A year of Justice? Sure, why not?

My birthday was a week ago, which means that it’s time to offer some ill-informed ramblings about my new year card. Last year, as I talked about here, was a Wheel of Fortune year for me, and I certainly experienced a good deal of that on-the-edge whirling throughout the past twelve months. I feel like I navigated the year fairly well, all things considered, and I’m curious about stepping into the next twelve months. I use the Rider-Waite-Smith deck (because it has a lot of people in it, and I like cards with people because I suck at interpreting any image that’s remotely abstract), so for me the “eleven” year is Justice.

So let’s take a look at this thing, shall we?

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It seems straightforward enough. We have an androgynous person sitting on a stone chair, wearing a golden crown. There are pillars on either side, and the figure is holding a set of scales in their left hand and a sword in their right. They’re wearing formal-looking red robes with yellow/gold trim. This feels like a very aptly named card, since we have the scales of justice and a sword of judgement/punishment at the ready. I note that a lot of other images associated with justice include a blindfold, and I find it interesting that this one does not.

Within the context of personal work, though, that fits. This isn’t about passing judgement on someone else, after all. This isn’t IMPARTIAL justice – it’s about weighing things in my own life. That stuff is sometimes out of balance; hell, I’d argue that it’s almost always out of balance to some degree. The sword, I think, is a tool for cutting away what doesn’t serve and bringing those things back into balance. But I think the eyes are open because discernment of this sort requires looking at things openly and clearly. I might see that something in my life is out of balance, and if my eyes are open and clear, I can decide what to do about that. Do I choose to just deal with it, which sounds terrible but frankly is sometimes the best option? Do I use what I learn from my examination of the situation as a starting point to negotiate? Or do I say, “fuck this noise,” and bring the sword down and cut it away entirely?

All of these things are possible, and I believe they all have their place. The critical thing, I feel, is that I use my objective tools (the scales) and also my subjective tools (my eyes, my heart, my personal experience) to examine the situation from as many angles as I can, and then take action. In this image, it looks like the only “action” tool available is the sword, but that’s never true. The mind is a tool for action. Words are a tool for action. My body is a tool for action. For me, the sword is a reminder to DO SOMETHING, not a suggestion that there is only one thing to be done.

Here’s another thing that I’m finding interesting with this viewing. There’s a cloth behind the seated figure, sort of draped between the pillars. Now that’s…weird. I’ve seen the card a number of times, but my eye has never been drawn to that before. It gives me a very “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” feeling, and that’s very curious. Is it a suggestion that this is just a piece of theater that’s playing out before me, and it’s not real? That doesn’t feel quite right, but I’m really not sure. I’m going to sit with that for a while and see what comes up.

Even with that last piece of uncertainty, I’m pretty good with starting a Justice year. After a year of being on the Wheel (and sometimes way out on the edge of it), I feel like I’ve gathered a lot of information, but without a lot of time and space to integrate it. This feels like a good time to look carefully at what I’ve learned, identify those points of imbalance, and take some decisive action.

Tarot Ally #5

I’m still sitting with a couple of recent draws, so this one is actually from this week – so the post is either on time, or from the future, depending on your perspective.

Ally Draw: An ally for abundance
Card: 5 of Swords

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Well, this is interesting. So we have several people in this card and one who is, to my eye, collecting the swords that others have thrown down or have been forced to surrender. I know that the faces in these cards are generally set in a neutral expression, but this dude looks really happy with himself, doesn’t he? I’ve worn a satisfied smirk more than once, and let me tell you – dude is smirking. It makes me want to smack him upside the head a little bit.

