Tree Dreaming

"My enemies are all too familiar. They're the ones who used to call me friend." - LJ Idol Week 5

I've spent a long time trying to figure out the best way to write about the time I spent in a cult.

Would it help people to hear my story? Which parts of it would help?

I feel like I should talk about it but I don't know what to say.

So I asked people. I asked my Facebook friends and the workroom what questions they had.

I don't have time in one LJ Idol entry to write about all of it. In fact, this topic has shown me that I really do have a lot to say, and should probably spend some non-idol time working on it. But Gary extended the deadline, and so I'll try one more time to do a condensed Idol version.

It won't be satisfying. It'll be very Cult 101. But it'll be an entry.

I should start by saying that a lot of the questions I got assumed my cult was religious. Most well-known cults are. You hear "cult" and you think about people lying dead in their white Nikes, or people lying dead in Jonestown, or Tom Cruise.

But my cult wasn't like that. We were more like the Manson family. Just without the murders. Probably.

They were just people. That's the insidious part, and that's what I need to write about - what I need people to understand.

Cults don't announce that they're cults. Cults can just be people. They can be one house. And they can consume you.

For a long time I didn't call it a cult. I called it a "cult-like environment." I felt because of the lack of notoriety, it didn't really count. But reading through the BITE model, aka the gold standard for determining cult status, the alarms in my head scream at full blast.

Behavior Control

-Promote dependence and obedience - check.
-Dictate where and with whom you live - half check.
-Restrict or control sexuality - triple check.
-Deprive you of seven to nine hours of sleep - holy shit, check.
-Exploit you financially - check.
-Restrict leisure time and activities - check.
-Require you to seek permission for major decisions - check.

Information Control

-Deliberately withhold and distort information - check.
-Forbid you from speaking with ex-members and critics - check.
-Divide information into Insider vs. Outsider doctrine - check, though again, "doctrine" is used loosely as there wasn't any written doctrine or propaganda - just the stuff we made up verbally as a group.
-Use information gained in confession sessions against you - check.
-Gaslight to make you doubt your own memory - oh hell to the check.
-Require you to report thoughts, feelings, & activities to superiors - Yup. Yup. Yup.
-Encourage you to spy and report on others’ “misconduct” - check.

Thought Control

-Instill Black vs. White, Us vs. Them, & Good vs. Evil thinking - check.
-Change your identity, possibly even your name - Somewhat.
-Use loaded language and cliches to stop complex thought - "It's only awkward if you make it awkward."
-Induce hypnotic or trance states to indoctrinate - Parties, parties, parties.
-Reject rational analysis, critical thinking, & doubt - check.

Emotional Control

-Instill irrational fears (phobias) of questioning or leaving the group - Check with a capital "C".
-Promote feelings of guilt, shame, & unworthiness - check.
-Shower you with praise and attention (“love bombing”) - check.
-Shun you if you disobey or disbelieve - check.
-Teach that there is no happiness or peace outside the group - essentially.

There are several aspects I didn't list here. They happened not exactly as described by the BITE model but in a clunky, more home-brewed way. While some cult leaders practice this stuff intentionally, I don't know that the people in my particular cult realized what they were doing. I think it was the only way they knew how to live. And I think if they HAD been more intentional, I might have stayed longer.

Again, I don't have time for the full story here. But I do want to at least answer a handful of the most asked questions. So here they are, along with my brief answers:

1) Why did you join*?

I got in because I felt loved. I felt seen. I felt cared for and cherished. I felt special. Unique. WE had it all figured out. WE knew how to live life the right way. We felt sorry for saps out there who felt like they had to go through the motions of cultural expectations.

I felt part of something important. I felt like I had a chosen family that had my back and would carry me through anything I came up against in life.

This, I have learned, is called "love bombing". It doesn't last. But it's such as strong feeling that you spend the rest of your time with your cult trying to get it back.

And it's because of the strength of those feelings that I'm now extremely wary of anyone who tries to make me feel special when they don't know me that well. Who are you? What do you want from me?

2) Why did you leave?

I left because I started to see the cracks. I looked at one particular fellow member. When I'd first joined, he was so full of life, vibrant, beautiful, a person everybody radiated toward. I remember looking at him one day toward the end** and having this stark recognition of how different he was now, how broken. And I realized in that moment if I stayed, that would be me. Maybe it already was.

It still took me several months after that realization to fully get out. Leaving was brutal. They were unforgiving.

3) When did you realize it was a cult?

