Finding the way forward

The last week has been brutal. I haven’t touched my cards since the election (and the subsequent email from Kellie Leitch up here in Canada – we are far from safe, far from clear of the poison of white supremacy and xenophobia and misogyny and racism and hate).

have been working. A lot.

My coaching page is up on Facebook – you can find it here – and I’m posting daily self-care tips. I’m working on content for upcoming workshops and getting my website ready to launch. I have a business account, my business name is registered, and I’m prepping hard for an official launch in the new year.

But it’s been a rough week. Holy wow, it’s been a rough week.

This morning I finally felt centred enough to do some tarot.

I did my favourite five card spread. First, the situation, then the right path and the wrong path, then cards for why each path is what it is.

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So, the situation. The Wheel of Fortune, reversed. Big, bad change. Cataclysmic change.

The right path: The Fool. Moving forward, having faith, taking risks. Foolish bravery. And, for me, this is my heart card. This is the card that comes up again and again when I need a reminder to be true to myself. So, risk-taking, movement, leaps of faith, and being who I am. I will not retreat into a closet again. I will be wide open to this world, even when it’s turning to the dark.

Why: Page of Cups. Because this is where I will find the “well of love,” as Beth Maiden at Little Red Tarot calls this card. This is where I will find:

a sort of making-it-right quality. And within that, I find an accepting-wrongdoing quality. Because accepting and trying to heal our mistakes is an act of love, and a creative act. It requires us to look into ourselves for that well of love, and put aside self-motivated, petty, angry thoughts.

It’s a hard ask in a time when I want to be angry and petty. (And, to be clear, I think there absolutely is a need for anger right now – deep anger, anger that motivates us to act, to stand up against hate and violence and bigotry. But this card is a reminder that anger can be wielded in many ways, and petty anger right now is not helpful.)

The Page of Cups as the “why” for The Fool as my right path speaks so gently to me about deep love, about making space for the overflowing cup of emotions in my self and my communities. Moving forward heart-first and with love. Finding healing.

These cards tell me a story of moving forward bravely and authentically, engaging my emotional self in the work.

In contrast, the wrong path: The Hanged Man. Motionless, trapped, upside down, disoriented. This path is so tempting, because that Wheel has turned and the world does seem so upside down (it seems that way to me, from my position of privilege. I know that for many people of colour, and especially Black women and Indigenous communities, this is not a turning of the Wheel but an acknowledgement of the rubble they’ve been buried under for generations. My shock betrays my privilege.)

Why is this the wrong path: Two of Swords. Because now is not the time for weighing both sides of the debate. Allowing myself to be bound by the feelings of helplessness and horror, and trying to intellectualize an understanding of how this happened rather than moving forward along the path. It will lead to a stalemate, an impasse, an inability to engage with the emotions that need to be felt. In so many ways, it is the exact opposite of the Page of Cups and her watery wholeheartedness. This sharp, airy, arid immobilization is why letting myself hang upside down in horror is not the response right now.

I am reminded, again, of the talk I saw late last week with G. Willow Wilson, the fantastic creator of the new Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan – Marvel’s first Muslim superhero. Wilson said that sometimes, the mess stays messy. Sometimes there is not a way out, but there is always a way forward. This sentiment has become the guiding principle in how I’m shaping all of my coaching materials – moving away from the victim-blaming “law of attraction” model of coaching and towards something that acknowledges systemic oppression, takes into account the ways in which there is not always a way out, and offers tools and support for moving forward.

I am going to keep moving forward.

I’m grateful for the power of narrative, and the ability of stories to provide hope and inspiration. When I look at the Page of Cups and the Two of Swords, I know which character I want to inhabit. When I look at The Fool and The Hanged Man, I know which one I want to be right now.

Let’s go. Foolishly, bravely, forward.

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Telling Tarot Stories

My homework from my counsellor for last week was simple, but challenging. Make a list of the things I want when it comes to my work and financial life.

What do I want out of this new career that I’m proposing to launch?

What do I want for my life, when it comes to my money?

How much money do I want to make?

(Why am I so resistant to the idea of making a “decent living” doing something I love and am good at? Why do I think it’s only good work if I do it for free or if I suffer for it?)

The whole week before, I had been rolling the questions around in my mind. Every time I came up to an answer, I shied away from it. The answers are terrifying! I want… I want a lot. And I feel ashamed of that.

So, at 1 pm, an hour and a half before my appointment (because procrastination! Because those are big questions!) I pulled out my Wild Unknown deck, and my amethyst and quartz moon set, and my blue goldstone, and my White Light and Catalyst oils, and I shuffled my cards, and drew five.