This card speaks to a way of being that I struggle with. Namely, the assumption that what I get must be at the expense of another. It’s pervasive in our culture and I believe that it’s the root of so many of our problems (and so many of my problems, for that matter). Here’s the thing about that view of the world: it has as its fundamental belief the idea that there isn’t enough for all of us, so you’d damn well better grab what you can and let everyone else hang. Maybe get enough for your family and kids while you’re at it, but outside of that, the world isn’t to factor into your thinking at all. That is one messed up way of looking at the world, isn’t it? And naturally it works the other way, too. When I come from that place of scarcity, of the knowledge that there isn’t enough, then I look at what others have and I’m angry that they have it…because it came from me, or at least a hypothetical me, see? Everything that you have is a thing that I can’t have. And if there’s not enough to go around, then I’m damned well going to stockpile these swords, y’know, even if I only need the one.

Something of note here, sort of as an aside: out of the 5 draws that I’ve posted here, this is the third Swords card that has come up. Swords represent the element of Air, so we’re looking at words and stories, and while words and stories are awesome, they’re not always true. So what I think I’m looking at here in this card is a certain way of framing the idea of abundance and scarcity, not the reality of it. That’s an important consideration.

This image, at least today, embodies the opposite of abundance for me. Instead, it embodies that “I’ve got mine” attitude that sickens me…and that I fall pretty to all too often when I’m worried about my own resources, whether that worry is rational or not. So if I’m looking at this card as an ally, that makes things a little more complicated. I think it’s important to note that allies don’t always need to be friends, and the best teachers sometimes are here to demonstrate what we should avoid.

“(Insert something wise about toxic capitalism here.)”

Tarot Ally #4

Still running these a couple of weeks behind the actual draw. I’d like to say that that’s because I am taking the extra time to reflect, but mostly it’s because I don’t get around to publishing the post right away.

Ally Draw #4: An ally for optimism
Card: Ten of Swords

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WELP. That happened.

A little context here, first. I drew this card on June 12th, the day that reports came in about dozens of people being shot and killed on Latin night in the Orlando nightclub Pulse. This is a horrific act of violence against the LGBT community, and I don’t have anything approaching a coherent response other than to be angry, shocked, and frightened on behalf of the people most deeply affected. During the same time, some close friends also received bad news of a more personal nature, and I was (and still am) struggling to find much of worth in this world that we inhabit. The ally I asked for wasn’t for good news, or a sense of well-being, or anything as direct as that. Rather, it’s a need for a shift in myself – to be able to sit with the darkness, and yet still see some glimmer of light, even if it’s faint.

So then we get this card, which…I guess it’s something, eh?

It’s funny, but there’s actually something here that kind of works for me. Dude doesn’t have three swords in him, or eight. He has ten. One of them is in his ear, for fuck’s sake. I mean, really? Doesn’t that seem like a little bit of overkill? Anyway, here’s an important deal for me. I’m not the world’s most optimistic person. When I get in a mood, I’m in a mood. I don’t respond well to someone trying to cheer me up, either. Rather, I’ve found that when I’m really irrationally angry or upset, I need to just ramp it up. Exaggerating the feeling, particularly as it relates to those petty annoyances and bullshit, feels a lot like this card looks. When I do this, I’ll mutter to myself about all of the other things that are apt to go wrong, the next dozen or so indignities that I’m certain to experience – generally up to and including being fired, being set on fire, and descending to the fiery depths.

The deal is, once I set on this path of embracing and exaggerating my frustrations, I can’t stop until I make myself, or at least snort with something close to laughter. It’s not the best or most mature way to handle those waves of anger, probably, but much of the time it does the job. Once I can laugh…it’s not that the anger or frustration goes away, exactly, but a little bit of its power is taken away.

So that’s what I’m thinking about this card at the moment. I mean, LOOK at it. Wouldn’t, like, five swords be enough? And doesn’t the, erm, the corpse look kind of resigned to its fate? Okay, maybe that’s just me. But listen, I have to think that the amount of overkill here is intentional. As an ally for optimism, it’s not my first choice, but I’ll take it as some support that my so-called ‘coping mechanism’ maybe isn’t the worst idea in the world.

“Gods, no, not in the ear! Not in the ear!!!”