I never considered it a cult while I was in. As I mentioned earlier, it's only recently I've started to let myself call it a cult. I don't think anyone wants to admit they're the sort of person who could get sucked into a cult, but here's the deal: Unless you are highly, highly aware of the techniques they use, and unless you are highly, highly critical of everything going on around you while they are flooding your brain with dopamine and making you feel cherished in a way you've never felt before, it could happen to you just as easily as it happened to me.

Learn about cults. Watch out for them. And don't think you're safe from them if you steer clear of organized groups.

4) Did anyone's advice from the outside world help you get out?

The thing about being in a cult is no one can really talk you out of it. You feel like you've found this incredible group of people who understands you in a way no one else ever has before. If people had told me I needed to get out, it would have made zero difference.

However, sometimes when I talked to other people about things that happened on the inside and felt normal to me, they would give me confused looks, or say it seemed weird. Hmmm...six grown adults and three children living in a four bedroom house? Three people who directly deposit some or all of their paychecks into one guy's bank account - and that guy doesn't have a job? That's a little strange.

The first time you hear it, you laugh it off - oh, that's just how we are! You don't get it because we've figured out a way to buck the system and you're still IN the system, so you wouldn't understand.

But hearing it from enough people - people whose opinions I respected - eventually, I started to wonder if I was the misled one.

I don't know if it would work for other people. Some might dig their heels in more. But considering that there might be truth in their concerns played a big part in my getting out.

....Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

*I should mention there was no specific moment when I "joined". They didn't initiate me, there wasn't a ritual or anything official, it just sort of happened. I did move in with them eventually, but by that point I was already deep in it.

**I think I was in it for about three years.
Tree Dreaming

New Zodiac - LJ Idol Week 4

I thought it would be fun to jumble up the traits commonly associated with signs of the zodiac, randomly assign them to new made-up signs, and write descriptions for them.

What's YOUR new sign? Remember, you can only pick ONE, and none of the other traits can apply to you. Have fun!


Spoons are very generous, empathetic people. They're the friend who will buy you lunch when you left yours at home rushing out the door. They're the ones who will listen while you blather endlessly about your ex. But they can also be pretty stubborn. Don't get between a Spoon and their ice cream! Spoons are great friends, but their dynamic personalities mean they're constantly bouncing from exciting adventure to exciting adventure, and can sometimes leave you in the dust.


Tangerines are extremely sentimental people. They love for life and they'll do anything for the people they care about. Tangerines fight passionately for the causes they believe in. Their fiery personalities make them excellent activists, as they're protective by nature. They might try to drag you to the occasional protest. But you could also get to star in their latest poem - as deep thinkers, Tangerines are constantly writing. You might have to shake them out of their reverie every once in a while!


Butterflies are the most gracious of the new zodiac. They'll never miss a chance to send you a thank you card or open a door for you. Kind-natured, they are prone to showering their friends with compliments. You'll always feel beautiful around a Butterfly! But they can be surprisingly competitive. They take their pursuits very seriously and aim for their goals with a laser-like focus. If you're up against a Butterfly for a promotion, watch out! They're in it to win it. But at least they'll tell you what a great job you did when you lose.


Whispers are known for their artistic talents. Whenever you ask them where they got their purse, they always say, "I made it myself!" But they're also quite practical. You'll never see them at the craft store without a handful of coupons to make sure they're getting the best deal, and they know when to put down that bag of sequins so they can pick up some carrots for dinner instead. An intuitive bunch, Whispers can always pick up on it if you're having a tough time (whether you want them to or not). But their natural self-assurance makes them fantastic advice givers, and great people to lean on when times are tough.


No one holds fast to their beliefs like the uncompromising Moose. An independent soul, the Moose chooses a path and walks it without question. Don't try to dissuade them, you'll only bolster their resolve. Many view the Moose as brave, taking risks to stick to their guns where others might cave. Never offer them cheesecake while they're on a diet - you'll open yourself up to a lecture on will power! But the Moose is a good person to have in your corner if you need them. They're quite dependable as they're naturally inclined to follow through with their goals.


If you want your party to be a hit, bring a Pizza! They're naturally funny people, always quick with a joke. Their gregarious personalities mean you'll never feel excluded when you're hanging out with a Pizza. They work hard to make sure everyone's having a good time! Passionate souls, Pizzas are always working on projects that interest them. If they find the right passion project, they can dive into it with enviable discipline. If this happens, make sure they come up for air from time to time!


Everyone envies the resourceful Saturday. They're great people to take on road trips because they always have just the right thing in their bag for any emergency! They are used to dealing with struggle, so they prefer to be prepared. A strong bunch, Saturdays can handle anything you throw at them. They love to tell stories of how they've overcome circumstance, but this can sometimes make them seem a bit dramatic. One spider becomes five, a butter knife becomes a machete, etc. But when it comes to their friends, Saturdays refuse to get in the middle of drama. They remain diplomatic, helping to bring conflict to a peaceful end.


