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Night Draws In

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book-cover-draft1Queer Seer, Brain Injured Changeling, Skeptical Mage.

Yeah, they’ll save us.

 

 

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The Fool

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A Tarot deck usually has 78 cards. Four suits number from 1-10, with four court cards each. These are called the Minor Arcana. The remaining cards are the Major Arcana.

When I teach Tarot, I like to begin with the Major Arcana. The following descriptions are my own understanding of the cards both from thirty years of study, countless decks I have used, and thirty years of experience. They may strike you as wildly different from other interpretations of the symbols, especially the more codified “Official Meanings”. I’m happy to debate or discuss differing interpretations. YMMV, as they say.

the-fool

The first card is The Fool. Numbered as zero, it represents beginnings.

The Fool doesn’t refer to someone foolish, although it might seem so to an observer. Rather the Fool embodies the concept of the Beginner’s mind.

The Beginner is unrepentantly optimistic, enthusiastic and cheerful. They have a firm belief in their own ability to understand, learn or be anything. This is the newbie enthusiasm that is either annoying or exhilarating. The endless questions: the “Look at this!”, “Show me!” and “Why?” of the child.

Here, I depict the Fool as a child who begins her journey today (although we only assume it is a girl because of the way she dresses. Otherwise, she is the androgynous and archetypal Child). She takes nothing with her and her eyes are fixed on the far distance. We don’t know where she is going, but her determined stride evokes self-confidence

She steps off the firm ground to cross the water, seemingly convinced that it will hold her weight.The white dog, sometimes thought to symbolize the Fool’s sense of caution, looks on in concern. Perhaps he wishes his mistress would choose a safer footing.

In this card, I try to unify the four traditional elements as understood in the 20th Century European and North American esoteric/magical traditions.

In the distance sit the ruins of a castle, half buried in shifting sand. However, it is not sand, but clouds that hold the castle up, symbolizing Air, the element of the intellect. The castle represents  education and training. The facts, attitudes and ideas that we all enter the adult world with. It is only through experience that one discovers which of these “hold up.”

Water is in the foreground. Beyond the Fool, dolphins cavort; but look more closely and you see the creatures are some sort of construct, embodying the creativity of the artisan and machinist.

The mountains in the far distance represent Earth. The Fool trusts that worry about the things traditionally represented by Earth such as food, clothing and shelter, is also distant. For now, they are content to take what the Universe provides.

Above all rides the hot, blue and white midday/midsummer sun. Fire is the element of passion and it is passion that starts the Fool on their journey.

Every card can be read either upright or reversed. Reversals, in my mind, have always represented the dark side of the thing.  The dark side of the Fool is arrogance. The peculiar kind of “that can’t be so hard” arrogance that the intelligent and educated are especially prone to.

As human beings, we have a tendency to overestimate our own abilities. Especially, when we’re just starting out. That lack of humility causes frustration when we inevitably fail.

Reversed, the Fool can be said to be a person who judges talent and ability as fixed quantities. Failure becomes a reflection of their character rather than a learning experience. This is the student who has been taught that grades are an end unto themselves (meaning just about all of us) or the coworker in the meeting who is far more concerned with looking intelligent rather than contributing intelligently.

Since the Fool also represents the beginner’s humility, I’ve often read the Fool reversed as imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome tends to manifest in two forms: the first is the familiar “I’m not as smart as they think I am” and the second is the inability to take credit where credit is due. Women are especially prone to this.

Imposter syndrome does not read as humility but rather its own form of arrogance. To answer the compliment on a difficult task with, “Oh, it was nothing. Anyone could have done it,”  is rude. The  one who offered the compliment often feels embarrassed to have said anything at all. After all, if it was that easy, then the person offering the compliment is inadequate . The interaction leaves both feeling unsatisfied by what should have been a cordial exchange of esteem.

Reversed or upright, the cards of the Major Arcana represent the archetypal Hero’s Journey. Thus, the Fool is the state in which the seeker, the protagonist, the Chosen One begins. They  have heeded the call to adventure and they set out to make their fortune in the world. Knowing nothing,  their first task is to acquire a mentor. Generally,  in mythic stories, the mentor comes in the form of the next card: The Magician.

 

Paganaidd’s Tarot

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I’ve been reading Tarot cards since about 1986. I taught myself as a teenager, and its one of those constants in my life. After so long, just picking up the cards and shuffling them wakes up the more intuitive side of my brain.

the-foolDo they foretell the future? That would depend on one’s own beliefs. For me, they are a tool for insight. They help me see patterns in people’s behavior, and I’m a pretty empathetic individual. I’ve worked as a professional psychic and, mostly, clients come to me for the same reason one might go to a therapist. They want to talk to an understanding ear.

