January 11, 2017

Queen of Cups Issue Thirty-Five (Shuly Xóchitl Cawood and Seven of Cups)

Firebird Princess, Costume Illustration for Russian Ballet, Leon Bakst, 1910

Welcome to Queen of Cups Issue Thirty-Five featuring Shuly Xóchitl Cawood and Seven of Cups. We all must be feeling very emotional lately because I keep pulling Cups cards. This week's card isn't easy to nail down and will require some audience participation, but that's the fun part. So, before you dive into the reading, take a good look at the card and note your first impressions. I'll ask you to do this again below, but I also recount my thoughts and feelings on encountering the card, and I want you to gather your own before you read mine. Seven of Cups is one of those cards whose general and 'artsy' readings differ a bit, at least as I see it. It's not a bad practice to look closely at each week's tarot card and note how it makes you feel before embarking on the reading. Each of us is really her (or his) own expert with the tarot. Some cards, like Seven of Cups, inspire many different readings, so your own responses to the card will determine how it's speaking to you in any given moment.  
After looking at this week's artwork for several days, I've decided I want one of those dresses! But I'd like the sketched flames to be done in red glass beadwork and embroidery, please, radiating out from the shoulders to the waist like stiff rays of sun. I imagine the dress, as it appears, to be heavy with beads and thick shimmering lapis lazuli embroidery thread. I'm not sure how anyone danced ballet in such a costume. When I wear it, I'll pick flowers and think. 

Tarot Card of the Week: Seven of Cups

Seven of Cups:  This is one of the cards in the tarot that seems to inspire a 'choose your own adventure' approach. In his Pictorial Key to the Tarot, A E Waite (of the Rider-Waite tarot deck) described the image this way: "Strange chalices of vision, but the images are more especially those of the fantastic spirit. Divinatory Meanings: Fairy favours, images of reflection, sentiment, imagination, things seen in the glass of contemplation; some attainment in these degrees, but nothing permanent or substantial is suggested." Of course, illustrator Pamela Colman Smith created the image and invested the card with her own ideas. Some say her depiction of the seven cups represents alchemy or the deadly sins. It would be a stretch to assign each of these images to a deadly sin. For instance, the tower, laurel wreath and jewels all seem to cover similar ground. Seven of Cups is a great opportunity to give yourself a personal tarot reading. Remembering, in the back of your mind, that Cups deal with all things emotional: love, hate, happiness, sorrow, desires, intuition, etc., examine the image on the card and jot down your first impressions, stream-of-consciousness style. What jumps out at you? Which cup is the most compelling, repellent? What do you think of the shadow-figure? How does the array of items make you feel? This card is one of those instances where two people could have two very different Seven of Cups readings. Disclaimer: I've never liked the visuals of this card. I find the image brash, busy, and haphazard. When I first saw the card, I imagined the figure as a game show host, the cups holding prizes. Something like Wheel of Fortune, flashy and fake. The items in the cups seemed fabricated to excite, shock, dismay, to manipulate the emotions, and that rubbed me the wrong way. But, those feelings the card evokes in me are actually a very accurate reading, for me. For one thing, this is a Cups card intended to signify, and perhaps incite, emotional response. The cups and their contents are on a cloud indicating that they may not be 'solid' and trustworthy. These strange objects or visions may vanish just as quickly as they materialized. Most readings for this card describe the figure as surprised, his arm thrown out to the side, his body off center. The object in the top middle is said to be a shrouded figure (mystery prize: a car!) but I've always thought it looks like a mushroom. There are also two 'hidden' images on the center front row cups. The cup containing the laurel wreath appears to have a skull on the front, and the one containing jewels sports a woman's face. Both images could be viewed as mere etchings on the cups, so there's an element of the rorschach test at play, lending credence to the idea that each of us will see, and feel, something different when viewing Seven of Cups. Some say the card symbolizes too many choices, perhaps illusory riches that are too good to be true. There's no denying that there's something up when a Cups card depicts materiality in such an overt way. It's clear that the objects on display have a great emotional pull for the figure and are meant to signify this for the seeker. Some readings contextualize this as 'choice', plenty, a loose approach as opposed to strict order and rigidity. For a seeker who has suffered the lack of creature comforts in life this card will look drastically different than it does for a person with clutter issues. Similarly, if you're feeling overwhelmed with choices, responsibilities, or keeping up appearances, this card will speak to you in a specific way. You can view the objects as representing virtues (beauty, spirituality, knowledge, wealth, honor, power) or vices (temptation, greed, materiality). They're two sides of the same coin really. When one is always hungering and grasping for beauty, knowledge, success, and honor, the pursuit of those virtues becomes a vice. So, perhaps Seven of Cups is a cautionary tale about excess and attachment. But it may just as well be a card about good things finally coming to you, choice and abundance. Yet again, it could be a card that measures how worthy or unworthy you feel to possess riches of all kinds. The fact that the figure on the card is a silhouette with his back to us is intentional. Each of us becomes that figure standing before the panoply of objects. How do you react? What will you do? Choose your own adventure!