No one feels happier in a crowd than a Magazine! These extroverted, outgoing people always have the latest gossip and can fill you in on the details. When it comes to what they want, Magazines are tenacious go-getters. They know how to work a crowd and get them on their side. If you've ever joined an MLM, it's probably because a Magazine convinced you it was a great idea. They're extremely versatile, able to turn any bad situation into a good one. They know how to take things as they come and roll with the punches.


Fogs are very compassionate people. They want to blanket the whole world in a soft mist of comfort. The fair-minded Fog will bend over backward to make sure everyone gets treated properly and feels included. They're social creatures, always surrounded by people and nurturing their friends and loved ones. As fans of sensual pleasures, Fogs tend toward hobbies that activate the senses - bonus points if they can share them with others! Baking, massage and mixing homemade perfumes are all favorites of a typical Fog.


The most curious, inquisitive group of the new zodiac, Buttons are always digging to learn more about everything. This makes them great listeners - they'll let to you talk about your obsession with The Bachelor for hours because they're genuinely interested in why someone would watch that show. Their widespread interests make them quite creative. You'll never meet a Button who doesn't have five or six projects in the works! Their curiosity has also made them wise: They've gotten themselves into situations the average person might not, and learned a lot along the way. Buttons show great affection for the people in their lives, because they understand the complexities of human nature and respect the flaws of others.


Tongs are the trendsetters, the ones everyone looks to for the latest fashions. Highly imaginative, Tongs aren't afraid of what anyone else thinks of them. Their ideas are always original and unique. They're very expressive, literally wearing their personalities on their sleeve. You'll always know where you stand with Tongs! But if you befriend the Tongs, you'll have a friend for life. Extremely loyal people, Tongs won't let you down. They'll be by your side through thick and thin.


At the other side of the spectrum from Tongs, we have the Sweaters. Sweaters are cozy, gentle people who love to curl up with some hot cocoa and a good book. Analytically-minded, they prefer a night in studying trends in the political climate to a night out partying. They manage to keep an optimistic outlook despite their love of boring data, which can make them good people to consult in a crisis: They'll tell you the facts and remind you that you can do it. Sweaters are always eager to help where they can. You'll often find them volunteering for causes that matter to them, or at least taking the cricket outside rather than squashing it.
Tree Dreaming

Resolution (LJ Idol Topic 1)

We'll only write at midnight and we'll always do it late.
We'll only write non-fiction and it largely won't be great.
We'll pick through pasts and other pasts to figure out our now.
But probably we'll just come back to still not knowing how.

The heck.
To be an adult.

We'll write it out in poem form and pretend it isn't meta.
We'll joke to make ourselves laugh - corny turns of phrase? You bet-a.
We'll hope we can maintain some form of pre-youthful endurance.
But realistically we know we're hoping for insurance.

My car.
Is due.

(If you want to play with us there's still a day left to sign up.)
Tree Dreaming

Week 0 - Introduction (LJ Idol)

Well holy butts. I'ts 12:30 AM and I'm writing this really quickly so I don't forget to do it. Is this how all of my LJ Idol entries are going to be? PROBABLY until I just totally space and forget one and get kicked out of the competition.


Anyway hi I'm Jess and I'm not going to do anything fancy for this intro because I really just wanted to hang with some peeps on LJ again and that's why I'm doing this. I miss LJ. It'll never be what it once was but as long as there are fine people out there like Gary* with tenacity that won't quit, I'll keep dropping in from time to time.

I couldn't tell you what to expect from me this season except for not much, man. I have a full time job that's far from home, I also run an Etsy shop and attempt to run a YouTube channel in my spare time, and I spend the rest of my free time getting sucked down the irresistible black hole that is Merge Dragons. Do you play it? It's the best. At wasting precious time.

So yeah, welcome to the shit show that is sure to be me writing up a bunch of last minute bullcrap in an effort to stay in the game! Should be fun.

I don't know how much reading I'll get to do this time around but I'll try to read some stuff so I don't feel like a total loser. I'll probably feel like a total loser anyway because that's just been my MO for the past year.

What a chipper and uplifting intro this has been! I'll leave it here so I can go to bed and get some sleep.

PS: I saw Rocketman three times and I've been listening to almost nothing but Elton John's early 70's discography for like three straight months. Isn't Amoreena a baller song? The answer is yes.