I’ve done human service work my entire adult life and this is just another facet. In the last few years, I’ve moved on from “psychic” to “chaplain”.

From time to time, something truly weird happens. I just file it under “weird shit” and go on with my life.

These days, I use the card as a way to access the right side of my brain, and sometimes as a writing/storytelling prompt. death

 

Creating a custom Tarot Deck is one of those projects that has been in my head for years, and I just never found time for it. I have ADD (inattentive type) so I always have too many projects going on. I started working on this to shake out some of my writer’s block, and now I have that ADD over-focus thing going on.

I’ve long since learned not to fight it. I thought I would post them here, along with my interpretations of each card.

They are a work in progress and are subject to change in the final product–I do intend to make them available for sale.

I’m going to be using the basic Rider-Waithe-devilte symbolism with my own 21st Century spin. I own full legal rights to the images within each card, or they are used with permission.

Paganaidd’s Tarot by Ceredwyn Alexander is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

On Cultural Appropriation

This is a partial reprint of a post I wrote a few years ago. The full text is here, but it speaks to the controversy over Lionel Shriver’s address on “identity politics” and the greater discussion around cultural appropriation.
I have this name my father gave me, because he loved the Arthurian Legends, and they’d just come to Montreal. He was feeling homesick for Wales, so he gave me an ethnic name. Little realizing the effects it would have on my life.
Every time I meet someone at a (Pagan) festival who’s taken it as a “Craft Name” I want to say, “Look, you didn’t get beaten up on the playground over it, so you can’t fucking use it.”

 

I don’t say that, of course, but the urge is there. Petty? Probably. But all I can remember is that I struggled (perversely at times) to keep some dignity and my name when I was constantly told that if I just let people call me by some diminutive, my life would be easier.

It would also be easier if I pretended not to be so smart, learned to not be a fashion disaster and learned how to tell people apart (I’ve got faceblindness and a slew of other neuro-atypicalities).

So, this is my teeny, tiny experience with cultural appropriation. It is certainly not on the same level as what others experience. But it is the experience I draw upon when I’m trying to explain why cultural appropriation is wrong.

My daughter brought it up yesterday when we were having dinner. We were talking about the politics of hair. Her position is that white people shouldn’t do locked hair because A) unless you have the right hair, they look terrible and B) it is serious cultural appropriation.

The person she was talking to (an older, wealthy white woman) had the position that one should be able to do whatever one wants with one’s hair.

We talked about Celtic hair and how there is such a thing as Celtic locks, but they are different from African locks.

I love the look of locked hair. If I could get mine to do teeny tiny ones, I would love that. However, I can also imagine the African American woman looking at me and thinking, “I am s ubject to unfair treatment in all points of my life get beaten up on the playground for that. You can’t have them.”

 

 And she would be correct. The fact is black women have to fight not to be policed for their hair–and everything else about their lives.
When you have had to fight for something, it hurts to watch someone just walk away without earning it.

Updates

It’s been a busy summer. For those of you who follow my husband’s blog, you will know that we have been having tons of connectivity problems this summer. The connectivity problems are ongoing while we search for a fix.

Alas, I have a hard time getting blog posts up for other reasons. Most of the time its because I don’t feel like I have a whole lot to say. I’m afraid I’m like that in RL too. I can go weeks without talking to anyone outside of my immediate family and just plain not notice. I’m trying to post with a little more regularity.

I released the ebook version of Night Draws In on Amazon. The print edition has been a little delayed. Hopefully by the end of the month I’ll get that all sorted, so I can send out copies to my crowdfund supporters.

The book has received mixed reviews on Goodreads. Some people absolutely love it, some really hate it. It seems to elicit strong feelings. So…an overall score for effective writing?  Perhaps, I am not setting the bad writing bar low enough. Perhaps, I should aim for MST3K-worthy bad writing. An art form all its own.

 

 

 

 

Not “Just Fiction”: Representation Matters

Every so often, when I criticize a work, I get a response of “OMG! It’s JUST a STORY!”. Last week, someone on Twitter told me I needed to learn the difference between reality and fiction (sadly, I was talking about politicians saying silly things in public and I’m pretty sure they’re real).

Yes. It’s just a story and no actual people are harmed in the creation of a work of fiction.  However, the story itself can harm people. Misrepresentation causes direct harm.

