the chair and pushed me down a little more roughly than was necessary. He let go of me and stood just behind and slightly to the left of the chair I was in. I swiveled my head to see what he was doing. His arms had been crossed, but he looked at me and pointed in the direction of the table. “Eyes front,” he grunted.

The woman with the dark, short hair wearing jeans overalls with a bunch of political pins on the straps like some kind of activist flair leaned down and pulled a laptop out of her bag. She opened it up and sat at the ready when Mica asked me, “Tell us again, what is your name?”

“My name is Uriel Pardo.”

“And where do you live?”

“Walla Walla, Washington.”


I knew that this was unlikely to be useful to them, but I gave it to them anyway, “634 Bowman Avenue.”

Mica looked at Laptop Lady. She looked at her laptop and then looked up at him and shook her head, “That address doesn’t even exist. It’s part of the area that was burned in the Harken Attack.”

I took a deep breath, “Yeah, that didn’t happen at all where I’m from. There was no-”

Angry Man interrupted me, “Just answer the questions.”

Mica tipped his head to one side and gestured with one hand, palm facing down as he scowled his eyebrows at Angry Man. Then Mica changed his questioning tactic, “OK, why don’t you tell me about your Walla Walla.”

“Well, it’s a smallish town, population is around 35,000 I think. It’s kind of a twin town, because the area that can be considered suburban as opposed to rural is made up of Walla Walla and College Place. Outside of those two towns, we’re surrounded by a mix of farmland and wilderness, with the next sort of urban area about 45 or 50 miles to the West. Walla Walla has a state prison, a community college, and a liberal arts college called Whitman. College Place is the home of Walla Walla University, which is a Seventh Day Adventist school. There are a lot of vineyards and wineries, and a lot of tourists in the summer. We also have a few big annual events like the Balloon Stampede in years when there isn’t, you know, a pandemic.”

That got everyone’s attention. All eyes were on me. Every face was alarmed. “Pandemic?!” Three voices shouted simultaneously.

“I’m safe! I’m safe!” I waved my hands in front of me and then folded them back in my lap. “I’ve been in quarantine this whole time. I only go outside fully masked. I wipe all the groceries and any packages with disinfectant before they come in the house. And also, I don’t think that even if I were sick I could have brought it here, since this isn’t even my real body.”

They all looked slightly less concerned, but not exactly calm.

Mica asked, “What do you mean this isn’t your real body?”

“Well, my real body is sitting on my bed. It’s 50 years old. Fat. Asthmatic.” I didn’t mention that it was assigned female at birth and had stereotypically feminine characteristics along with stretch marks from 3 pregnancies and a scar from a c-section 32 years ago. They didn’t need that information. “I don’t know how to actually come here physically, or if it’s even possible. I’m just on a meditative journey, from the perspective of the body I was born with.”

“And why did you want to come here?” Mica asked.

“Because things in my world are pretty messed up. I’m pretty broken after a bunch of years of activism, and I was hoping that you could teach me some things. Maybe you could help me get back to being useful again.”

“And why would you think I could teach you anything useful?” 

“Because you are a literal fucking superhero and we don’t have those where I come from.” I answered. 

“You don’t have civil rights lawyers?” He asked, as if everyone in the room didn’t know that he was much more than that.

I grinned like the comic book geek that I am and said, “We do have civil rights lawyers, and they are pretty darned cool, but none that can do what you do,” and I mimed throwing a dart at the dartboard on the opposite side of the room. 

They all looked at each other with a new look of concern. That may have been the wrong thing to say. Everyone who was here before I arrived probably knew that bit of information, but outsiders should not have known that the man standing there in ordinary street clothes was the same guy in the leather costume who did the dart and arrows thing. I second guessed myself and wondered if anyone at that table didn’t know, and if I had just blown his cover. Shit. I wanted to kick myself.

The four at the table conferred with each other. 

Laptop Lady said, “I think we’re going to need magical vetting.”

Mica nodded in agreement.

The lady with the long black hair and the goth outfit spoke up for the first time, “We should call up Morrison, see if he can come give us a hand.”

Red Head Lady concurred, “He’ll be able to tell if this guy is really from off world and can also look in and see what his real motivations are.”