Tarot Ally #3

For this draw, which came a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t have a specific request from the cards. Just an ally for the week, a symbol to refer back to when I needed a reminder of…well, whatever it is that this ally has to teach me.

Ally Draw #3
Card: Page of Pentacles

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Oh, the Pages. In some ways, they are my favorite cards because they seem to be absolutely in love with the symbol that is represented in their card. For this one, it looks like almost a religious reverence. The page is holding the pentacle aloft, focused completely on it.

It’s one of those things that I really never do myself. I’m so quick to look ahead and seek out ways to apply my gifts, if that makes sense. I’m a terrible apprentice, and that’s a shame, because if this card is any indication, it looks like a pretty good gig, to really fall in love with the tool before me.

So if this page is telling me anything, I think it’s a reminder to truly give myself over to a single task and a single desire from time to time.

“You contain multitudes, and your love is abundant. But for now, for this moment, embrace one thing. Your other loves are not diminished by your dedication to this one.”

Tarot ally #2

In my second weekly draw, I found myself in need of an ally for clarity around a few challenging conversations that needed to happen. Nothing terribly stressful or troubling, but those conversations were up for me when I was drawing the cards that Sunday.

Ally Draw #2: An ally for clarity
Card: Four of Swords

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Newsflash: This image seems to be all about silence and space. We have four swords decorating a crypt, which seems maybe a little morbid, but actually kind of rocks. I’m good with words – I’m a decent writer, and an excellent speaker. Words are the tools I use to effect change in my communities and, in very small ways, in the world. But I know, too, that I can forget about the power of silence, of taking a breath and pausing from time to time. The image in this card is a needed reminder of that. I’ll take the opportunities to allow time to pass, to breathe and use my words more sparingly. Clarity isn’t just about making my own needs and messages understood, after all. It’s just as much about (or, if I’m doing this well, even more about) understanding others. It’s hard to do that when the only words I’m focused on are my own.

“Allow space. use discernment, and cultivate the gifts that can only come in the quiet places of your life.”

 

Tarot ally #1

Now that the remodeling is done at home, I’ve been feeling more time and space to relax and breathe. In addition to wandering around the apartment and saying, “Look! There are multiple rooms available to me!” I have started doing a weekly tarot draw on the weekends – just a single card, asking which ally I might work with in the week ahead.  I might not share all of those here, but it’s been a nice little practice for me so far, and I find that being more public about what I’m doing helps me continue to do it. This just started a few weeks ago, so it’s just a matter of making a few catch-up posts here.

As I’ve noted before, I am nothing like a Tarot expert, and my knowledge of what any given card REALLY means is accidental at best. My interpretation of these draws, such as it is, is very much through the lens of the lens of the ally I’m seeking.

So. Disclaimers aside, here we go.

Ally Draw #1: An ally for peace
Card: Queen of Cups

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I am so fortunate in my life that when I talk about a time that isn’t peaceful, I’m not talking about physical violence, or a lack of survival-level resources, or housing instability, or anything like that. In my privileged existence, peace – or the lack of it – is very much connected to my emotional state. I’ve had some stuff going on of late, and it’s good to note that “stuff” for me isn’t major, terrible upheaval. But I’ve still felt disquieted, like there’s something on the horizon that’s concerning.

So I’d like some more calm and interior peace, if you will. And if I’m going to ask for advice or help, who better than this queen to approach? She is sitting on her throne, but so close to the water that is her domain. Is the tide coming in, or going out? Either way, what it tells me is that the emotion is not something that she is divorced from, that she keeps separate. Rather, she welcomes it and its gifts. They bring riches to her, and yet she remains who she is.

The queen is not emotion, is not water herself, but instead she accepts it – takes in what is needed, fills her cup for when times will be dry, and allows it to flow away in its own time.

“Stop trying to control, to corral.
Instead: trust, and accept, and have faith.
Do not forget who YOU are. You are a being of love and connection. You must allow the water to soak down and feed your roots as well as quench your thirst.”

