Friday, December 18, 2015

The Princess of Cups and Lust

December 12, 2015: The Princess of Cups by Tania Pryputniewicz

My card of the month this time was the Princess of Cups. In the Thoth Deck, she floats in blue sky or water, pale green slippers supported on vines or arms of a leviathan octopus. One hand loosely grasps a lotus and the other holds out a basin supporting a sleepy looking turtle whose shell floats up off his back. Turtle, lotus, and edges of the Princess gown splay out in rays towards us in a unified field of letting go.

“The heart has many mysteries and ambiguities;” writes Alejandro Jodorowsky of this Princess; she may “hesitate between fear of being hurt and the desire to give all of [her]self” ("Way of Tarot: The Spiritual Teacher in the Cards").

I’ve been thinking a lot about the heart also in relation to Quest 2016 (an online adventure for which questers quest by musing on prompts created by visionaries). I’ve responded so far by pulling Tarot cards, usually three, and in addition to writing about the cards, sketching a synthesis image in colored pencil. The heart and the eye often figure. 

I went to a wedding this month with my husband. On our way to our chairs, we walked through tunnels of green hedges laced overhead with firefly-sized points of light. We emerged in front of a fountain, its basin adrift with red rose petals.

We sat facing the gazebo in the unusually windy December late afternoon, shafts of sunlight passing through thick pale gold and lavender trunks of the eucalyptus grove, waiting, listening to a classical trio and the lilt of violin. In that waiting, stilled as we were without our children or cellphones, I considered what it would take to give more. As a wife.

After the ceremony, I stood by the heat lamps watching the women in furs. As the waiters circulated, I ate warm mushroom tops full of melting cheese and noodle sachets soft with olive oil. We could see the photographer, perched perpetually between his umbrella lights, profusely wiping his brow. When it was our turn to be documented, I brought him a cup of water.

Inside the banquet tent, the billowed ceiling glittered in the glow of three tiered crystal chandeliers. White and peach rose bouquets floated three feet off the dining tables at even intervals on slim metal vase stems, meridians of tables below lined with candles and evergreens braided with red roses. Halfway through dinner, laurel crowns winking with white lights, a dozen ballerinas fluttered over to the head table to bless the bride and groom.

Everywhere: evidence of the bride’s love of light and jewels from arbor to chandelier to table to her own beaded gown.  I watched all night, separate as usual, but a little more merged and trusting. Here was beauty; I could let go. I danced with my husband, many songs in a row.  My husband I knew best; we came to know the rest by dancing, dancing, dancing.

Somewhere during dinner it began to rain. By ten o’clock, on our way to the parking lot, my husband pulled me into one of the arbor archways, his shirt damp from dancing, his heart-heat wicking through the silk of my blue dress. He kissed me to the sound of rain on the leaves--just us—with a suitor’s kiss. I looked up into the night sky where the eucalyptus tree limbs vanished into the misting rain, tree’s upper half retaining shape as a hive of pale blue lights threaded for yards up into the sky in its own anchored star field.

On the freeway, the rain fell in thick gusts. I was afraid. But the one bum windshield wiper only folded once, kindly waiting until I had passed the ambling semi with its dragon exhalations of roiled mist and rain coursing over our hood. The gas gauge’s red needle hovered mournfully over E forcing one more stop between storm and hearth.

The kids were wide awake when we walked in. Someone had spilled red candle wax on the rug. Someone’s homework remained undone. Half-eaten tamales crowned dinner dishes strewn about the counter. The husky howled mournfully, destitute of her walk.

All night the wind. All night I heard it, waking to the cats batting at the blinds to be let in, to be let out, husband warm each time I returned to sleep beside him. All night I thought again about the pastor’s words: he said we come to know our spouse more than anyone else, even more than our children.  Since children come after the marriage, they serve to deepen it.

I’m thinking of the heart, and “heart seeing.” We see with our eyes and yet the heart sees in its own way. Here the Princess of Cups has her eyes closed, even as she lets go, trusting what she is offering to be received by a benevolent world—turtle to arrive at its next bit of land, cut stem of flower to land in water. Maybe this Princess of Cups represents the eternally young part inside of every parent…the youthful self passing through the lessons of unconditional love and letting go no matter what body-age she or he is.