Seven of Cups for Writers and Artists: The muse has served up seven fully-formed (or nearly) ideas for the taking, "strange chalices of vision, fairy favours" in Waite's words. As artists and writers we're aware that there's no following seven ideas simultaneously; two, maybe three tops, but not seven! Still, this generative abundance has appeared out of nowhere, materialized from the ether, just for you. You're taken aback, a little overwhelmed. It's not a bad situation to be in, but the feeling of creative overwhelm can lead to paralysis. Too many choices, too many possibilities and avenues to explore.  As the figure on the card, you're not sure what to make of the abundance. Each motif is rich in possibility, has potential and could be explored to its natural end. If you find yourself in this enviable predicament, grab a pen and paper or create a new document and get the ideas down fast. Sometimes one or two words are enough to jog your memory later (If you're a visual artist, rough sketches might suffice). Other ideas may be more developed and warrant bullet lists or a paragraph summary. It's likely that these 'fairy favours' won't all be ideas for physical pieces of art. Some of them could be possible creative business ventures, potential workshops or collaborations. Maybe some won't have to do with your life as an artist at all because when ideas flood in like this, they're just as likely to be about reorganizing your space, creating a new dessert, or decorating your kids' bedroom, as they are about your next play or painting. But it's important to honor and celebrate the effortless exchange that's taking place between your conscious and subconscious minds. You know what the opposite feels like, I call it 'heavy lifting', when creative thinking is all work, uphill, in the heat, with horseflies going round and round your head. The only challenge for the creative when presented with Seven of Cups abundance is to stay centered, don't rush, restrict your creative task to brainstorming on the ideas rising up, nothing more. I don't think this part of the creative process is discussed much among artists. We talk about writing a poem in one sitting in a kind of feverish, muse-inspired rush, how it seemed to arrive out of nowhere and had to be written at that moment. But we rarely discuss what to do when many ideas come at us all at once, how to capture the essence for later, how to take an orderly approach to following fruitful ideas half way and then making a date for another day. As artists and writers, we're often told to make ourselves available to the muse, drop everything when inspiration strikes. There are stories of novelists waking in the middle of the night to capture dialogue seemingly whispered into their ears. The less romantic reality of artist as her own best secretary isn't the stuff of myth. But I'd wager that the artist who's capable of compartmentalizing, of making order out of creative chaos, of keeping lists, documents and folders for ideas, of being healthily organized, is the artist who doesn't have to sit around waiting for lightning to strike. She has her own storehouse of prompts, her own Writing Down the Bones, or personal creative workshop ready for a rainy day. This is what the creative life looks like in action. Besides making time to actually create, allowing ourselves to be conduits for ideas is essential. Taking each idea seriously enough to write it down will ensure that when these 'strange chalices of vision' disappear they'll be replenished by others. The fairies have deemed you worthy.