In defense of the edge

‘Wheel never stops turning, Badger.’

‘That only matters to the people on the rim.'”

-Malcolm Reynolds and Badger, Pilot episode of Firefly

I’m about seven months into a Wheel year, which means that, from a numerological standpoint, the year that started on my last birthday has been (is being) ruled by the number 10, which corresponds to the Wheel of Fortune card in the Tarot (if you believe that stuff, which mostly I don’t, but sometimes I sort of do). This is a card that usually, to me, at least, invokes some feelings of anxiety and worry. That wheel goes round and round, and it’s scary out on the edge, man.

One of the things that I’ve been told about dealing with the Wheel in general, and a Wheel year in particular, is that you want to stay in the center to take advantage of the stability there. And I think that is a wise thing, for sure. Standing in the center isn’t about ignoring the change that manifests with the Wheel (or, rather, the change that’s always going on, but perhaps seems to be magnified during this time) – it’s about being in a place of centered stability, from which I can engage with that incessant change without being flung off the side.

Here’s a thing, though. What if the change that’s happening needs to be engaged with differently?

For the past four months, our home has been in various stages of a remodeling project. So: decision-making, packing, culling, demolition, rebuilding, finishing, culling, unpacking, more culling, swearing, more decision-making, and so on. It’s felt like an immense project, and for me it’s been at least as much emotional labor as it has been physical (to be clear, professionals are doing basically all of the physical work with the exception of packing, unpacking, etc). When we moved here in 2010, we had intentions that turned out to be wholly beyond our ability to manifest. A combination of factors have contributed to that – circumstance, personality, foolishness, shifting priorities, and good old-fashioned overconfidence and naïvete. So the place I’m living won’t be a lot of things that I had hoped for – it’s not going to be a housing cooperative, and we won’t live here with a family of choice that treats the space as shared and communal in the way that I hoped (and sometimes still ache) for. Instead, it’s a place that in the long term is as much an investment as a home for me. And that really makes me sad, a lot of the time. The improvement of the physical space, as welcome as it is, also serves as a reminder of that fact, and of that failure. This whole process has been – still is – very difficult for me.

All of that is true. What’s also true is that the change, the transformation, the shifting of the physical space to match the reality of what is true and what will be true for the foreseeable future is a crucial thing. Hanging onto the symbols and trappings of that dream-that-was has made me ill, made me angry, made me feel the loss and sting of failure all the more.

There is a grief that runs under all of this for me. I’ve had other grief in the past few years, and I’ve discovered something about how that works for me. I don’t process grief from the center of the Wheel. Other people can, I know, and I imagine that it’s a better way of approaching the whole business. But as much as I might wish that that was true for me, it’s just not. It’s a sort of change, of loss and sorrow, that I need to lean into. I need to let it be, let myself be, and step away from the center, at least for a little while.

So I think that’s what I’m going to do for the rest of this scary year. Stop fighting my way back toward the center and hang out on the edge. Lean in the direction of change and know it’s the only way, for me, to begin to turn loss into something else. Wheel

Talking about the p-word

In the wake of the grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown, I find myself very much at a loss for words. I’m not surprised by the decision, but I had hoped that the jurors would make a different choice. As the testimony and evidence are made public and we see how the prosecutor elected to present the evidence to the grand jury, I am even more angry. This post isn’t really about the killing of Michael Brown, and it’s not about the grand jury’s decision either, but those events provide the context for where I’m coming from today.

I’ve seen a lot of conversation lately about privilege in general, and white privilege in particular. Certainly this isn’t a new topic of discussion, and it’s also not surprising that it would be discussed more openly now. I think that’s a good thing, because it’s incredibly valuable to examine our understanding of how the world works through the lens of that privilege. My experience of the world is, to an immense degree, shaped by things outside of my control. And it’s not just my experience of the world – it’s my understanding of how the world works. My story of What Is isn’t objective. It can’t be, because my world is a product of where I am, who I am surrounded by, what resources I have, what I look like, who I’m attracted to…any number of things.