I saw it most clearly during the solo dances: in the face of the mother dancing with her son the groom, for as wise as she looked she looked like a little girl too, and in the face of the father dancing with his daughter. We watched, riveted, as each pair conversed, tilting this way to lean closer to hear, drawing back to laugh and smile. Drew closer once more at dance’s end for one last hug. Then, the hands dropping to side, parent-child watching as grown-child walked away--without a glance backwards--to dance with the spouse of their newly blessed forever.


December 12, 2105: Lust by Mary Allen

My card last month was Lust, or Strength as it’s called in other tarot decks.  It’s the eleventh major arcana card, which follows the tenth card or Wheel of Fortune, which was my card of the month before this one.
 
In the Thoth deck Lust (or Strength) shows a naked woman mounted on the back of a giant beast—a lion with five heads, all but one of which are human:  there’s a king, a priest, two women, and a creepy dreamlike animal with something like a malformed small head coming out of the back of its head. Angeles Arrien (“The Tarot Handbook:  Practical Applications of Ancient VisualSymbols”) explains that Lust in the Thoth deck doesn’t really refer to lust the way we think of it but rather comes from the root luster, as in radiance.  The literal meaning of the card, if a Tarot card can have a literal meaning, is related to Beauty and the Beast.  But in the Tarot cards, of course, the beast is the beast within.  The Lust card is all about working with our negative thoughts, bringing light, more light, to the dark places inside ourselves.  The woman on the card, according to Angeles Arrien, has “overcome old fears tied with the past.” 

I’ve been doing plenty of that lately—trying to do it at least—wrestling with my childhood fear of my mother which has somehow morphed, like a shape-shifting animal, into fear of rejection by editors and agents and publishers.  I’m finishing a book I’ve worked on forever and instead of feeling happy and triumphant all I can manage to feel is dread and anxiety.  But even as I write those words the feelings change into something else; the words don’t even begin to capture what’s been going on inside of me, its subtlety, its light and shadows.  I think of how interior stuff is never so simple.  It’s as complicated and strange, as beautiful and ugly as the world of dreams and the images on the cards themselves, which are like dreams.  It, whatever it is—meaning, spirit, emotion—resists being translated into words, and it’s only through looking at the picture and at the world around us, that we can even begin to see it. 

The Lust of the card refers to light and although I’ve never thought of it this card in terms of light, maybe that is what it’s all about.  It’s the middle of December as I write this, almost the equinox, the shortest day of the year, and we’ve been having a series of short gray almost lightless days.  But a few days ago the sun came out and I went for a walk.  Even though it should be winter it still feels like late fall here, no snow on the ground, temperatures in the fifties, and when I was outside walking I noticed how every bit of the world touched by sunlight was shining:  Individual blades of grass, the little green leaves still clinging to a slender young tree, flecks of mica in the sidewalk, even the old brown dead oak leaves littering the ground were all shining as if sending out their own light; there were stars of light on car hoods, reflections blazing in windows.  Sitting at my kitchen table later on the same day my ex-partner’s twenty-seven-year-old son, who’s majoring in electrical engineering at the University, explained to me that scientists used to think that electricity, that mystery that produces light, was made up of electrons but now they think it’s something like a cloud and at the same time also electrons.  Which seems to me like the cards and even like life itself, part dream, part hard-edged reality, sometimes one thing, sometimes the other, all interspersed with no real the boundaries between them.

The interesting thing I see in the Lust card when I look at it now is the way the naked woman riding the lion, leaning back as if metaphorically slayed by the light, the power, the energy of what she’s gotten on top of, is holding a chalice full of orange light, like the sunrise, up to the horizon.  Up to the horizon because she and the beast with many heads and the squiggly circles around them (representing old troubling thoughts according to Angeles Arrien), are all below ground.

