276. talisman

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4w-druid-cropA few weeks ago I decided to do a tarot reading for myself.

It’s been a while, and I’m always curious about what’ll come out of a spread, what different patterns and combinations of cards will resonate with my mind in its current state, and so on.

Interacting with tarot is always entertaining, mainly because of how terrified I was conditioned to be of it growing up. They were the Devil’s Cards, tools of Satan, gateways to the demonic, right up there with Ouija boards and troll dolls.

Of course, I don’t believe in any of that anymore—the Occult, the supernatural, angels, demons, God/god/gods/goddesses, etc. Still, it’s amusing to be aware of the vestigial parts of my child mind that retain that primal fear of tarot cards.

I actually got into tarot by way of the wonderful 2004 novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, wherein John Childermass carries a deck of tarot de Marseille cards.

Anywho, my view on tarot is that it functions much like an inkblot, or Rorschach, test. The cards and the patterns they form are random and arbitrary, but the meaning you find or the story you see is an indication of what might be going on in your subconscious, just beyond the edges of the conscious mind. The randomness that the tarot introduces can bring awareness to underlying and inarticulate thoughts or influences that often end up speaking to us through the images in the cards.

In fact, the purpose of tarot is largely misunderstood. The popular trope is of it being a divination or fortune telling tool, when really it’s just a means of exploring possibilities. Sure, most people who use the cards believe in some higher power that speaks through the cards, but that lends itself more to the theory that you get out of it what you put in.

Anywho, the reading I did a few weeks ago.

It was interesting because just a few days earlier I’d written about my compartmentalized personality, that there are these fundamental parts of myself that I was taught weren’t acceptable. In order to survive, I buried and cut those parts off from the forward-facing Self that is me, and that grew and developed.

And yes, I’m a Jungian.

huit_depeeThe card that I ended up drawing for the “Hopes and Fears” position (9) was the Nine of Swords, or the “nightmare” card. The deck I was using (the gay-themed “Son Tarot“) appears as a broken mirror, with swords aimed at the center.

A friend of mine who has studied tarot thought this card was about anxieties about my future library job prospects, which is true. That has been causing some anxiety, especially as graduation (and graduate loan repayment) looms closer.

wands04But it was the Four of Wands  card in the “Below” position that was the most thought-provoking. In most readings of this spread, this position signifies the underlying feelings and subconscious movement associated with the querent.

The Four of Wands is the “hearth” card. It signifies harmony, contentment, a happy home, celebration, good times/news.

My friend thought it described my current living situation and job search.

I had a different theory. My sense from looking at that card was that the root of the winter of my discontent may be the memory of the happiness and harmony in early childhood (before I was aware that anything was wrong with the world), and that the unhappiness and discontent I experience now stem from wanting to return to that state.

Yes, there was a time before I stopped smiling in photographs, before I was keenly aware of being observed by others, before I’d fully learned to hate myself, and before being alive was a painful experience. It’s what we might call Paradise, a state of blissful unawareness.

Between that and now is a gulf full of unresolved pain and regret.


A few days ago, on Tuesday, the therapist I’ve been working with since the beginning of the year suggested that it was time we end therapy. She thought we’d done good work towards building better habits and skills around managing anxiety and stress, and practicing mindfulness and identifying when negative scripts are playing themselves out in my head and my behavior.

Her theory of practice is that therapy is short-term and goal-focused, and that we’d accomplished the ones we’d set at the beginning.

On the one hand, I agree. The last couple sessions have felt positive, overall. I have been more emotionally stable over the last few months. Disappointments and minor setbacks have less of an emotionally destabilizing effect than they used to.

There has been significant progress, and perhaps this is a sign than I’m ready to handle things on my own for a bit.

On the other hand…

I worry that in telling her about my fractured persona last session that she decided she was way in over her head, and ended things on as positive a note as possible.

… that my health insurance no longer covers mental health visits, and this was the subtlest way of ending things.

… that while I’ve got my forward-facing self relatively well-managed, the leviathans swimming beneath have simply learned to be more clever.

… that I’m never going to achieve full integration of those aspects of my psyche that are compartmentalized and currently inaccessible.

… that I’m never going to fully reconnect with my sexual self, which will cause future boyfriends to lose patience and dump me, and that I’m never going to find a partner.

Of course, these are irrational fears to varying degrees. Do I really know what I’m doing in healing from religious trauma? No. But did my therapist show me how to turn on the flashlight I already had to illuminate the path in front of me? Sure.

Yes, it was nice to unburden myself with someone who could restate and rephrase my words and remind me that things aren’t as bad as I make them out to be.

Maybe it’s time to do that for myself.

