People ask me with some regularity how things are going in New York. This is a difficult question to answer since the vast majority of things I do here are work. There's only so much I can talk about work period, and I know a lot more people who want to know "how I'm doing" than I do who want to hear about the nuts and bolts of a lawyer's life, anyway.
In a lot of ways I don't really feel like I'm in New York. I don't really have the time to explore the free places (I have not gotten to explore any more of Prospect Park, although it remains on my to-do list), and I don't have anywhere near enough money to explore the local restaurants (even the cheap ones), museums, theaters, or any of those things. That is to say, I could have enough money, but that would mean cutting down on saving, which is the whole reason I'm here.
Nevertheless, the emotional reality that I am Away From Home remains, lurking on the periphery of my soul. This makes it extra necessary to pay attention to my touchstones. These are things I have had as long as I can remember, although the actual touchstones themselves have changed from season to season in my life - the things that help me remember that I am still me. They aren't the things that make me me, just reminders. These are things that I expect everybody has, but I am by nature very sensitive to symbols, so I think about them a lot.
Here are some of my touchstones in New York:
My signature seal. This is something Thayet had made for me a long time ago. It's a pewter seal with my initials carved into it in a design she did herself. Seals are like flowers - despite the outward appearance of their function, their real function (at least, in Natalie) is to honor the recipient. My signature seal reminds me to honor others.
My Phoenix Earth seal. Every week, I send a letter to Thayet signed with my signature seal, and seal the envelope with my Phoenix Earth seal. This has various ritualistic layers of significance - the colors of the waxes, the act of letter-writing itself, the use of seals, and so forth, most of which are an idiosyncratic Natalian mix of meanings culled from various sources. One of the layers that actually has nothing to do with Thayet at all, though, is the opportunity to handle the Phoenix Earth symbol itself. The Phoenix Earth symbol was designed by my sister for the roleplaying game of the same name, but it actually holds very little significance for me as a symbol for all those bonds forged around the table and stories told (though those bonds and stories are, in their own right, very dear to me). The Phoenix Earth itself, rather, is my personal expression that I still believe in the Second Coming of Christ, that the king will return, that God is in his heaven and still in charge of the universe, that things will get better, that he is here.
The mythosaur. Another symbolic touchstone these days is the mythosaur. This one really crystallized when my cousin bought me a set of Star Wars pins from Disneyland, one of which is a red mythosaur skull on a yellow field. As the prototypical symbol of Mandalorian culture, the mythosaur emblem stands for the application of will to the concept of family: of choosing to make a person your spouse, child, or parent (that is, loving them as those things), and doing what has to be done for them. I wore this pin to every job interview when I was looking for work, pinned to my tie under my left collar, and I still sometimes wear it to work when I feel like wearing a tie. There are a set of mythosaur cufflinks on eBay that I'd like to buy one day.
Star Wars. My adult relationship with Star Wars is sort of weird. After loving it to death as a child and teenager, I came to a sort of love-hate relationship in my twenties. This post summed up my feelings about it for a long time. I didn't like Star Wars anymore, and I felt mostly relief. But that was never entirely true, and I think I've finally kind of figured out why I can't leave Star Wars alone. In many ways, I value it the same way I value Disney (an ironic identity, now that Disney owns Star Wars): it teaches me to believe in magic. I am currently teaching myself to read the aurebesh and Mandalorian alphabet by transliterating On Basilisk Station in Word and reading it in the different alphabets, one chapter at a time, on the subway to and from work. It's hugely geeky, I know, to want to read fictional alphabets with the same facility with which I read the English alphabet (I'm getting pretty good at the aurebesh), and it's probably even geekier to read an Honor Harrington in a Star Wars script. But it's cheap entertainment, and ... well, it's a touchstone. I need to believe in magic.
KDF. KDF takes up virtually my entire discretionary budget, and is actually rather more expensive than I would like. I still love movies, and the ritual of eating out, and buying toys. I would like to have some money to do those things, even if only once a month. But in general, the expense is part of the point. It's often said by swordspeople (as by many martial artists generally, I think) that the point of their discipline is ultimately control of the self. Certainly that is what I primarily value KDF for: control, control, you must learn control. Discipline in spending, working, exercising ... these are the things that KDF has become my touchstone for.