The heads on the beasts look like faces you’d see in a dream or maybe a nightmare.  Quite a few years ago, when I had my first round of struggling with being an author in the world, with being published and where I thought it would take me and was afraid it wouldn’t take me in my life, I had dreams fairly regularly that three lions came into my house through the back door.  They were enormous and powerful, I knew they could tear me to pieces at any moment, but here they were paying me a visit, showing me forbearance, giving me the gift and the miracle of their presence, letting me know that I was special enough to have lions in my house.   And that reminds me of a dream I had last night, where I was in a place (some dream landscape or building) and King Henry the VIII in his later years was there, fat, puffed up with self-importance, scary, all powerful, someone who could destroy you in the blink of an eye if he wanted to—but, for the moment at least, he kind of liked me. 

What all of this is telling me there’s no way to know.  The meaning is just as mysterious and impossible to translate as the card and the dreams themselves.  But I hope it’s saying I’m going to get another chance to ride on the back of the big old beast of luck and fate in the form of publishing and have it take me somewhere, or at least give me another chance to encounter the dream faces inside myself, my hopes and fears and the projections of my ego—my little piece of the universal ego. 

Once in a zoo in Chicago I saw a glassed-in exhibit of long-dead garter snake with two heads.  Both heads had a brain, it said on a card under the snake, but only one of the brains was capable of intelligence.  And ever since then I’ve thought of the ego as something like that second head on the snake, a second, stupid head that grows up automatically on your neck when you have some success.   Which, now that I think of it, is kind of like the creepy grinning animal or maybe snake head on the Lust card, with a small second malformed head staring out of the base of its skull.


Monday, November 2, 2015

The Ace of Wands, Wheel of Fortune, and the Knight of Wands

October 6, 2015: The Ace of Wands and Wheel of Fortune by Mary Allen

I picked the Ace of Wands as my card of the month last time, and then before thinking about what I was doing I picked another card and that turned out to be Fortune.   Both cards made me happy—I figured I was going to have a pretty good month—but all month long I kept wondering what they have to tell me, and now I’m wondering what they have to do with anything that happened to me during the last four weeks.

My card of the month the month before was Death and the whole month was one big long ending/cleansing, so it seemed logical that the next card I would get was Fortune, signifying that something big and new is coming in, that my luck is about to change in some major life-journey way, following the ending of a previous cycle as signified by Death.  And the Ace of Wands seemed like it could be talking about a surge of new energy coming, like a kind of hot cosmic wind blowing the new Fortune in.  But if that was happening all month is was so subtle I barely noticed it.  Maybe the cards are just telling me that’s going to happen, or the wheels have been set in motion or something.  I got the Fortune card again, during my tarot reading this time, right smack dab in the middle of the reading, so it must be telling me something, right?  Not that I’m complaining, I love getting that card, and the Ace of Wands too, I just don’t know what to write about what they had to do with my month.

For the first few weeks my whole life seemed pretty inert, nothing particularly changing, no hot wind from the Ace of Wands, no new Fortune even stirring.   Then one night in the middle of the month at three in the morning when I couldn’t sleep I had the thought that maybe I could take a bunch of essays I’ve been writing over the years and put them together into a book and submit the book to a new non-fiction contest at the University of Iowa.  I had read about the contest a few days earlier and thought it would be nice to send something off for it but decided I didn’t have anything, and I felt excited at the thought of putting together those essays, which I’ve just been writing all on my own because I wanted to, and putting them out into the world. 

I’ve been writing all kinds of stuff on my own for years and not doing much of anything with it, just writing and working on myself and waiting to be finished with something.  Now I’m almost finished with a book, a memoir about my childhood, the writing of which has comingled with a many-years-long project of healing from my childhood, and I seem to be in some kind of watershed moment with my own healing too—I don’t think I’ll ever be finished with that, but I might be reaching some kind of plateau, sort of like a shelf on a mountain I can rest on before attacking another peak. 

It never occurred to me to try to put together a collection of essays and it made me happy and optimistic to get the idea, even though I was still awake at three a.m., thanks to my new smoke alarm, which went off in the middle of the night, blaring beeps as loud and alarming as a fire truck siren, in the hallway just outside my bedroom door.   I got up and stood on a chair to see if I could figure out how to turn it off and then it turned off on its own.  I couldn’t see any button or place to take the battery out—it was some new kind of smoke alarm with a lithium battery that was supposed to last for ten years and then the whole alarm had to be replaced.  I didn’t know what to do or even how to get it off the ceiling.  I could barely reach it, even standing on a chair, and I just decided to go back to bed and hope for the best.  As I was lying there, getting ready to go back to sleep, I felt a distinct lack of trust—how can I trust this thing not to go off and wake me up again—but I went to sleep anyway and then about twenty minutes later there it was again:  beep beep beeping me awake into a sudden state of terror and alarm. 