ETA: I just went back through my LJ to see how far I got the last few times I attempted LJI and it looks like the last two or three times, I posted an intro post and NOTHING ELSE, HAHAHAHAHAHA. Let's see if I can do better this time. By that I mean make it to week 2.

*If you aren't playing LJI and don't know who Gary is - he's the guy who runs it. I can't even fathom the commitment to running something like LJI for as long as he has. Thanks, Gary. If you want to sign up, you can do it here.
Tree Dreaming

Every Bob Ross #3 - Cabin Hideaway


BOB ROSS MILESTONE: My first little cabin! As usual, I'm not 100% thrilled with this painting and probably won't be until tomorrow. Bob's paintings seem to require a lot of standing back and taking in the image as a whole rather than getting nitty gritty into details. It's also kind of depressing painting with his right there and seeing how instantly perfect his seems, compared to your trash monster.

This one isn't one of my favorites, it's kind of blah as far as content in my opinion. The colors aren't that exciting, the landscape isn't that exciting. The mountains were painted on instead of palette knifed on, which really I shouldn't complain about given how much I hate the palette knife.

This painting called for another brush I don't have - a big fat round brush - but it wasn't a huge deal. Bob only used it for background trees, and the 1" brush was easy enough to replace it with.

For some reason I really struggled with the evergreens. He used the fan brush for this one, where the first practice painting I did, he used the 2" brush. The fan brush seems a little more difficult to control for me.

I think the next painting I do, I want to pay closer attention to his technique and try to copy that, like how he's actually applying the brushes to the canvas, rather than just trying to copy the end result. (I know you're not really supposed to be COPYING Bob, it's your world, etc. etc., but I still feel the need to.) By the end of all this, I do want to actually be a semi-decent painter. But I should cut myself some slack - this is painting number 3 of 400ish so I have time. Honestly, I'd rather screw up a painting I'm not that excited about than one that I am. I'm saving the paintings I really like for the end, when they'll have a better shot at coming out semi-decent.

Anyway, Bob seemed really rushed in this episode (Season 13, Episode 11). It started kinda oddly, like he was already trying to finish up quickly. My theory is that this was one they filmed toward the end of a shoot, and he'd already done two or three episodes prior, and everyone was ready to get out of there.

Despite the whole episode feeling rushed, you can really tell when Bob is ready to wrap things up, because he starts throwing in as many little details as he can at lightening speed, without very much explanations. I'm kinda frustrated with one of my little stones, the snow looks like it's a dang sombrero rather than a lovely little bank.

I think from set up to tear down, this one took about an hour and a half, so not bad on my end speed-wise.

Okay that's enough blathering about this relatively boring painting. Have a lovely day!
Tree Dreaming

Every Bob Ross #2 - Windy Waves

Season 14, Episode 7 - Windy Waves

I did me another Bob! This one was a seascape and holy crap do I hate that friggen' pallet knife. Though during this one, I felt like I briefly figured out what was going on. If you look at the middle bit of the crashing wave, the foamy stuff underneath the wave that's supposed to be like the water rippling to the shore, that's all pallet knife junk. The middle one, I sort of had a moment where I realized what Bob was doing and how he was moving the knife and manipulating the paint and it CLICKED and I was like OH I SEE KIND OF.

And then I totally lost it on the last one. And then Bob kinda slapped on all of the foreground with the pallet knife and there didn't seem to be much finesse at all, probably because he'd spent so much time on the friggen' wave that he was rushing the foreground and the palm trees.

Boy, this entry is all over the place! But I'm trying to get it out before I go to bed. And I'm tired. And Green is already in bed and I'm using the loud clacky keyboard because I LIKE IT but it's probably irritating so I should shut up about the keyboard I'm typing on and talk about the painting.

So this painting called for a brush I DID NOT HAVE. It's like a little nubbly guy, kind of like an eyeshadow brush, but for paint. It's a brush that's pretty difficult to approximate with the brushes I DO have. (A 2", a 1", a fan brush, and a script liner - also I think maybe my script liner brush is too fat? I feel like Bob makes all these delicate lines and mine just look like blobby smeary messes. I'm ending this parenthetical now.)

So I was just trying to make the most of the brushes I had, and that's what I get for literally pulling an episode out of a bucket and going for it without watching it ahead of time to figure out what dang supplies I'll need. But at least I know I need to get that brush. I legit thought I had all the brushes.

He also used the small pallet knife which I also don't have, but that's okay because I think the big one worked just fine, considering the pallet knife stuff is all garbage trash that I hate doing.