Introducing Shuly Xóchitl Cawood

Designed by fire
“This natural habitat garden is burned yearly to stimulate processes which are part of the endangered longleaf pine ecosystem. Fire plays an important part in promoting the growth of a high diversity of plants here and in the real pine savannas of the state." 
From the NC Botanical Garden on its Coastal Plain and Sandhills Habitats

We stand still before the pine savanna
From this once-ignited tract,
pitcher plants, butterwort and sundew
spring up in the clearing they tag,
“designed by fire.” Pine cones release seed,
making new from flame.
Earlier, we sat on rock
over Meeting-of-the-Waters Creek.
Our feet dangled,
but never touched the cool
below as we talked about our future,
what can grow
in this space
where our failed marriages have cracked
and sizzled our courage and beliefs.
We flung words—I don’t know if
and we might never
be able to
like smoldering brush
at each other
and they stung.
And now—where I could only see our blackened spirits—there is this:
the small pine trees waving back and forth,
defying me.

Her rules, such barbed-wire fences, keeping in and keeping out: If a man comes on too strong, his interest will run out of gas and Lead with logic over that unreliable, tinkering heart. So although she said yes when he asked her to go hiking and then to lunch—and they did go, in his red Mustang, which he drove with gusto—it was later, maybe a week or two, that she said no: no to the light dappling through the trees like gold rain on their faces; no to the creek that narrowed and widened like a lung taking in breath; no to the steep limestone-scattered hill they climbed together. She said no to the lunch he made her in his kitchen: baked chicken, rye bread, pickled beets, each one requiring more patience and planning than the next. She said no to the couch he’d plucked of cat hair for her, no to flowers cut from his garden, their open yellow faces. She said no to how his whole face lit up when he looked at her. It looked too much like an answer. If she said no, there would be no leaving. There would be nowhere left to go.

Some loves

He was baseball games and Monty Python
movies, summer stock theater and practical jokes.
I was oversized sweatshirts and big dreams.
He was jeans rolled at the cuffs, mixed tapes
for all my trips; he was man but still boy, future before
present. I was warm and cold, keep me let me go.
He was Michigan and leaving. I was all Ohio.
He was soybean fields and brown bag lunches. He was
holding hands across the table. He was bicycles and rain
jackets, hard work and hot nights. I was red shoes,
two jobs, and one green futon where he slept too long, too late.
He was stay with me in Columbus but I’m not asking.
I was get up early. I was gone to Mexico.
He was backpacks and hammocks on beaches; he was wrinkled
maps and mouthfuls of Spanish. He was rice maker
and painter’s pants. I was new brown boots and running
shoes, wedding bands and can I go with you. He was help
the hard up and let’s talk about it later. I was please
and he was always
                                    and then never.
Shuly Xóchitl Cawood holds an MFA from Queens University. Her memoir, The Going and Goodbye, will be published by Platypus Press in spring 2017. Cawood’s creative writing has been published in The Rumpus, Zone 3, and The Louisville Review, among others. She is the recipient of the 2014 Betty Gabehart Prize. You can read more about Cawood’s work at www.shulycawood.com

Weekly Writing Prompt: Create a dialogue or construct a storyline using two or more of the Seven of Cups visions/motifs/symbols. Remember to work with the motifs in a way that feels right for you. The laurel wreath may signify victory and honor, but could be transformed into a wreath of bay leaves dried by a young Italian immigrant and kept in her tiny kitchen apartment in Canada for the smell of home. The laurel wreath transformed to a bay wreath may still signify victory and honor in some way, may become a motif in your own story. Writers have used the tarot to construct and develop plot, generate conflict and create characters possibly for as long as tarot decks have been in existence. John Steinbeck reputedly used the tarot for inspiration; novelist Italo Calvino called the tarot "a machine for writing stories." 

Next Week: Megan Grumbling