This time I went down to my basement and found my toolbox; the basement was dark and dank-smelling in the middle of the night, full of lurking spiders and crickets in the drain that I tried to shut out of my awareness.  Back upstairs I found a screwdriver in the toolbox but when I stood on the chair to look there weren’t any screws to turn, and then realized I could just pry the alarm off the ceiling with my hand if I tried.  I put it on the counter, then looked the brand up on my laptop and found all kinds of negative testimonials:  “It’s 2:30 in the morning my kids are all crying and the dog is barking because that thing went off for no reason,” one of them said.  I added my own strongly negative review and figured out to turn the thing off permanently by following the directions on the back, which said to poke through the paper with a slotted screwdriver and turn the screwdriver in a slot.

Then I sent a few emails, got that inspiration about a book of essays, and then I went back to bed.  And now all I can think is that maybe that alarm waking me in the middle of the night—its beeps as loud and full of crazy energy as the zigzagging lines of energy in the background of the Thoth deck Ace of Wands, the skewers of flame coming out of a big wooden wand in the middle of the card like the non-existent fire in my house—had something to tell me about waking up, that my long cycle of sleeping, not publishing, just getting through the days one day at a time with nothing much happening, is about to end.


October 6, 2015: The Knight of Disks by Tania Pryputniewicz

What I love best about the Thoth Knight of Disks is the curve of horse’s neck and the pale greenish blue light of dusk crossing the steed’s mane. Then there’s that grounding rich brown of rider’s cape and the red saddle. The full heads of wheat stalks curve nested like the rings of green and gold sun light emanating from the edge of rider’s shield, the shield standing in as sun with its Leonine metal rays.

The rider appears relaxed, chest open and uncovered, his helmet tipped back off his face. Pensive in profile, he takes in the field outside the borders of the card. Arrien calls him, “Harvester, with his threshing tool in hand.” I happened upon an earlier draft of the knight by Lady Frieda Harris in which we see the horse’s thick fringe of hair (known as feathers) draping across his hooves; I loved seeing behind the wheat for a moment.

How did I embody Harvester this September? If we think of this card as the “earner,” I have to use creative ways to see our abundance. I told my husband this month as we sat fretting about the bills, house full of our own children and each with one or two sleepover friends, that this was harvest enough: our children wanting to bring friends to the hearth.

They rearrange mattresses and lay them out in the living room; they locust through the fridge emerging with mango popsicles. The toaster pops with the coins of waffles. From my son’s room, we hear more giggling than from the room holding the five teenage girls. Their mingled laughter fills the open courtyard between their bedroom and ours.

See? I say, Success! They like to be here. On Monday the refrigerator will be empty but we will fill it again. On Monday we will work, my husband to a sea full of swimmers, and I to the mind’s field full of seekers writing their way to inner truths lit by the internal sun of the heart.

The other harvest is poetry. I bought a three-inch notebook to organize all the loose-leaf pages that lead to the final draft of the poems that made it into my first poetry book. My messy folder, tufted six inches thick with random pages, was bothering me. I sat on the bed in a stripe of sun with my hole punch, punching holes and slipping each handwritten page into three silver rings, topping each section with a final typed version of the poem.

And what remains in the loose-leaf folder is the compost for this year’s crop of poems. This November marks the anniversary of the publication of the first book and I’m eager to finish the second book, maybe a little impatient. It is likely best to sit in that red saddle and watch the sun go down for a bit. 

In the card, the rings of color coming off the rider's shield overlay the true colors of the landscape. I’m considering questions of lens in relation to this next book. And questions of best harvest. Not that I can change the witnesser--lens of child self--present at the commune. But I’m thinking about what attracts people to communes, to leaders, to ideals, to the illusion of peace in outer space when earth is so beautiful.

Do we think we can bring only our best self to start over in a foreign landscape? Who do we hope to meet? Can't our best selves emerge during this lifetime, from this horizon? Are we meant to long for what is not present?