Representing myself: Father of Swords

Representing my wants, needs, hopes, and fears: Five of Pentacles, Two of Wands, Nine of Swords, Father of Cups – all reversed.

All reversed! No wonder I couldn’t get a clear answer from myself, something big was in the way. So I drew a card for that, and it was (unsurprisingly) the Ten of Wands. Yeah, of course it was.

My sense of myself in my career was clear, and my desire to use my skills to be a leader and to create change within my communities – that Father of Swords resonated so strongly. But all my desires around that, what I want within that clearly defined role, and especially how I want money to factor in… murky. Too many branches in the way, too many trees, carrying too much, trying to do too much.

So I picked the cards I felt resonated positively – the Father of Swords, Two of Wands, and Father of Cups. I read them all upright.

That left the three cards that resonated negatively, or as challenges to be acknowledged. The Ten of Wands, Five of Pentacles, and Nine of Swords.

I paired the Father of Swords with the Ten of Wands – that sword of truth and self-awareness to cut through the branches, to clear a path, to prune back the overgrowth of anxiety and self-doubt that was getting in the way.

I paired the Two of Wands with the Nine of Swords – swords and wands again, but this time the action and movement of the wands moving through the paralyzing fear of those nine swords. I loved this paralleling – in one pair, it is the self-awareness and airy quality of the sword that calms the wands, and in the other, it is the warm light and action of the firey wands that lights the way through the trapped-in-my-head swords.

Last, I paired the Father of Cups with the Five of Pentacles. Grief with the space for grief. Pain with space for pain. An open invitation to feel every feeling, to fill the cup and let it overflow, to allow that Fiveness to exist. To hold space for myself, and to create within my practice and my vision for my business the space for my clients to also bring their grief and fear, their loneliness, their lack. This, in some ways, solidifies most clearly for me what I want from my career as a narrative/life coach – not to simply clear the path for my clients, but to show them how to gently and lovingly hold space for the dark parts of themselves and their situations.

As a final piece, I shuffled the reversed cards back into the deck and left myself with a gentle, hopeful, powerful three card spread – the Father of Swords, Two of Wands, and Father of Cups. With my crystals on either side of the spread, it felt balanced – air, fire, water, with the crystals grounding and anchoring.

I wrote my list of what I want from my career and in my finances, and I felt good. Not only did the process of working actively with the cards to find the story that was right for me feel empowering and stabilizing, it was also practice in the kind of narrative coaching I want to do in my work as a coach. It felt like storytelling. Like using narrative to shape my sense of myself and who I am as a character in my own story.

It was really good.

I am really grateful for these cards, and for this practice. Although I still struggle with feeling like it’s “too woo” sometimes, and I know my evangelical family members would be horrified, when I let go of my expectations for myself and my fears about other people’s judgement, it just feels good, and right, and helpful.

I’m grateful.

And I do feel that strong Father of Swords energy so deeply. There are moments when I know that potential is within me, and I love it.

Narrative Shifts

I’m getting ready to launch my coaching business, and I wrote a thing for that new website (which will be launching soon). You get a sneak peek.

This morning I was sitting on the floor in the living room, surrounded by Lego. I was reassembling a set that had taken too many toddler-assisted falls. It was a good morning – the kids are with their mom, and I had coffee and affection and this beautiful life I’m building – but I was overwhelmed with wave after wave of heavy emotions.

Because this story is not the story I thought I would be telling now, at 35.

And this is not the first time the story has changed.

And every time the story changes, there is grief, and loss, and guilt.

Once upon a time, I was straight. I was monogamous. I was a woman. I was married. I was going to grow old having chili bake-offs with my husband, inviting family over to taste-test, both of us winning. Every year we would go to the boutique gift shop for beautiful Christmas ornaments, to be given in wooden boxes we had designed and built and stained together. We would go to Croatia to meet his family someday. We would go to Norway to meet mine. We had three dogs. We had a new house. But I’m not straight. And I’m not a woman. And I’m no longer married.

Once upon a time, I was a dog trainer. I specialized in working with fearful and aggressive dogs. I was really good at it. I was APDT and CAPPDT certified, I took courses at the San Francisco Academy for Dog Trainers. I ran my own business. I was going to be an expert in the field. I would speak at APDT, I would host conferences, I would be sought out for interviews, I would publish books. But the economy tanked, and I went to university, and I love dogs but I no longer train them.

There are other once upon a times. Stories that felt like my forever story, fundamental to my being, that I am no longer in. The story where my soul mate and I grow old living together, he a lawyer and me a gender studies professor. The story where my anchor partner and I grow old living together, them at their video game console and me organizing events for the bisexual and trans communities, doing activism, being an activist. The story where I’m a famous author at 25. The story where I never have kids. The story where I work in my dad’s bookstore until he retires and then I become the manager. The story where I’m straight. The story where I’m cisgender. The story where I’m able-bodied. The story where depression is overcome, forever, and I am triumphant over my mind. The story where I’m inherently and eternally broken (that one was so hard to let go of).