Stories are how humans understand and communicate their world. When my husband, Bryan, gives his workshop on Digital Storytelling, he asks the audience, “What is a story?”. There is always a flurry of answers, but when he asks, “What is NOT a story?” the room goes silent.

It is very hard to find any human communication that doesn’t have an element of narrative running through it. Our very identities are held together by something called “narrative memory”. Every time we tell a story, the memory gets re-encoded. That’s one reason (they think) that talk therapy works for dealing with trauma. If you tell the story in a safe situation, to a safe person, the memories might still be strong, but talking about it shifts the emotions to something tolerable. The people at most risk for things like PTSD are those who are unable to share their stories.

If you want to persuade a person, don’t tell them the facts of your argument. When people are confronted with evidence that they are wrong, they tend to dig in their heels and outright dismiss said facts. If you want to persuade someone, tell them a story.

Whether the story is fiction or fact, our brains process the information the same way. We have a filter that picks many elements as “imaginary”, but that is entirely based on our experience in the world and the other narratives we have learned. For instance; by adolescence most kids understand that action movie physics are not real, that helmets are good ideas, that they can’t jump off the roof. But, only because adults TELL THEM STORIES. Often in the form of parental parables that generally include some poor schmo getting hurt/killed by doing some ill advised stunt.

We understand that the monster in the movie isn’t real. But only because our own experience  and other narratives we have read/watched/heard tells us it is so. Nothing in the world is self evident.

This is why representation is so important. As I’ve noted before, sometimes writers do people a grave disservice in their efforts to jack up story tension, get cheap laughs, jerk some tears, or get readers invested in a character by misrepresenting either the character themselves OR the character’s emotions/reactions.

Sometimes this is out of ignorance. Sometimes laziness. Unfortunately, this has real world implications. If we don’t have personal experience with something, we MUST base our conclusions on the narratives we have heard.

There are narrative tropes out there that cause havoc in the lives of real people. Rape victims are often disbelieved because they act differently to what we’ve seen in fiction. So, while we KNOW Game of Thrones or Law and Order:SVU is “just” fiction, if we have never been raped, or talked in depth with many rape victims, our understanding of how rape victims act is shaped by these narratives.

The same goes for disability. There are the “Disability is worse than death” narratives, there are the “Supercrip” narratives, there are the “disabled people make great friends (but never lovers)” narratives. There are damned few narratives that just have a disabled person living their lives like everyone else.

I’ve been very saddened by how JK Rowling has handled her writing about magic in the Americas. Unfortunately, she is reiterating the narrative that the Europeans civilized the savages and taught them to improve their magic. In all likelihood, she is unaware of the accepted belief among historians that the Native American Nations were decimated by disease, not conquered by a superior force.  I’m saddened because one phone call, or even a glance at Wikipedia could have headed the whole controversy off.

I’m also annoyed by the fans crying “It’s JUST fiction!” This, from the fandom who will jump all over people who spell McGonogoll differently than JKR does, don’t know the intricacies of the NHS or have British people eating pancakes for breakfast. But, I digress.

Someone asked me recently why I would bring the “trans* thing” up in my own work when it didn’t “add to the story.” I’m not sure what that means. I bring it up because  I write about people and some people are trans*. Bailey is a lot of things and his gender identity is important to him, however, I don’t think that his gender identity is the only thing he wants to talk about.

I cannot say this enough. It is NEVER “just” a story.

 

North American Magical traditions

Night Draws In is currently available on NetGalley as an advanced reader copy. The reviews have been mixed. A couple of five star reviews and a couple of one star reviews and a couple in between.

The people who really liked it appear to like it for the same reason others DISLIKE it. That’s very interesting. It’s not really an easy story to pigeonhole.

It has magic, but the magic isn’t Harry Potter-esque flash.  There are gentle hints at romance, but its not a story that lends itself to pairings. The monsters are not orcs or trolls, but creatures from modern folklore. Our heroes aren’t standard heroes; the physical/social/mental challenges they come into the story with are complex and not magically fixable. The setting is the contemporary United States–places I’ve lived and places whose history I know something about.

I incorporate a lot of real folklore into my magical system. Black Eyed Children and the Hat Man haunt this first volume. Malevolent creatures that appear human at first glance, but as in the old fairy tales, always have a feature that tells of their true nature.