When I look at the Rider Waite version of the Knight of Disks, I see less an image of harvest and more an image of “project” or “manifestation.” Rider Waite’s boy in blue in neutral contemplation holds the offering, hasn’t given it over yet. His horse too rests in patient abeyance. The harness is red as are striations of land beneath the green. Vitality in the landscape, vitality in the restraint; his hand is gloved and he is still fully protected. 

However his face is exposed—he risks being seen. What comes next? Maybe--keep some things just for you--he will place that sun gold pentacle against his chest to warm himself before he gives it away. 


Monday, September 7, 2015

The Death Card and The Death Card

August 28, 2015: The Death Card by Tania Pryputniewicz

So Mary and I both pulled the Death card in August as our card of the month. That’s never happened—pulling the same exact card--in the three years we’ve been on this project. And wouldn’t you know, it’s the juggernaut of cards, the King of Kings, the Arcanum Alejandro Jodoroswky and Marianne Costa in The Way of Tarot: The Spiritual Teacher in the Cards call the Nameless One and Lady Frieda Harris paints with vibrancy, such gleeful fervor emanating from her Thoth deck’s dancing skeleton with his black scythe and black bucket helmet tilted askew.

In the card’s background, I love the blues of the serpent and catfish with glum gold cat’s eyes behind our “blueeyed boy /  Mr. Death” and the down-splayed bell of a flower stuck to pale earthen cave, Scorpion tail curved in warning. Jodorowksy says the “skeleton of Arcanum XIII could be the Fool on x-ray” and I agree, the Fool minus flesh but still dancing.

Rachel Pollack, in 78 Degrees of Wisdom, reminds us that Death card depicts not transformation, but the very moment, “we give up the old masks” and make room for transformation. As long-time Tarot readers, Mary and I often reassure querents, “Oh, but the Death card doesn’t have to signify one’s death or the death of others.” But when it falls for both of us, we don’t buy that line either…and endure a bit of stunned silence.

We select ameliorating cards. I get the 10 of wands and I stop there since it is an image of burnout, a reminder not to shoulder everything alone. Mary pulls a kinder card—the Prince of Cups, but she decides to forego writing about him since he’s her second choice. We slip into child’s play, addressing the Prince, placating him with apologies as if he’ll somehow punish us if she doesn’t write about him. We both know better and it is good to laugh. And it is a blessing to face Death with Mary. Years of sharing images and dreams has woven a hammock of kindness between us. I would visit her from the other side just as she would visit me; our work together would go on regardless of physical form but for today I’m grateful for the sound of her laughter on the other end of the line.

Honestly, in my life, the Death card does refer to the possibility of physical death given the illnesses of several members of my family. But so far everyone’s alive and well.  I thought maybe it referred to the reversal of menopause, a death I thought final with six months of freedom behind me until I went on a desert writing retreat with 120 women and promptly began to bleed.

So I go down the path I tell querents to go down: what in my life is dying metaphorically?

I know what is blooming: a sweet sense of peace I found at the A Room of Her Own Foundation retreat. I’m noticing the stars in a way I haven’t for years what with raising kids and the habitual fear of the dark and fear of men spurred by a spate of sour lover stories and a date rape I was able to write down and begin to let go of in my first book.

My casita at Ghost Ranch sat at the far end of a dusty road nestled at the foot of the mesas. Some nights I walked accompanied by sisters, reveling in learning what burgeoned to the surface in the heart of their desert mirror. But three nights near midnight, I walked alone between the fire ring where women sat sharing chocolate to the rooms in Corral Block by the ranch’s entrance where women splayed across blankets to talk daughters, drink bourbon, wine, water, and watch the Perseid meteors fall.

The long unlit stretch of road was nearly unbearable, my fear eclipsed only for seconds at a time by the beauty of the blue tails left behind meteors streaking to extinction against the Milky Way. Passing the path that lead to the labyrinth, I took comfort in the knowledge of the spiral stone lined path—just its existence--quietly waiting for the next set of feet to enter.