“Alright, Sherry, you call him,” Mica said and then turned to me, “and we’ll see what you are really about. Why don’t you tell me more about what’s going on in your world while we wait.”

“I should have thought this part through better. Where should I start?” I blew air through my pursed lips as I considered how to organize the information succinctly to give a broad overview that we could drill down into later. “For starters, the United States is getting perilously close to Civil War. It’s been on this trajectory for a long time, but now it’s getting really scary. Our police have been steadily militarized since the beginning of the so-called War On Drugs that started in the 80s, but after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001, that accelerated. The police are now a military force that is only about control and not at all about public safety. In fact, they fight directly against any initiative that would have them protect the general public in any way. They kill hundreds of innocent people every year, mostly Black and Brown people, but not only. Last year they killed at least 1021 people, but possibly more. 

“Income inequality is higher now than it was during the Great Depression, and there are hundreds of thousands of homeless people. Meanwhile, even if you have a good income, it’s harder than ever to rent or buy a place to live, so the homeless population keeps growing. And being homeless is another thing that makes you a target of police violence.

“We are facing an unprecedented environmental crisis with Global Climate Change and the poisoning of our air and water with the products of the hydrocarbon industries, but our government’s response is to outlaw people trying to protest oil drilling and pipelines for fossil fuels. Our government also keeps giving money and tax breaks to big corporations which do all the polluting while refusing to fund things which will help us transition away from those industries. They wage wars in places that are ‘strategic’ for their resources, and then refuse to care for the refugees that they create.

“Actually, the climate problems and governmental response aren’t just in the US, and neither is the refugee crisis caused by wars that are all about money and resources that benefit the wealthy. Those are common problems around the high income countries. But what worries me most of all right now, especially in the US even though it’s a global problem, is the rise of Fascism.

“It’s getting really scary. Did I say that already? I think I said it already. I’m afraid to put a mezuzah on my door in case a Trump supporter decides to get violent with me because I’m Jewish, and I’ve got it comparatively easy because I look pale white. Not all my family has such a pasty complexion though, and some have experienced a concerning rise in direct racism on the street.”

“What’s a Trump supporter?” Laptop Lady asked.

“Donald Trump is this really scuzzy, scammy real estate investor who also had a TV show for a while who somehow managed to become president of the US for four years on a platform of ‘Make America Great Again’.”

Everyone in the room groaned. They all knew that slogan from similar types of bad guys in this world. 

“Really? Are they doing the America First thing, too?” asked Red Head.

“Yup. You got it.” I responded. And then I stopped and looked to the side because I heard my dog barking. “Uh oh, I got a problem.” I started to stand up as I continued, “My dog’s barking about something, I better go find-” and then I felt Angry Man’s fist connect with my face and my body start to fall over as the lights went out.

When I opened my eyes I was laying on my side as if I’d fallen over from the sitting position as Angry Man had hit me. My jaw hurt. I put my hand up to my face as I sat up and looked around to figure out what was happening. I pulled the earbuds out of my ears and then put the crystal down on the nightstand by my bed.

Doug was standing with his hind legs on the bed and his front paws on the wall just under the window and barking his little heart out.

“What’s going on, Doug? Is someone out there?” I got off the bed and grabbed my hoodie. “Come on, let’s go see what’s out there.”

We went to the front door. I slipped my sneakers on and hooked Doug’s leash on his collar. We stepped outside and walked around to the side of the house. There was a possum family out there. Doug wagged his tail and pulled at the leash. “No, Doug. Possums are friends, but you can’t play with them.” He looked up at me with plaintive puppy eyes. “No. I’m sorry. You are not going to play with the possums. Leave them be. Let’s go back inside.”

I turned around and headed back inside the house, the mystery solved, and Doug disappointed that I did not let him off leash to chase a possum around the yard and down the street. He would live despite his disappointment, and so would the possum.

When we went into the house, I took off my shoes, hung the leash back up by the door, and padded off to the bathroom to go look in the mirror. I had a slight bruise on the left side of my jaw and cheek. Not too bad, but still, how did that happen? Did I hit something in real life when I felt the guy hit me in the journey world? No clue. It was weird.

I headed back to my room and checked the time. It was 11pm. Time to get some sleep. I would try to go back again tomorrow and see if we could avoid violence the next time around.