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209. avoirdupois

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2505_mb_file_2eab8The first couple of days back in an office this week were rough. Not so much the being on a schedule again, although that was certainly an adjustment. Leaving the apartment by 7:40am every day was not fun for this not-morning person.

I’ve been contracted this week and part of next week by a real estate company to gather and put together evidence for an upcoming legal case brought by a former employee. Auditing terminated employee files is tedious, mind-numbing work, made bearable by audiobooks and the reality that it’s work.

(And I’m so grateful to be gay and know that my wages will never be garnished to pay for child support. Seriously, guys. Keep it in your pants.)

The downside of this is that it’s allowed for reflection on how much I hate doing this kind of work. However, my work background makes it damn near impossible to find work other than this. Without further specialized education, the likelihood of finding a non-entry-level job is remote, at best. And getting lucky is something that doesn’t happen to me often.

This is happening on the heels of last week’s game retreat. It might not have been so bad had it not seemed an extension of my real life, where I seemed to lose most of the time. In general, I just don’t get the rules of play. I don’t understand how to strategise, how to posture, how to read other people, or how to plan multiple steps ahead of my current position.

The best example I can extend for what usually goes on in my head during times like these — whether playing a game, reading comment from an editor on a piece of writing, or paging through file after file of someone who was fired for not showing up to work (again) — is a bit from Jason Robert Brown’s The Last 5 Years, where one of the characters, Cathy, a struggling actress, is auditioning for a role. The gimmick is that we hear what’s going on in her head while she’s singing:

«When you come home…» I should have told them I was sick last week, they’re gonna think this is the way I sing. Why is the pianist playing so loud? Should I sing louder? I’ll sing louder. Maybe I should stop and start over—I’m gonna stop and start over… why is the director staring at his crotch? Why is that man staring at my résumé? Don’t stare at my résumé. I made up half of my résumé. Look at me, top looking at that, look at me! No, not at my shoes, don’t look at my shoes, I hate these fucking shoes. Why did I pick these shoes? Why did I pick this song? Why did I pick this career? Why does this pianist hate me? If I don’t get a callback I can go to Crate and Barrel with mom and buy a couch. Not that I want to spend a day with mom, but Jamie needs his space to write since I’m obviously such a horrible, annoying distraction to him… what’s he gonna be like when we have kids? «And once again…» Why am I working so hard? These are the people who cast Linda Blair in a musical. Jesus Christ! I suck, I suck, I suck, I suck… «When fin’lly you come home to…» Okay, thank you, thank you so much.

This is basically what’s going on in my head all the time.

I’ve been feeling a growing sense of deep, inner dissatisfaction with my life, where I am currently, and what I’m doing. It’s leaving me feeling isolated, distracted, and unable to truly connect with the people in my community and life. Last night I went to play games with a couple of friends, and just couldn’t enjoy myself in their company. Ended up getting into an argument with a friend of a friend over whether Dallas Buyer’s Club is transphobic. I insisted that it’s exploitative (and not a good representation) of the LGBT community. She thought that Jared Leto’s character was beautiful and moving.

Hilarity ensued.

Were that this were the only instance. I’ve felt at odds with just about everyone lately.

Today, I decided to do a couple of Tarot spreads (one with my Rider-Waite-Coleman deck, and another with my gay Tarot deck) to try to mine at what’s going on with these dark feelings. I’ve recently been neglecting this aspect of self-care, and it rather feels as if I’ve been putting off housekeeping for a while and now my house is untidy.

Here’s what came up:

Rider-Waite

  1. Page of Wands
  2. Six of Swords, reversed
  3. Strength
  4. Nine of Pentacles, reversed
  5. Page of Pentacles
  6. Five of Swords
  7. Empress, reversed
  8. Knight of Cup, reversed
  9. Death
  10. The Fool

Bursten/Platano

  1. The World
  2. The Protector (→ Empress), reversed
  3. Sage (→ King) of Swords
  4. Ten of Coins
  5. Three of Wands
  6. Hermit, reversed
  7. Strength, reversed
  8. Man (→ Knight) of Cups
  9. Ace of Swords, reversed
  10. Five of Swords, reversed

I’ve written a little about my explorations into Tarot and my applications of Jungian psychology as a replacement for divinatory interpretation. Each card is only a token for exploration.

Psychological Tarot Spread (Cross)The most interesting cards to come up out of the twelve were The World, the King of Swords, and the reversed Hermit.

Usually, The World is a commentary on accomplishment, integration, and feeling complete. These days, I’m feeling anything but those things. It feels as if I’m constantly carrying the world on my shoulders, the weight pushing my mind and emotions down into despondency. The reversed Six of Swords is a continuation on this, the feeling that the past is always with me.