The tiny sphere of my flashlight clipped to my sleeve lit my path one footfall at a time. No animal or man jumped out of the shadows to overtake me, only a classmate from my fairytale class emerging in a row of three halos of light advancing to laughter, a flash of shins. She reached out as we passed abreast to say, “Is that you? It’s me! How about some Sambuca?”

By day, once, a blue-eyed man did step abruptly off the path to face me. But he was in tears, fresh from visiting the burial shrines of several of his friends. He asked if it was my first time at Ghost Ranch, spoke of his love for the land and went on his way.

Also by day, the shadow pain of raising my teenage daughter followed me into fairytale class. I ask, “Which fairytale am I living in? Who am I and who is my daughter?” The answer comes in a draft of a a new poem, My Daughter, My Bluebeard in which I learn that my daughter’s body acts as a living key to the upstairs room where Bluebeard (men at large) has put all his dismembered wives (women at large, including my daughter and I). This is the old fear-based equation and the poem helps me see that this constant hyper vigilant anxiety on my daughter’s and my own behalf is neither sustainable nor desirable.

Perhaps the Death card refers to the death of this overpowered, terrified self. That moment in which the masks drop and I get some power back. I am grateful for the desert’s vast space and the women around me who held me psychically in our shared field of sleep. Then, bodily, physically during our inquiry with master teacher Diane Gilliam. She reminds us to go the distance in our work. If you take the easy way out, she says, her gentle voice filling the timeless dream space of our morning class, you’ll find waiting behind the door, the red shoes. Yes, those shoes, the ones in which you can dance yourself and your pretty little red feet to death.

Gilliam also reminds us that helpers for the devastated always appear. Even in the Handless Maiden’s tale, the homeless, betrayed daughter without hands is met by a a woman in white from the underworld. And in the garden, the pear tree lowers its branches so its fruit reaches the maiden’s mouth.

Helpers, such as my sisters in the desert, and pear trees surely exist in my now and in my future and my daughter’s. Surely Death reaps with his scythe my fears: of the dark, of men, of what might befall my daughter…

…and Death finds me dancing as we did barefoot long into our last night at the retreat after the thunderstorm came and went, rain roiling the creek a silt rich brown, mesa cliffs crowned in brilliant white and blue dendritic tines of lightning.

Related information:

Tania's next Tarot and Writing course, Wheel of Archetypal Selves: Moon to Universe, begins online on September 21, 2015. For more information and to register, visit Wheel of Archetypal Selves: Moon to Universe.


August 28, 2015: The Death Card by Mary Allen

Last month we both pulled the same card and it was a funny card to both pull:  Death.  First Tania pulled it as her card of the month and we laughed because it came up in her reading too – she’s been getting Death a lot in the last year or so and whenever it shows up we laugh because we feel as if the cards are kind of taunting her in a friendly sort of way – and then when I pulled Death as my card of the month too we laughed even harder. 

“But what if it means something scary?” I said, suddenly sober, thinking about the time I threw the cards with our mutual friend Tonya the day before 9/11 and we both got the Tower.

“Oh, I think the cards are just fooling with us a little,” Tania said this time, and that made me relax again and feel better about getting Death as my card of the month than I would have otherwise. Death always makes me a little nervous even though it says in all the readings, and Tania always says, “It’s not really about death, it’s about letting go of something old you don’t need any more!”

I figured that since the cards gave both Tania and me Death by way of playing a little joke on us, I probably wouldn’t have much that related to it all month.  But I was wrong.  I’ve never had a card of the month that talked to me as much as Death did this past month.  The whole month was like one big ending/cleansing/cleaning up of the past and there was some real death in it too. 

My friend Rudy’s father died, and the weekend before Rudy left for his parents’ house to spend time with his father before he died, Rudy and I went on a little vacation to a place we went last fall and loved, and this time the campground where the cabin was, was noisy and smoky from a neighboring campfire and not much fun at all.  That felt like a little death on top of the big death of Rudy’s father.

The day after we got back I drove to a client’s house in Montezuma, Iowa, and sat in on a telephone conference between my client and a psychic medium.  My client’s dead son was there, talking to my client through the medium – my client’s been talking to him regularly that way for a few years and I’m helping her write a book about it, which is why I was there; a few of my dead loved ones showed up for the reading too, my father and sister and my fiancĂ© who committed suicide in the early 1990s, Jim Beaman.  The thought of my father and sister made me cry but hearing from Jim Beaman, just a few little things passed on by the medium, which might or might not have come from him, rekindled my sense of him and I’ve felt him around me ever since.   So there we have the dead coming back to us.

