So the tarot is really just this old game that likely appeared before the 1400’s, and all this divinitory mumbo-jumbo? Antoine Court de Géblin* made it up whole cloth. A salon goer with a keen sense of the mystic and the dramatic, he invented the tarot as we think of it today. Oh, the cards existed before. But they were as good as playing cards. In fact, they were playing cards.

The tarot can be a tool to tell you what you already now. If you use it in a “divinitory” sense, it forces you to think about the information you already have on hand, because the supposed “meanings” give you a new angle to look at things from. You could use a favorite book this way, rolling dice to determine a page, opening to it, and reading a sentence, figuring out how it applies to your situation. The tarot is a thinking tool.

I had to ask. I had to, because New York cried the night of my leaving, and those tears delayed my flight another day. More raining, more flooding. I had to ask because last time, I was struck ill the day of my leaving, and was sick for weeks in bed back in Florida, as if my own body was screaming at me to stay. I had to ask. Because I already knew, and some small voice, a voice of authority said, “You must be responsible, and stay in Port Charlotte, and be an adult, and stop your flights of fancy, and stop your silly writings. Find a grown-up job you hate. Stay there. And that’s all there is to life.” Another voice said, “But there are people you love in Port Charlotte, don’t abandon them! They need you.” And yet another voice said, “Steady, steady. The road forks. This is like to that. Remember when you moved to Tampa? This is like to that.”

So I pulled three cards for myself last night, with only two words in my mind. New York. The Sun, the Moon, and the five of pentacles (or coins). In the complex meanings that folk have invented for the tarot over the years, it called my attention to a number of things. Point the first (the Sun): I will be happier in New York. It is filled with opportunities I am poised to devour whole. It is a thinking place, and I will meditate on its delights. There is warmth of the mind and soul there, waiting for me.

Point the second (the Moon): I know I will be more creative in New York; there are more people there with whom to be creative. I step into the subway and poetry sings in my veins. The ideas pop and fizz and buzz and jiggle, restless little spirits, my only children, clamoring for voice. There is a dangerous aspect to where I’m going though, too. Were it a forest, I’d call it feral, but it is not– I’ll call it fae. Rackham faeries can hang; I’m scared of the fae folk as much as I yearn after them. Beware, beware, says the Moon, things are not what they seem. Trust. Trust the voice deep inside, the one they call intuition, the one I call friend, self, whole. The voice not in the head or the heart, but way down, deeper still, down in the gut. Listen to that one.

Point the third (the five of pentacles): I am due for a set back of the physical world. Mainly, I have to leave a good portion of my things behind. I have to divest myself of items. It is material, while the gains are immaterial. But you know what? Stuff is silly. I can sift through it, make things and sell them, decide to give things away because they are things– like grains of sand falling through my fingertips. This culture teaches things are important. Things define you. And there have been many voices claiming otherwise. We tend to believe with our ears and deny with our doings. We collect stuff. Bah to stuff. I will keep the things I use most. I will keep the tools of doing (drills and hammers and tape measures and carving tools and the like), I will keep some of the books of learning (I can’t read them all at once), and I will keep a few tools of ritual (ritual’s tools can always be replaced, no matter how friendly the feel of my multi-tool athame in my hand). But everything I have learned? The richness of my friends? I get to keep those. All of those. They are not things, but knowings, feelings, rememberings. I will move with all my true wealth.

I had to pull the cards to tell me what I already knew. To sit and think about the dilemma at hand with a clearer mind. It is no dilemma at all. I know I will do what I knew was right for me all along. I just had to find a way to see what I had already taken in. And I thank Court de Géblin for his flight of fancy… because tarot cards are a much more respectable tool of thinking than a magic 8 ball.

*2005. Harvey, David Allen Beyond Enlightenment: Occultism and Politics in Modern France. DeKalb: Northern Illinios University Press. Specifically Chapter 3, “Invented Traditions,” pages 62-90.

A Song to Carry Home

I am in the air, high up, watching the sun gild the wing under my lozenge-shaped window. I am trying to hold onto a memory and the notes of a song like the sun is trying to linger in the sky. The clouds look like rivers of molten metal running out to the north, running out to the south. I cheat. I press repeat. The song starts again.