The reversed Hermit in the “future application” position says to me that isolating myself isn’t having the positive net effect it could have. The hyper-judgmental King of Swords residing in my “id” sounds more like Starbuck’s mom in Battlestar Galactica than a helpful mentor.

… why is it so hard to love one’s self?

199. Le Pape

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The Hierophant, reversedIt’s worth mentioning again in going through this Tarot series that I do not approach the cards from the standpoint of divination (i.e., fortune telling). As an atheist, I do not believe in divine or supernatural forces, especially those that may guide our fates. That some force or thing created the universe with us in mind, and that arbitrary positions of cards, stars or planets can somehow foretell a future or course of action to take is silly, at best—narcissism, at worst.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about life goals and directions, as what I’ve been doing job and living-wise has not been bringing me joy or satisfaction. Quite the opposite. This summer, during a moment of particular distress and depression, a friend of mine offered to do a Tarot reading for me. He is also an atheist, and approaches Tarot from a similar analytical perspective. It was he who first suggested that Tarot was really collaborative storytelling; that the cards themselves describe general but universal aspects of the human experience around which a codified “school” of reading and interpretation was defined.

I’ve always been deeply fascinated by Jungian psychology, and in particular the archetypal. As a storyteller, I find myself drawing on these images myself—the wise old man or woman, the cunning trickster, the child, the hero, the dark shadow lurking just out of sight.

The thoughts and questions that I’ve been contemplating lately are on the epic (albeit personal, so not huge in the grand scheme) scale. I’m in the process of doing in a couple of years what most people do over the course of their lifetime—or at least in the process of growing up. A few years ago, I realized that the foundations of my life were fictions. Though there are some mythic truths to be found, the stories my parents and teachers told about a holy and supreme god who made me and the entire universe; who has a divine purpose and plan for my life; who is keeping notes on every thought, word, and deed to determine which afterlife I’ll enjoy or suffer for all eternity—none of it’s true. And now I’m faced with probably the most important question asked by any human being: Who am I?

It’s an insignificant question compared to most of the problems we face. And most people never really give it a second thought. But when you realize that every premise you’ve based your life on (and experience you’ve denied yourself) isn’t true, you start to wonder: What do I believe?

All that to say, Tarot has been helpful the past couple of weeks in bringing up and beginning to confront some of these issues and questions of purpose. What do I care about? What do I want to do? The cards can’t tell me the answers, but they introduce a certain level of randomness to get me mentally unstuck.

One of the big questions right now is that of career. Because I don’t really have one. I’ve been doing office admin work since college, but that’s a job. I don’t care about data entry, filing, document formatting, or any of the pointless shit I’ve done for other people over the years.

What I care about is storytelling. And art—specifically, music and writing.

Late this past summer, I decided to finally explore pursuing a master’s degree in one of those areas: music composition. I somewhat hurriedly (and haphazardly) put together three applications and submitted them this past fall. And they were rejected. These rejections made me question whether this was even the right path I should be taking.

The cards told me what I’ve always known at the core of my being, but have been afraid to acknowledge. Follow your passion.

The Hierophant is an interesting card. It’s also referred to as The Pope. It typically represents tradition, conservatism, discipline, heeding the status quo or social convention, and education. Wikipedia suggests that “it is a warning to the Querant to reexamine his or her understanding of the meaning of things; of the structure of the world; of the powers that be.”

Another interpretation of the reversed card (which is how I laid it out):

The Hierophant reversed is about breaking the rules and challenging the status quo. You no longer accept the rigid structures, tradition and dogma surrounding you, and now seek out opportunities to rebel and retaliate. You want to challenge ideas and concepts that you once thought of as written in stone. (BiddyTarot)

A friend of mine posted a comment yesterday on my previous entry: You didn’t get into grad school because that’s not really your best choice; you’re comfortable in music, and so you pursue it. You have great eloquence as a writer, but you didn’t pursue a master’s degree in writing. Why?

Frankly, I still wonder if I did the right thing in doing my undergrad in composition. Deciding on it was almost a last-minute decision. My original plan was majoring in creative writing, but my father suggested that I had real talent in music. But was that reason enough? Music was always easy for me; and while one’s natural talents should be considered, no field will successfully hold one’s interest without passion.

The ideal would be finding a program where I could somehow combine my love for creating music with my love for writing. This is why opera always felt like such a good fit. In addition to providing the music, I also provided the text and the story, although I’ve always felt like more of a musical playwright than a composer when it came to it.

So that’s where things currently stand, stuck between a hard and a rock place and unsure which direction to go. What comes to mind is (yet another) lyric from Sunday in the Park with George:

“I chose and my world was shaken. So what? The choice may have been mistaken. The choosing was not. You have to move on.”

