Major Arcana of Scotland

It’s a Thursday. I pull the Tower tarot card. A tower, struck by lightning, collapses. Cats fall out to their potential deaths. (The characters in my tarot cards are all cats). They meow, on their way down, Expect the unexpected

That morning, I’d applied for a month-long job in Scotland. A month in cold, rainy autumn Glasgow for the United Nations climate conference. 

I felt a shift, a world splitting into two futures. In one, I would enjoy a relaxing autumn in DC, watching the trees turn from our eighth-floor windows, finishing a draft of my second novel, baking bread, seeing friends, feeling overall healthy and well-rested. In the other future, I would go to Europe. 

Lately I've been reading tarot every morning. Just one card. I read tarot to read my future. I don't believe in the clairvoyance of these cards. I do believe in tarot as a mirror. Whatever problem you're thinking about, tarot provides a new lens through which to look at it.

The next morning I pulled the Five of Wands. Conflict, conflict. A cat holds too many wands for his arms to carry. These wands are meant for battle. He needs to let them go. 

I wrestled with these two futures. They each gripped me by the arm — and Europe was pulling more strongly. I tried to focus on writing, on DC, on not letting myself get carried away by the drug of excitement.

Four of Swords. Exhaustion. Burnout. I was too worked up. I needed to rest. 

My two potential futures corresponded with the two major vocations in my life. Fiction writing vs. climate change advocacy. It’s almost been a year since I quit my climate advocacy job to focus on writing. Yet the climate advocacy has crept back in bit by bit. Then here I was, contemplating foregoing writing for a whole month to throw myself into a job. 

The Tower card, again. 

Typical interpretations of the Tower card beg the reader to consider: have you built your life on an unstable foundation? Are you living a lie? But I reject this interpretation. In every Tower card I’ve seen, the foundation stays upright. The top of the Tower is struck by lightning and bursts into flames, yes. But only the apex is destroyed. 

Ten years ago, I went to the United Nations climate conference in Cancun. I had a panic attack on the way there, on the plane. It was one of the worst I’d ever had. As the plane started moving, I wanted to get off. We hadn’t lifted up yet, and suddenly I realized this would be my last chance to leave. The tarmac rumbled but we were still on the ground and I felt I needed to stay on that ground. But I didn’t move an inch. My eyes were opened wide but I was silent, still, suffering. I’ve never been able to describe panic attacks other than to say it’s pure, unfiltered suffering. But thinking about it now, another way is to say that panic attacks are what happen when your mind splits off from reality, pulled into obsessive and terrifying futures that don't exist. The best tips to overcome anxiety are exercises to focus on the present. Squeeze your hands. Feel the floor. Take a deep breath. Read a tarot card.

When the plane lifted up, my friend asked me to play hangman. I agreed. I felt the pen in my hands and we laughed at our stupid jokes. We made it through the clouds. My panic subsided. 

Ten years later — but wait. No. Those ten years mattered. I saw therapists and read anxiety self-help books. And I kept working on climate change. I worked for ten years in the climate world, building my career, getting to a place where I would be able to apply for a last-minute whirlwind job in Scotland and feel like I really could get it. Professionally, I’m building on a strong foundation, client by client, brick by brick. 

In my writing life, I’m still at the beginning. I’m trying to enjoy that for its own sake. Even if I’m many years away from getting a book published… I’m on my way there. My future is in the present. In this sense, tarot is clairvoyant. Every morning I get up to write, I’m building another layer in my writing tower, I'm creating my new future. 

But, yeah, this tower can wait a month. Because I’m going to Scotland :) 

-Denise


Elephant of the week: photobombing my Scotland rain gear photoshoot