And, of course, my choices and my actions do play a significant role in my experience of the world, too. To be clear, I have never met a person who would argue that personal choice and action aren’t important and that they don’t shape one’s experience. The point is, they don’t tell the whole story. There are a huge number of variables that built the weight and momentum of my life before I made a single conscious choice. To argue that those variables simply don’t matter is hopelessly naive at best.

Look, I’m a white man in America. I’m functionally heterosexual. I’m married. My family struggled financially when I was a kid, but I never worried about being able to eat. These days, I’m solidly middle class. I own my home (well, I actually own an almost imperceptible percentage of my home, but you see my point.) I have been fond of saying, of late, that I am very bullish on the future of white males in America.

Now, do these facts about me tell the whole story of who I am? Of course they don’t. But they lead to a number of assumptions that I can make about the world – about MY world.

  • In my world, race doesn’t really matter a whole lot, because I am the sum of my actions, not my background.
  • In my world, gender doesn’t matter much either, because there are basically no jobs where someone like me would seem out of place.
  • In my world, there are jobs to be had if you look hard enough. Unemployment is a temporary thing – scary, sure, but not a permanent state of being.
  • In my world, most people look like me and speak my preferred language, and when I’m in a situation where they don’t, it stands out as being a notable experience.
  • In my world, the police will show up pretty quickly if I call 911.
  • In my world, the experience of being photographed and fingerprinted is the precursor to starting a new job.
  • In my world, the neighborhood I live in is a choice I get to make.
  • In my world, it’s silly to worry about being harassed when walking down the street. Sure, it’s POSSIBLE that someone will approach me with an unwanted sexual advance, but if it happens it will be so completely out of the ordinary that I’ll be talking about it for weeks.

The vast majority of these truths about my world don’t have a whole lot to do with ME as an individual. They have a lot to do with what I look like, where I come from, what gender I am, what resources I have access to.

A lot of folks are expressing what I think is best described as “privilege fatigue.” The argument, essentially, goes like this: “It’s unfair to reduce me to nothing but these facts about me. I’m an individual, not a collection of these characteristics. Aren’t these generalizations what we’re supposed to be getting away from? And besides, there are OTHER things about me that work against me, so it’s not quite as simple as you’re making it out to be.”

And you know, I can see part of that argument, particularly the last bit. I mentioned a number of advantages before, but there are a few things on the other side of the ledger, too. For one, I’m of below-average height. That makes a difference in how I’m seen and treated in the world. For another, while I’m married, I’m not monogamous. That makes a lot of things more complicated, and not just in my personal life. And as far as religion is concerned, I identify as Pagan, or at least Pagan-leaning agnostic. That’s a pretty invisible place to be, and there are a lot of advantages that people who identify with a religion that is more culturally recognized have. So for sure, I resonate with the idea that it’s not as simple as “White, straight dudes have it made.” But surely we can agree that white, straight dudes MOSTLY have it made, right? Life’s a lot easier for me in the here and now because of that status. I’m accorded the benefit of the doubt in ways that are so pervasive that I have to actively look for them in order to see them at all. And while there are a few ways in which I come from a less privileged position, those are largely not visible unless I choose for them to be. My relationship orientation, my religion, my politics…all of these can be kept as close to the vest as I like. And because I’m a white, straight dude in America, I can choose to be a little more free with those other aspects of who I am without worrying too much – precisely because I have the weight of all of that other privilege.

Think about that for a moment. I have sufficient comfort and advantage that I can actively choose to make my life harder, and it doesn’t really matter.