One of the very important things about these stories to me is that they are American (I am including the entire North American Continent, BTW). If you go with the assumption that magic is a Thing, then American magic is not going to look like any other magical system.  Just the sheer number of modern traditions and folklore guarantees that. To say nothing of the traditions that either existed here before the Europeans arrived, or the beliefs that those who fled their homelands, or who were dragged here in chains were able to preserve. These traditions are evident in any American city if you know where to look. Spiritualists, Kabbalists and Sufis haunt the edges of the Abrahamic religions. First Nation spiritual beliefs are alive and well, as are Hoodoo, Voodoo and Santeria. This is by no means an exhaustive list. In North America, you are just as likely to run into Koschei the Deathless as you are to find a Chupacapra nosing around in your trash.

Updates

 

Night Draws In , both electronic and print, will be released on Amazon on Aug 19. Currently the electronic version is available for pre-order.

If you participated in my Indiegogo campaign, I will be sending them out that day.

The second book in the series is tentatively titled The Dark Quarter. I hope to have it available early in 2017.

I am working on a short story anthology in the same world called The Cracks That Let In Light that I also hope to publish next year.

 

 

Redemocratization of Art

My daughter often laughs at me, because of my dislike for television. Well, it’s not actually my dislike so much as why I dislike it. I think the television was the worst possible thing to happen to art.

I’m 47, so that makes me pretty solidly Generation X. I grew up with television is my babysitter and my friend. It entertained me, educated me and generally kept me company for my first 20 years. It also really stunted my artistic growth.

Television is a very expensive medium. Everything you see on television is the expensive product of professionals. The problem is that when you grow up seeing professionally produced things as the only art, you absorb the idea that only special people create art. There is no room for the amateur.

Then, along came the Internet and in the past 30 years, we’ve seen an explosion of amateur, semiprofessional, and professional art.

The reason for this explosion, I think, is that no matter what level of skill you are,you can find examples of art that are either one step above or one step below your own in terms of that skill. This is important to the learning curve. If all you ever see our the very best examples, your own faltering first steps can be pretty discouraging.

I started writing fanfiction in 2008. Or rather, I started writing it and showing it to people in 2008. I don’t think I would have shown it to anyone, if I hadn’t have been able to go over to fanfiction.net, look at some examples of writing that were just a little bit better than mine.

Even more encouraging, were the fics I could look at and think “oh I can do better than that.” To date I have written six novel length works of fanfiction and two original novels, only one of which I would seriously consider publishing. I would certainly not have done this without the Internet.

I see examples of this all the time. Just go to YouTube. Podcasts have brought back radio dramas and sites like deviant art showcase drawings, paintings etc.

My children have grown up in a world where art is not out of reach.

That One Guy and The Rest of Us

I have joke with my kids about “That One Guy”.

That One Guy (TOG) is the person who the stories that get published seem to be written by and for. This guy is a male, white, of high-average intelligence, able-bodied, straight, neurotypical, middle to upper-middle-class, natural born US citizen. His mom and dad are still together. He started college at 18. He was able to find a job after college. He does not struggle under crippling student debt. He is average in looks (in a good way; meaning he’s actually quite attractive). His BMI is no more than 25 and no less than 18. He is something of a jock, but that doesn’t distract him from his work/school/home life. Probably Christian, but it usually doesn’t come up. Comfortable with his sexuality. Extraverted. Holds a white collar job. Any quirks he has are endearing rather than annoying.

TOG sounds like a great person, but I have never met him. And yet, somehow he has been cast as the norm.

I wanted to write a fantasy series where people like myself and my friends are the protagonists. By that I mean disabled people, people of color, women, poor people, fat people, non neurotypical people, scary smart people, cognitively challenged people, LGBTIAQ people, people with minority religions, rednecks, nerds, etc, etc.

It’s difficult to find stories where the character’s deviation from TOG doesn’t become the story. Even in stories with good female characters (for instance), the story is often “Woman overcomes gender bias to become great hero”. That’s not a bad story, I just wanted MORE story. I wanted an ensemble story where “The Girl” isn’t just a character description. Where the queer person doesn’t come to a bad end. Where the fat person isn’t comedy relief

As with my fanfic, my original stuff comes because I couldn’t find the stories I wanted, so I had to start writing them.

My protagonists all have varying degrees of disability, both visible and invisible. One is a sixteen year old trans-man with precognition, clairvoyance and clinical depression, one is a fourteen year old Changeling (she was stolen by the Fae as a baby) who suffers from (apparently) acquired brain injury, the other is a sixteen year old mage who has ectodermal dysplasia with syndactyly.

I didn’t notice that all my characters were “diverse” until I was talking it over with a friends and some of my beta readers. I never think of my stories as “inclusive” because they merely reflect my experience of the world.