There was a little girl who wrote this little song. She made up the melody a decade and a half and a thousand miles ago, after voice lessons on her little Casio keyboard in the basement at home. She tried it out on a friend’s piano the day before she left for Florida, and then it slept with the rest of her childhood for a long, long time.

I was angry at Firi. Under the same roof, close quarters, I found every reason to back up my boyfriend’s dislike of her, and then I found some reasons of my own. Fruit of the poison garden, the tensions would build: dish bickerings, privacy, personal space, Gods, could you not look at that stuff in the common room? Where else am I going to look at it?! He won’t let me put the computers in our bedroom! We seethed by day and by night I’d despair– she the songstress, and I had shared with her one night that childhood melody I wrote. Those nights, I’d hear strains of my tune played back ghost-like from her room. That song was mine, that song was part of me! Don’t touch it, don’t hurt it! Please please please don’t hurt it… I never spoke about it.

Midwinter brought a Yule bush. A Yule bush is a Christmas tree, only renamed and reclaimed by Pagan folk and taken down long before New Year’s because for us New Year’s was already done with months ago, and the jack-o’-lanterns that had lit it were nicely composting out back. It’s like a grand game of capture the flag with religious symbols: “Nya, nya, stole it back!” Not just Yule bushes, but we stole the gift giving, too. But then, it’s hard to resist an avalanche.

I hated the Yule bush. She was a fucking diva, that tree. I mean that literally. The Diva Tree, proper name, decked in pink and blue and purple, glitter everywhere, garlanded with a pink feather boa, and topped with a gods damned tiara. And peacock feathers. Only in retrospect do I venture my theory that really, I was just jealous that I hadn’t thought of it. Had to keep up appearances, though, being the curmudgeon. I stated loudly that it was tacky. Even the presents underneath.

There were presents underneath. There was even one for me from Firi, thin and flat, and she handed it to me directly. She handed it to me last. Under the wrappings was a jewel case. In the jewel case was a fresh-burned CD. My hand trembled.

“Listen to it,” she directed. So I placed it in the tray of my CD drive and let my computer pull it up with autoplay. All those nights of aching ghost melodies, and there was my tune. The timing was changed, and there was the swell of the harmony she wrote, the percussion all synthesized, and all of it rich and full, a waltz. “I want you to title it,” she said.

My eyes burned while I copied the file onto my machine, and in place of “Track 1” typed “Childhood Waltz (When I Was Young).” The melody says it, an echo, “when I was young…” as the song opens, even though there are no words. The words are in my heart. All those dusks, despairing, and she was crafting this, for me. When I was young, was I so spiteful?

Even for the acid ground and the venom thorns, the poison garden bore the sweetest fruit. One day, in grand form, I hope to waltz to the song that Firi wrote for me. Until then, may I choke on bitter vines. May they be medicine to my soul.

I cheat again. I press repeat, even though all the light is gone from the sky, and the plane begins descent.

Bon Anniversaire

My birthday was Monday, the 30th. It used to be, until very recently, that birthdays were just fun. I didn’t think about them much. Then again, I didn’t have certain adverts aimed at my head like cannons until now.

You see, the advertisers tell me “you’re getting old. Here, have some wrinkle cream. Shall we line up your Botox appointments for the next five years for you? Oh! And you’ll need a diet, too.”

“But… I’m 27. I don’t need wrinkle cream!”

“Tut, tut. Look at you. There are smile lines around your eyes! Of course you’ll need wrinkle cream! They’re tiny now, but you don’t want them to grow, do you?!”

“But smile lines mean I smile a lot. I like them.”

“But does your boss like them? Your boyfriend?”

At which point I turn on this cultural/advertising voice and snap its neck– because I am not a doll for my boss or for my loves, and how dare they presume I’m straight. Voices like this don’t die so easily, though. They crop up anew, whether I like it or not, in magazines, on billboards, in my own head. No matter the medium, I can’t seem to avoid them. They abound on Facebook. They exist in the subtext of conversations.

“Y’know, those clothes are too young for you. Only college girls wear them.”

“I just graduated college.”

“Exactly. You need something more matronly, because you’re getting old. You can’t go around wearing hip-huggers. You’ll look like a fat cow. Besides, your kids will think you’re trying to be like them.”

“Me? I weigh a 115 lbs. I look like a freakin’ scarecrow. And I don’t have kids.”