Does it make me sound flighty, all these stories?

Maybe.

But I am not the only one who has lived in many books.

I am not the only one who has felt my identity sink solidly and safely into a narrative, only to have someone in the distance shout, or whisper, “plot twist!” and to feel the ink of my identity fading on the page, new words forming, words I do not know, or know how to inhabit.

These plot twist moments can be traumatic. They are moments of “identity threat” – times when our sense of self, and who we are, and how we are in the world and in relationships and in each other’s eyes, when it all shifts.

When we come out. When we divorce. When we lose a job, or a friend, or a partner, or a parent. When we gain a job, or a partner, or another partner, or a new name or a new body or a new baby. When we transition to polyamory. When we discover our kinks. When we tell our lover. When our lover tells us. When we hear that voice, stage left, “plot twist!”

Or, sometimes, when we feel the slow twist of a knife long buried. Microaggressions. Erasures. Moments of invisibility and coercive passing. When we are read by those around us as something we are not, and we see reflections of ourselves in others’ eyes that do not feel right. When stereotypes or biases against us start to eat away at our own sense of self and wholeness.

Illness. Wellness. Brokenness. Wholeness. Togetherness. Aloneness.

When we move from one state of being into another. When we find ourselves lost, and find ourselves, and lose ourselves.

Lego can be fixed. I can go back to the book, find all the missing pieces (or most of them, anyway), reassemble it and it will look almost like it did when I first built it.

Life is not like that. I cannot find the booklet and all the missing pieces to reassemble those old stories, those old lives.

But my life is like Lego in another way, endlessly adaptable. A smashed house can become a truck can become a dragon can become another house. There is hope, and new wholeness, and new stories, and there is healing possible. I have learned to sit with the grief, and the loss, and the sadness, and the hope, and the joy, and the excitement. I have learned to let the plot twist, to trust myself to be present in whatever story comes next. To know myself, and love myself (in action if not in emotion, and in intention if not in action, and always reaching towards a more wholehearted love), and care for myself. I have learned how to breathe in to the moments of change, and trust that even when my identity feels threatened, feeling or fearing a thing doesn’t make it real. Whatever comes, comes. I can find a way to exist within it.

Moments of identity threat can be incredibly challenging. We often feel guilty when the narrative changes, because we know it isn’t just us that’s impacted. And we want the people around us to be happy, we want them to like us, we want them to know us. It’s hard to find a solid sense of self in the plot twist moments.

That’s what I’m here for.

If you feel like you are losing yourself, or have lost yourself, and the narrative is getting away from you and everything feels scary and overwhelming and you don’t know what your story is anymore, I can help.

Self-care, self-discovery, self-expression.

I can help you find the story that lets you move forward.

Phew.

I had a rough morning, feeling the weight of old stories heavy on me.

I remembered The Fool, my heart-card.

I wrote it out.

I feel better.

Emergency tarot

Sitting in the car, kids cranky, both of us stressed and grumpy, heading to the zoo. Feeling overwhelmed and stretched too thin. Shuffling tarot with an inner scream of ‘help!!!!’

Nine of Wands for myself. It’s heavy but it’s not too heavy. You’ll make it. You’ve got the resources. The elf warrior on the Shadowscapes Nine of Wands is full of resolve. The colours are strong. It will be okay. I read this for this moment and also for the wider moment. I have spent the day panicking about to do lists and endless obligations. A messy house, paperwork, deadlines already missed. The Nine of Wands sees it, breathes into it, reassures. 

And Judgement for my partner. The choice is made and it will be okay. A big card for a small moment. Is it a terrible idea to go to the zoo on so few resources with cranky kids? It doesn’t matter, says Judgement. The decision is made, and it will be okay. Breathe. Breathe and keep breathing. 

Shuffle my deck with a sigh of relief, put it back in my jacket pocket just as we pull into the parking lot. 

Post this, because sometimes it’s enough to do a thing even if it’s just a small thing. 

Gentleness: A Card and a Jumper

‘It is important to be very gentle with yourself, especially in the early days of a transition. In fact, there is no such thing as being too gentle with yourself at this time.’ – Julia Cameron

The Two of Pentacles from the Shadowscapes Tarot

I am working through Julia Cameron’s book, It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again. It’s an Artist’s Way program for people who are in a major transition. I figured my life right now constitutes multiple major transitions, so it seemed like a good fit.

The quote above captured my attention yesterday.