This month I also refinanced and paid off some old credit card debt I’ve had hanging around for years, ever since I didn’t sell my second book, which I’m now about to finish again, which is much better than it used to be and almost ready to go back out and take its chances again in the world.  Getting rid of the credit card debt felt like a huge cleansing and so did the de-cluttering vacation I took the week before last, where I went through all my clothes and my bathroom medicine cabinet and hallway closet and a desk upstairs and threw away a bunch of stuff.

I encountered many versions of myself during that de-cluttering, in old clothes I used to like but don’t relate to any more or that don’t fit me any more; in the round self-conscious handwriting-of-the-past in old appointment books and on old checks, written to credit card companies I no longer owe money to, phone companies that don’t exist any more, et cetera. I found my partner-of-nine-years who’s married to someone else now, Viktor, too, in the form of a manuscript of beautiful stately poems written by him about his old losses, the wife and baby killed in a car accident in the 1980s, the unhappy fourth marriage, the children who have grown up, and I found some poems written by me during the time when I lived with Viktor, brimming with evidence of that life and that time and my old passionate love for him. I even found Jim Beaman in the form of a pair of dated wire-rimmed glasses and a deposit slip in his handwriting from July 1990.

I kept all of that stuff but I threw mounds of old checks away and I got rid of six fat garbage bags of clothes, a big cardboard boxful of board games Viktor brought to my house for his kids that nobody ever played with, and a bunch of other stuff  -- I carted it all to Goodwill, and when the guy took it out of my trunk and hauled it into the back of the store in a big cart I said to him, “I feel like I just took a big crap.”  He barely cracked a smile but I laughed at my own joke.

To top it all off, when I went over to my shed, somewhere in the middle of my de-cluttering week, to investigate something brown lying in the grass, I found a little pile of unidentifiable decomposing fur, a ribcage with a fat black fly buzzing next to it, and what might’ve been a rabbit’s foot attached to the end of a jutting bone.  I didn’t know what to do about it and it’s still sitting out there, slowly disintegrating, falling further and further to pieces, disappearing into the ground.   

Friday, July 31, 2015

The Chariot and The Knight of Swords

July 21, 2015: The Chariot by Mary Allen

My card this month was the Chariot.  I got the Chariot during my reading too, in the waxing moon position, so I figured the Chariot might have something to tell me – I still think it probably does, though I haven’t quite figured out what yet.

All the readings I found on this card were pretty vague; mostly what I got out of them is that the Chariot has something to do with change and also determination, confidence, and directed controlled energy.  I’ve always read this card as meaning the pause before – i.e., the moment before -- some big change is going to come, but I couldn’t find that anywhere in any of the online sources I consulted so I don’t know where I got it.  The closest I could come to it was in the Angeles Arrien book, where she says the Thoth “Chariot depicts a figure in contemplation or quietude sitting within a chariot readied for activity.”

Someone gave me a Motherpeace deck a couple of months ago and there the card shows a small woman riding in a conveyance drawn by two goats with wings; the woman is holding a thick brown branch with a ball on the end of it.  Most of the Motherpeace cards—which are round and were designed in the 1970s and which I’ve always thought were too dated while at the same time too untraditional to be interesting, but which, it turns out now, I kind of like—show small women doing something; most of them are naked, but the woman on the Chariot is wearing a dress.  She’s an Amazon from northern Africa and the goddess just gave her an apple for a job well done, according to the guide that came with the cards. 

I love that idea and I’m very happy in general that my card of the month was the Chariot—it’s saying something good, is pretty much all I’ve managed to take from it in my thinking so far.  Which is often the main thing I look for when I pull a card—is it a good card, or is it a bad card or a boring doesn’t-say-much-of-anything-good-or-bad card?  I love thinking that my life this past month involved a job well done, that my behavior last month involved change with directed controlled energy, but I’m going to have to stretch to actually connect that with something in real life— my real life—last month.

