I am a tarot reader. I'm always wary of whether to mention this to people, because there is a certain stigma associated with engaging in the metaphysical in a world that is often divided into science versus religion, with both camps looking down on things that fall more into the witchcraft/New Age-y side of things. But tarot is less about predicting the unpredictable future and more about connecting with and defining the forces that are already at work within us. Personally, I like to use tarot readings to organize my thoughts and figure out how I feel about a situation and what I might be overlooking or avoiding. In my work with the tarot, I have run across something called "birth cards", a sort of crossroads between tarot and numerology. The concept is simple - you add up the numbers in your birth date to find two cards in the Major Arcana, or titled cards. These cards are supposed to represent the forces that affect us over and over again throughout our lives, a constant in a continuously changing world.
My birth cards are Death (XIII) and The Emperor (IV). The Death card has always made sense to me. It rarely refers to actual physical death but rather to the concepts of change, transition, and rebirth, forces which have always been present in my life. Though I am a creature of habit, I crave change and work constantly to ensure that I am not stagnating, that my life, both internally and externally, is shifting and evolving and that I am using all new information that I receive to transform myself into a bigger, better, more efficient version. I'm like an app that is always being updated, fixing the bugs and tweaking the layout and the functionality. Change? Yeah, it scares the hell out of me, but eventually I will roll up my sleeves and dive in headfirst, riding it out to its inevitable conclusion.
But The Emperor... that stumped me. Frustrated me, even. How could I, someone who identified far more strongly with the creative and free-spirited nature of the Empress card, be associated with something so rigid and structured? Because that's what The Emperor represents: structure, authority, rules. Basically, everything that I had struggled with growing up. As far as I was concerned, structure was the rigid homework schedule that I couldn't keep up with in school; the college whose strict rules and lack of personal support left me drifting, fighting to stay afloat much less succeed; the conveyer-belt system of school to college to career that I, struggling with anxiety, ADHD, and depression, had failed so miserably at. The very idea of a rigid structure after that experience made my insides shrivel up with shame, guilt, and disgust. Structure and rules? They were the enemy, the reminder of how other people seemed to sail by effortlessly while I floundered. This was my birth card? Surely you must be mistaken.
From time to time, I tried to come up with a structure of my own. After reading, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life by Twyla Tharp (a Christmas gift from my mother when I was 20), I tried setting up a morning routine and a creative practice. But without a clear picture of what I was trying to create or why I needed it, I always wound up relapsing, drifting aimlessly from one day to the next, exercising my creativity in small ways when I felt it nudging me but certainly not developing anything that one could call a "habit" or a routine. I'd get up early before work to write in my journal on a daily basis only to oversleep one day and decide maybe it wasn't worth it after all. Those extra 15 minutes of sleep were just so much more important, you see, and if I felt unproductive, well, what was writing in a notebook that only I would read doing for me anyway? Better to write when I felt inspired and let myself off the hook when I didn't. Sure, I'd read that inspiration is fleeting, and that successful writers practice their craft every day even if all they write is "I don't know what to write", but I didn't even know whether I wanted to BE a writer, did I? I wanted to act, but who has time for auditions, and why would anyone want to hire someone who had taken a break from the stage for so long anyway?
I wish I could say I that one day I had an epiphany, but that is patently untrue. I did, however, make a series of small changes. I moved out of the town that was stifling me. I invested in meeting new people in New York and eventually fell in with some fellow creative types. I got a job with regular hours that, while is not necessarily more fulfilling than the restaurant and retail work I was doing before, at least comes with a steady paycheck and the same hours every week. I auditioned for a few things and experienced both acceptance and rejection. I discovered stage combat and realized that maybe I, too, could be a badass warrior someday. I talked books and good/bad adaptations with literary friends and rekindled my interest in working on some adaptations of my own. I discovered that reading tarot in the mornings left me in a much better mood than if I hurried from bed to shower to work with no moment to center and calm myself before facing the world and made a habit of blocking out enough time to throw down a few cards over a cup of tea. I began writing during my morning commute, utilizing the 40+ minutes I spend underground and, thus, not distracted by things like social media, to produce something constructive rather than wasting it away playing iPhone games (okay, sometimes I still play games. But nobody's perfect). Little by little, I built something resembling...gasp, could it be a routine? A STRUCTURE?
Like the Dixie Chicks song says, I am "taking the long way round". It's not something I am necessarily proud of or even what works best for me. But, like everyone else, I'm muddling through my life one day at a time, learning about myself in bits and pieces and figuring out how to function in this messed up, complicated, and frustrating world. Every day that I struggled, every time I gave in to bad habits and felt badly about it, that was one more piece in the puzzle of my identity, one more moment which taught me something about myself. As the picture forms, I can now see where The Emperor fits into my life. It's not something that I am perfect at yet; I certainly still have days (more than I would like) when I fail to follow my routine and the structure I have set up for myself, where I give in to procrastination and Netflix binge-watching instead of sitting down and doing something productive, but I'm learning to forgive myself and to see it as a minor setback rather than a huge failing on my part. After all, it's a learning curve, and every day, every hour, gives us the opportunity for a fresh start.
I am happy to say I see the value, the appeal even, of The Emperor's rules and schedules now. They don't have to be the ones that are enforced on me by others, but it is easier to make something out of the amorphous swirling of creative inspiration when you have a form to mold it around or a plan to follow. I am beginning to understand the lesson it wants me to learn, that I can still be creative and follow the beat of my own drum but that I will be much more effective if I can channel those urges into something solid and real. Things like setting up a website and actively pursuing connections instead of flitting around hoping opportunities will fall on my doorstep. In the words of the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett, "If you trust in yourself... and believe in your dreams... and follow your star... you'll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren't so lazy." I can acknowledge the very real difficulties I have had in the past and the reasons I struggled while still working my butt off to do more in the future. Because I deserve better than that, and the only person who can ensure that I get it is me. So here's to life's lessons. May we all learn from them.