“That’s 15 lbs. too many. You need to go on a diet– here, have some diet soda. It’s carbohydrate free! You’ll be too thin to get any wrinkles! And every woman has kids.”

If only it were as easy as saying, “You know, you’re a really stupid voice. You’re talking from within a social class to which I don’t even belong, and you’re outside my subculture. Gamer geeks don’t give a shit about wrinkles. And I’m not going to have kids!”

But the rebuttal always comes, whether I voice the complaint or not, “Maybe you should rethink where you belong. I mean, you’re a woman after all, and all women care about wrinkles and how they look and the cute little babies. Salad?”

“Why don’t you come here and play me PvP in World of Warcraft? Huh? I will pwn your ass with my twink rogue in Warsong Gulch!”

“Women don’t play World of Warcraft, sweetie, and neither do mommies or disembodied cultural/advertising voices or the subtexts of ‘friendly’ conversations. Smoothie? It’s chock full of B vitamins for baby and you!”

Dammit, the voice had a point. Disembodied voices don’t play World of Warcraft… I would have to find some other way of defeating it.

“You’ve squandered your youth, darling. Now you need makeup. Here, this foundation can erase wrinkles!”

“I don’t have time for that. I’m DMing a game tonight.”

“But you want to look sexy, right? And women don’t DM.”

“No, not really. I’d like to look like me. And act like me.”

This stops the voice dead for a moment or three. “To look sexy, you have to aspire to youth,” it continues, as if I hadn’t answered at all. It was then that I figured something out, a fragment of the puzzle became clear. In my corner of the world, as a student, you could belong to different subcultures, you could (limitedly) express yourself within them, belong to a group and identify with the people in them (so long as you’re enough like them– the same economically, racially). Once school is done? Once the show is over? Oh, those subcultures still exist. But women don’t belong to them. Not in the mind of the larger culture. Women only belong to the group “women” no matter their differences, their individualities, their communities or affiliations.

And all women look the same. “You really should try wearing high heels. You do know they’re required in the workplace? Only hip young things can get away with not wearing them.”

“They can’t require me to wear something that has such proven detrimental health effects. Besides, they look stupid.”

All women look the same and want the same things. “You need laser hair removal and a baby bump. Can’t have hairy legs, now can we? What will your boyfriend think?”

“The girl I’m crushing on has hairy legs too. I don’t think she cares. And neither do either of my boyfriends. And I’m looking into getting sterilized.”

Really, what else could a woman want? “Don’t do that! You’ll regret it!”

“Regret what? I don’t want kids.”

“Every woman wants kids! You have to have kids! Think of the babies!”

“I’d rather not. I’m not very fond of babies. Kids are okay once they can talk and show personality, but I think that would make me a better aunt, don’t you?”

It’s like a sledgehammer. Individual choices are only valid if they conform to the accepted ideal. “Mother. You’re going to be a mother. You have to be a mother. Baby bump! Hip! Cute! See the little onesie? Isn’t it cute? You want a baby to go with it?”

“I want to play D&D. And get my PhD. And write. And blacksmith. And live with a bunch of friends on a farm commune or in a city co-op. There are some other things too, but that’s a pretty comprehensive list at the moment. No babies. Eventually, I’d like to be a crazy aunt. But no, not a mother.”

And this is met with indifference from advertisers– they still lob the same old things at my head. Wedding rings! Diamonds! Babies! Make-up! Fashion! Botox! And this is also met with shock and horror from the people I talk to daily. But you’re a woman! Women only want these things!

Is it any wonder I sought out feminism? But even here, among those who have tried to carve out an enclave safe from those incessant voices telling us we’re abominable for not wanting what women are supposed to want, even here, the flip side is true. How many mothers have I talked to who feel alienated from feminism because they made choices that made them feel powerful? For choosing to become mothers? No, that can’t be a valid choice, never. Sometimes either side feels just as narrow.

With every birthday, it feels as though I am asked louder and louder to justify my desires, to justify why I don’t fit the supposed pattern women are “meant” to follow. With every birthday, I feel as though I am screaming myself hoarse trying to defend my actions and my existance, and it’s still not good enough.

Dear culture, dear advertisers, dear well-meaning acquaintances– may I ask one birthday present from you? It’s a little belated, I know, but I just want one thing. Blessed silence.