195. Six de Bâtons

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Six of WandsThe first few of weeks of 2014 have been hit and miss. Aside from a handful of social outings, I’ve been hermited away for the most part. There’ve been several close calls with jobs and a couple of interviews, but no luck so far. Not the best way to start the year, especially when the previous one was so dismal.

I’ve decided to make a change for this year in blogging. Since the inception of this site, most of my posts have had one-word titles. The idea was to draw from Word-of-the-Day sites, like Dictionary.com’s, and use that word as a guide for processing thoughts and experiences.

Lately, I’ve been engaging more with Tarot. I posted about a little this last time, but the more I work with the deck, the meanings of each of the cards in the Major and Minor arcana, and the different spreads used in Tarot readings, the more I’m interested in their potential application, especially from a Jungian perspective. The basis of Jungian psychology is the view that the human unconscious is largely unreachable except through the symbolic world of dream, myth, and folklore—the world of archetypes, “universal, archaic patterns and images that derive from the collective unconscious and are the psychic counterpart of instinct” (Wikipedia).

For example, the twenty-two cards of the Major (or Greater) Arcana. We see The Fool at the beginning of his journey, full of hope, potential, and ready to learn the lessons on his way through the Major Arcana. This seems to correspond to the archetype of The Child, who (according to many Jungians) is present in all humans throughout their life. The Empress represents fertility, beauty, nature, and abundance—corresponding to the “Anima” archetype, “the personification of the energy that gives birth to forms and nourishes forms is properly female” (according to Joseph Campbell). The Hermit represents soul-searching, introspection, and inner guidance, which corresponds to the “Wise Old Man” archetype.

As I do my own readings, and let others read for me, I use the cards (as I said in my previous post) as more a Rorschach test than for divination. Each card and its position in the spread has a significance. As querent, I listen for anything that resonates on the psychological level.

  • The Star reversed, for example, might suggest that I’m dwelling on negative issues and thoughts, to the point of them derailing any progress or healing that I’m making.
  • The reversed Ten of Swords might suggest that I’m still carrying around old wounds from past hurts, and that I still haven’t dealt with them.
  • The Page of Pentacles could suggest that, contrary to what I might feel or believe, I have the necessary skills and experience to succeed—but need to have clear goals and a plan laid out to put it all into motion.

These are all true things for me right now. But they’re not true because some mystical powers-that-be orchestrated how I shuffled. They’re true because the meaning could always be true. The question is: is the meaning true right now? Sometimes a card is just a card.

So my plan for the next couple of months is to go through the Tarot deck, card by card, and using a randomly drawn card as the basis for self-examination.

This afternoon, I drew the Six of Wands, from the Lesser, “Minor” arcana.

The Six of Wands depicts a man wearing a victory wreath around his head, riding a white horse through a crowd of cheering people. The white horse represents strength, purity, and the success of an adventure, and the crowd of people demonstrates public recognition for the man’s achievements. The wand held by the rider also has a wreath tied to it, further emphasizing success and achievement. He is not afraid to show off to others what he has accomplished in his life so far, and even better, the people around him cheer him along. (Source: BiddyTarot.com)

Wands are typically associated with creativity, with the Pythagorean element of fire, and the Jungian function of intuition. According to one site, “Wands are the creative application of what we experience in the world to make our lives more enjoyable.”

The number six in Tarot typically represents a journey into harmony. There are two parts to this journey. The first is departure. The second is the journey itself. In the process of getting from one place to another, one must leave something behind. In finding my “true” self, I had to leave behind the heterosexual expectations that my family and community had for me, as well as the belief in God that I’d “inherited,” that connected me to my family and everything that was home.

Home no more home to me, whither must I wander?

Much of the significance of each card in the Minor Arcana has to do with what comes before, and that’s where meaning can be found. In the Five of Wands, five men are playing or sparring with their wands (oh, the subtext), each going in a different direction, but with no contact. It typically signifies competition, strife, confusion, or disagreement. In the Six of Wands, that confusion has been overcome through focused work to achieve harmony.

I tend to focus on defeats and obstacles rather than successes and progress. At the present, worries about finances and employment (and getting my fracking landlord to fix the fracking hole in my fracking ceiling) have been sapping my creativity. However, in the past few weeks, I finished revising my one-act opera and orchestrated it. I wrote an article published today about my first Christmas back with my Evangelical family in two years that my editor called “one of the best essays I’ve read in a long time.” And even though my grad school applications were rejected this time, I’m getting back on course to aligning my career with my passions and what I’m truly good at.

The message I see here: Look at what you want, not at where you are, not at what you’ll be.