I am struggling with being gentle with myself lately. I feel like a failure in most areas of my life. Even though I recognize that all of these changes mean everything is in upheaval, and it’s almost impossible to see progress in the middle of the process.

I drew a card with the question – how can I be gentle with myself during this transition?

My card was the Two of Pentacles. I saw it and thought balance, juggling all the different moving pieces, finding a balance between work life and home life and creative life.

In The Creative Tarot, Jessa Crispin says, of this card:

Sometimes when we’re feeling overwhelmed, we think we need to remove outside obligations. But it’s often those outside obligations that keep us [functioning]. We can actually improve productivity by adding to our to-do list.

Beth Maiden at Little Red Tarot says:

Another element in this card is that it represents change – new challenges entering our lives which will demand from us that we act like this juggler. Flexibility is key, being adaptable and bending to fit those changes into our lives.

Both of these feel relevant to me right now. The challenge, the need for flexibility and adaptability, and the hopeful comment that maybe my overwhelming to-do list is actually not a bad thing.

The Three of Cups from the Shadowscapes Tarot

The Three of Cups was a jumper for me, and also feels relevant. Community, connection, filling my cup while filling the cups of the people around me.

From The Creative Tarot:

This card is about community and companionship. There’s an emotional stability here, brought on by a circle of supportive friends.

I feel good about the fact that my best friend is planning on coming over for a working date today, and that I have a to-do list with a lot of things to knock off. I still feel overwhelmed, but I can recognize the gentleness already present in my life, and it makes it easier to stop beating myself up for not doing enough, well enough, fast enough.

It will be okay.

I’ll work on my balance and my flexibility, and I’ll lean on my supportive community in the meantime. And I won’t hate myself for the overwhelming to-do list.

 

Birthday dinner

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Trying on boots before dinner.

Boxwood is one of my favourite restaurants. I’ve had dozens of meals there, and it’s been one of my favourite places to go alone or with company. Last night I went for dinner with my whole pod (at this point I realize that I don’t have pseudonyms for my people and I have no idea how to refer to them!).

My pod is all my current partners (though I would also include their current partners and some family in my pod as well).

(In addition to the name issues, describing my pod means really thinking about how to define each relationship, and that’s a bit more heart-and-mind work than I have the energy for in this blog post.)

So let’s just say – five of us went for dinner at Boxwood and it was amazing.

I had all the bread to start with – their house-made bread with molasses butter, and an open-faced sandwich of ricotta, fresh garden peas, snap peas, and pea shoots. A sparkling rhubarb drink. A peachy Pimms cup. A lot of laughing.

Then the turmeric-rubbed pork shoulder, with creamy white beans, portobello, and kale.

Bites from everyone’s plate – smoked steelhead trout tartine, salmon tartare, maple-glazed ham, ridiculously good roasted potatoes.

Then dessert – blackberry cheesecake, too rich, too goaty a chevre, so two bites and done.

Then wandering around catching Pokémon and more laughing and hugs goodbye and then home.

It was good.

Last night was Boxwood’s last night, and now they are closed.

This year is full of endings and beginnings.

Thirty five

It was my thirty fifth birthday two days ago and I started this post in the bathroom that evening, supervising a splashy five year old kid – a kid I love – while my partner carved crockpot chickens for supper and the two year old watched Super Why. 

I got one sentence written before the bath was done. Dinner took over an hour, and at no point did the four of us sit at the table together. I tried to make my birthday cake three times before I finally succeeded once both kids were in bed, and it came out of the oven at 9 pm, shortly after my friend came over to talk about poly and navigating non-normative relationships while being saturated in endless normativity in our media and societal assumptions. 

Then it was the morning, more than twelve hours after I started this post. I was awake with the kids, since my partner got up with them the last few mornings. Step parenting is tough, but I love it. I love these kids, and I love being on such a functional team with my partner. But it’s hard to find time to write, time to think, time to do the self-care that is so important to me. It’s hard to find time for tarot, or tea, or much of anything. I’m always busy these days, it seems. With the kids, and seemingly endless part-time jobs – data entry and petsitting and admin work and anything else that comes up that can knock a few hundred off the credit cards. 

The lead up to this birthday was tough. 

I’ve been feeling like a failure – so many parts of my life are in transition and it’s hard to see progress in the middle of the process. 

I got this far in the post and then the kids needed food and my partner was awake and I was making brunch for friends and I didn’t get back to it for another day. I’m finishing it in the car while the two year old sleeps. Once she wakes up, we will join her cousin’s birthday party, happening at the park just outside the car door. Life offers so many metaphors. 

I’m thirty five now. 

This year feels important, and challenging. My goal is to have thirty five moments of celebration, and to keep track of them here. To fill my cup, to inhabit my Queen of Cups self. 

Onward!