The only thing I can think of is this talk I gave in the middle of the month.  The talk was on a Wednesday morning at eleven a.m. and I got a terrible night’s sleep the night before, I had one of those night’s where you can’t go to sleep and then somehow you can’t stay asleep.  When I finally got up in the morning I couldn’t imagine how I was possibly going to be able to marshal the energy to go down and talk for an hour – my subject was how to edit like a zen master – in front of an auditorium full of people.  It was not going to be easy, to say the least.  (The victory of the Chariot may involve triumph over some struggle.)  But, as the Chariot predicted, I was somehow able to rise to the challenge. I reread my notes, marshaled my psychic energy, and went down and gave that talk, and everybody loved it. 

Against all the odds, and even a little miraculously, I felt good, happy, confident standing there in front of my audience – most of them writers who’d come to Iowa City to attend the University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival, a program I taught in a few weeks earlier, and which my talk was a part of.  I looked out at their faces and saw that they were truly interested in what I was saying, and I felt interested in what I was saying too.  I was present in the room instead of nervous and they were present too.  Three or four people left during the talk – I could see them gathering up their bags and exiting through the back door – but my Chariot confidence remained unshaken.  There were more questions than I could answer at the end and people came up front and talked to me and everybody seemed excited about what I had said.  I was excited about it too. 

I could practically feel myself being pulled along in my Chariot – on to who knows what future triumphs and speeches and publications.   As the afternoon wore on I started to feel my tiredness, and I didn’t quite know what to do with myself while my slightly inflated ego sank back down to regular size.  But the feeling that something had gone well never left me, and I’m grateful for my time in the Chariot, and sometimes I can even remember that I’m still in the Chariot, being carried forward by life.


July 21, 2015: The Knight of Swords by Tania Pryputniewicz


My card this month was the Knight of Swords. In the Thoth deck, horse and rider skim through a blue sky high above cloud-like rivulets of water. I love the tawny caramel of horse outlined in darker brown, the elfin gold-green armor and matching pixie helmet of the knight. Three swallows fly below the horse bearing his colors in winged mimicry. Both backs of horse and rider share a body line, just as horse’s rear leg and rider’s leg fold at the same angle, seamless in their commitment to forward motion.

They’re setting off diagonally; even the birds agree. We don’t see the rider’s eyes, but the horse’s are blue, wide open. His muzzle and profile line meld into front hoove line. Four propellers, transparent as dragonfly wings, spin on top of the knight’s helmet and are labeled North, South, East, and West. Where is this duo headed with such purposeful haste? Angeles Arrien reminds us that the card, “Combining the elements of water and air, metaphorically, is a symbol for passionate thinking.”

This card fell during some intense weeks of reckoning with mortality due to my aging parents. I’m poured through childhood memories, as if on a Ferris wheel, up, up for birds’ eye view, then plummeted back to the ground level of the now where my children live. The psychic umbilical cord doubles; I stand midlife, one half of the cord trammeling back to my parents and the other surging towards my children.

There’s never much more to offer than physical presence so I prepare to visit. Even as I pack my green suitcase, I get a phone call from the lifeguard stand: my daughter hyperextended her arm doing a cartwheel in the surf.  I reign in my fears about dying, what’s left to say or do in my life, my parents’ lives, have they done what they came here to do--have any of us?—and I tend to my daughter, anchored to her need. But by dusk the entourage of doubts and memories return with what I recognize now as the “fear-of-death/loss migraine” in tow.

Alejandro Jodoroswsky writes in relation to the Knight of Swords, “I guide [my horse] in a large leap that projects me from realm of intellect into the mystery of the emotional.” The realm I enter does not feel guidable; I’m definitely out of my head and in the heart’s underworld of projected grief, as if out of time with my loved ones already. My husband makes dinner for the kids and by instinct they all steer clear of my door, coming only to kiss me, nudging aside the stack of pillows over my head, calling Mom, Mom, good night.


By sunrise, I know, like the knight, it is best not to look up or stop  for now, better to dwell in the green spring of the possibility that my parents, and all of us, will have more seasons together. I’ve no other task than to allow that supple strong-legged horse carry me to and away from my parents as often as I can escape while I care for my children and write my way true.