As far as the other parts of the privilege fatigue argument are concerned…well, sure. We’re “supposed to be” beyond making generalizations about people based on certain characteristics. But let’s not kid ourselves here – I’m not being victimized by these generalizations that are made about me. I’m…inconvenienced by them. I find them annoying. Tedious. They make me decidedly uncomfortable. In other words, I think it’s safe to say “boo fucking hoo.” The day that the sort of discomfort that I experience is in the top, like, 500 things that are wrong in our society, then I’ll accept that argument. Until then, I think I’ll shut the fuck up about how I wish people would engage with me as the unique individual I am.

As is pretty obvious, I am in no way a race or class scholar. I’m nothing close to an expert in any of the issues that are the foundation of these issues. I don’t have the first goddamn clue how to make some of those truths about my world that I mentioned above into things that everyone can assume to be true in their world, too. What I CAN do, for starters, is acknowledge that the world my experiences have led me to believe in is true for ME, but it’s not true for many other people. I can seek out more of my unexamined truths and shed some light on the potentially harmful assumptions that are underneath them. And most of all, I can listen more carefully, learn from others, and accept that the discomfort I feel doesn’t harm me.

On gratitude and space pirates

In about three hours, I will pretend to be a space pirate with a group of strangers. Tomorrow, another group of strangers and I will dare to ask the question: What if the United Nations was attacked by axe-juggling clowns in the midst of a diplomatic crisis? It will be the culmination of some of the hardest personal work I’ve done in quite some time.

 

This is one of those stories that probably suffers from context, but somehow it seems necessary anyway, so…here goes.

 

A few weeks back, a group of friends and family decided that I ought to take a trip to one of the nerdiest events on the planet, GenCon (it’s a gaming convention – role-playing games, board games, that sort of thing). I’ve been a number of times, but not for the past 3 years or so. Money has been tighter than usual this year for a few different reasons, so I wasn’t going to be able to make it. The aforementioned friends and family had other plans, though, and contributed to what I am calling the “Jason Is A Giant Nerd Foundation,” collecting enough (way more than enough, in fact) money for me to be able to take the time off of work and run off to the glamorous city of Indianapolis for 4 days. It’s seriously just about the nicest thing that’s ever been done for me, and the fact that it came from a whole group of people? For me, it’s like that moment at the end of It’s A Wonderful Life, minus the singing.

 

I promised above, though, that there was some personal work buried in this story. Here’s the thing…when I was asked if I would be willing to accept help in making this trip, I sincerely, desperately wanted to say no. Not out of a feeling that I didn’t deserve to do something fun, or out of a sense that it was too frivilous a thing for people to do for me, but because I knew that if it actually came together (something that I was in no way confident about), I would feel intensely…something. Intense emotions are not new to me, of course, but over the past couple of years, I’ve found myself increasingly risk-averse. I don’t mind feeling something intensely, but an unpredictable feeling…now that’s something that I’ve been trying to avoid, and as such I have sacrificed surprise on the altar of getting by (a trade which, honestly, might be necessary sometimes, but really sucks when it’s made all the time). I don’t know if it’s a product of aging or a response to how the last couple of years have gone or a combination of the two, but that risk aversion nearly cost a couple of things. One, the aforementioned opportunity to make believe that I’m a space pirate. And two, the opportunity for my friends to do something good and generous. So this morning as I look at my finally-finished stack of thank you cards to send out, I’m reminding myself that a gift is a good thing for all parties involved, and that sometimes the unpredictable thing is exactly what I need.

The definition of a "good problem": Having a whole damn lot of thank-you cards to write.
The definition of a “good problem”: Having a whole damn lot of thank-you cards to write.

Inigo Montoya would not agree

But I kind of like this line. It’s from a new book (released on Tuesday!) that I’m pretty geeked about. The Chicago library has exactly one copy on order, and I’m at the top of the list to get it.

He liked waiting, though. There was a holiness to it. Waiting was admitting that yes, you had done everything in your humble power – ate, dressed, packed, fed, raked, tied, bridled, and saddled – and entrusting the rest to God. 

 

 

Arianne “Tex” Thompson, One Night in Sixes

Where interesting projects arrive, sometimes for mere moments