I really hope by the end of this, I'm like a god damn wizard with the pallet knife. I hope I don't just hate using it the entire time and never improve with it. It genuinely feels right now like that could happen.

What else is there to say about this painting? There are several spots where I painted above the horizon line, despite Bob emphasizing keeping it perfectly straight to the point where he started the painting with friggen' masking tape marking it out. You probably can't tell in the picture, but I accidentally painted a lot of errant lines over the horizon.

I don't hate the palm trees, they actually came out kind of nice and didn't take any time at all. And really pulled the whole painting together, which up to that point was a single wave and a bunch of slapped on paint for the ground.

OH, today was my first time using the respirator. I bought a respirator to hopefully not die of leukemia like Bob, although I don't think you get leukemia by huffing odorless paint thinner. The respirator was really uncomfortable, BUT, I did not feel light headed and vaguely sick from the fumes when I was done with the painting, which has happened in the past. So good for me!

I hope the weather plays nice so I can do another painting sooner rather than later. I have covered a couple of my white canvases with black gesso, so if I draw a black gesso painting, I'm ready to go! Also I'm out of white canvases that aren't covered in black gesso (I used a white one today instead of the grey Bob brand ones since this painting started with a coat of liquid "grey" instead of liquid white), so I should probably get more of those. I have five of the Bob-brand grey canvases. Oh and I got my huge tube of titanium white, so we'll see how long it takes me to go through that.

I've been scraping off the paints that didn't get used and putting them into baggies and freezing them, so I can use them later. Bob recommended that (freeze them) so I'm trusting him that it's okay. So far the titanium white is the only color I've run out of, it'll be interesting to see what I work through next!

Well this post is long and boring enough, I'll end it here.
Tree Dreaming

Every Bob Ross #1 - Snowfall Magic

Hello friends. I have this journal, and I'm doing this project, and I think posting my thoughts about my progress to LJ is the best way to go about things. I have embarked on the goal of following Every Bob Ross Painting Tutorial.

Which honestly is a little bit ambiguous of a goal, because there are Bob Ross Tutorials that aren't official Joy of Painting episodes (he released some hour long DVD specials), and not every Joy of Painting episode is hosted by Bob himself.

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Tree Dreaming

Augh Augh Augh Augh Augh.

So I just did a big project with the closet - I emptied it all out and put my hoop tubing and tape rack in there. I got rid of a lot of stuff, too, but now I'm panicking about the stuff that came out of the closet that we might want to keep and where it will go if we decide to put it back IN the closet.

I'm also panicking about the fact that there is NO good way to store hoop tubing without it getting tangled up and just being generally horrible and I hate it. It takes up so much space and it's so god damn frustrating. I really want to stop making hoops but it still brings in about $250 a month which is nothing to sneeze at. So until YouTube becomes profitable, I'll keep plugging away at this hoop nonsense.

I'm also ALSO panicking because that was one project, but now our house is even more cluttered because all the closet stuff is everywhere and walking is hard and I knew that was going to happen but I also don't know when I'll next be motivated to deal with it. It's like I tackle one small chunk of organization, then I ignore it for a month, then do it again.

Although, now that I've cleared a big chunk of space where my hoop rack used to be, I'm imagining putting my table there. And if my table is there...perhaps I can turn it into a writing station. And if I have a writing station...perhaps I can finish my book.

Maybe I'm not a huge failure after all! But I still have a lot of shit to sort through and figure out homes for and right now that seems impossible. Maybe I should read my Marie Kondo again and calm down a little.

Also you should watch the video I made. It only took like twenty hours of editing!! Hooray!!
Tree Dreaming

Numbers Are Easy

Financially, I'm pretty dang organized, at least compared to the majority of my peers. While I'm not always as on top of my budget as I'd like to be (case in point: I'm spending the day going back through all of last year's transactions categorizing them in Quickbooks Self Employed as business or personal when I could have done that, oh, I don't know, AT ANY OTHER POINT DURING THE YEAR), at least I have a budget. I know what I can spend and what I need to pretend I don't have so I can use it to pay other things.

Numbers are easy. They are the same no matter what. A six is always a six. Six dollars will always be six dollars. If I set six dollars aside for rent, it's going to be sitting in its little electronic box waiting for me to spend it on rent.

Physical things are much more abstract. They're different sizes. Different shapes. Different consistencies. Some things exist until they're consumed and then they're gone. Some things are in the process of becoming other things.

I'm genuinely shocked that ANYONE can intuitively know what to do with all these things. It's taking lots of studying and research to start to form ideas, and even still, some things elude me.

This post doesn't have a good ending. I like money. My apologies if you hate the number six. How do you feel about numbers?