Sunday, July 29, 2012

Adventures In Tarot

Haven't talked about Tarot in a little while, and I thought it might be nice to do so in an actually in-depth way. I just recently came into possession of two new decks: Marie White's Mary-El Tarot and Barbara Moore's Steampunk Tarot. The latter is exactly as goofy and awesome as it sounds, and I actually like it a great deal. It's very indebted to the classic RWS Tarot, making it the most straight-forward deck I've ever owned, so it's nice to do simple readings for a change. Mary-El, meanwhile, is the most breathtaking visual experience I've had yet in Tarot; the cards are gorgeous, each one originally done as an oil painting by Marie White. But it's very very difficult to read, largely because Marie White goes into intense and often flowery descriptions of the veritable clusterfuck of mythological context she put into each and every card - which is FASCINATING, but also makes for an unusually inaccessible deck. It's hard to know what the heck she's talking about sometimes, and what her cards are supposed to mean. She's basically worked out a whole new hierarchy of meanings, blending RWS with the Thoth deck and pulling from just about every spiritual system known to man. I was beginning to get a little frustrated with how hard it was to make heads or tails of her cards, so I decided there was only one way to deal with it, and that was to design my own spread.

I've designed a Tarot spread before, though I've never put anything about it online - it's huge and complex, and I only use it when I need to bring out the big guns. Today I made a much simpler spread, and I like it pretty well, and I decided to share it. I'm calling it, somewhat unimaginatively, the Spiral Spread.

Here is a numbered picture of a trial-run I did with Mary-El, so you can see the layout. Position meanings below.

The positions, which, considering this is a brand new spread, as subject to future adjustments:

1. The Querent's Chief Desire or Problem
2. Other Factors (details needed to understand the situation)
3. Hopes and Fears
4. A Lesson Learned
5. An Obstacle
6. Advice
7. Action
8. The Bridge (what to bear in mind)
9. Outcome

The thing about spreads is, anyone can make them! You just have to know what it is you want to learn from a spread, without getting too specific or crazy. Tarot works best as a nudge in the right direction or just a way to get yourself thinking outside the box, it's not a step-by-step guide to life. I make my own spreads sometimes because I get tired of the traditional layouts, but I've still drawn from position meanings I've seen in various spreads. I just combined them in a different way, which I like better. Let me take you through the positions briefly:

1. Desire/Problem - Pretty straight-forward - this card represents the main question being asked, or the issues at play. It's was the querent most wants, or is having the biggest trouble with.

2. Other Factors - A supplement to position 1, meant to offer further information about the situation, maybe something infuencing the querent or the circumstances.

3. Hopes/Fears - This is a basic traditional position which you'll find in many spreads. The querent's hopes or fears for the future with regard to the situation. Pretty simple, pretty important.

4. A Lesson Learned - This is a thing I've never yet encountered in an existing spread, but I like it. It is meant to represent either something the querent has learned or experienced in the course of their problem, or which they need to learn to get through it. Or I'm sure there's another way to look at it - it's open to interpretation.

5. An Obstacle - Another basic position, it's something keeping the querent from achieving goals or solving problems. 4 and 5 might work in conjunction just like 1 and 2 do - 4 might be the tools needed to overcome the obstacle.

6. Advice - Exactly like it sounds! One of the tricks with this kind of position, I have found, is that you don't always get a good, positive, advice-sounding card. What if you get a really negative card in this position? WELL, don't worry: I usually look at that kind of thing as a reminder to stay vigilant, and not let those negative influences overpower me.

7. Action - A lot of spreads are missing this position, which I think is a pretty important position! I don't want my spreads to be 100% passive observation. I like getting a good shove, too. The action you take, or shouldn't take, of course.

8. The Bridge - This is my favorite position of the spread. I was having trouble getting the design to look suitably like a spiral, when I experimented with turning this card on its side, and it just immediately made sense. This is a bridge connecting 7 and 9, the Action and the Outcome. It isn't always so easy as just doing a thing and then getting a result. You have to remember what you've learned, for example the information from positions 4 and 6. That's what this card is for. This spread has a lot of emphasis on learning lessons and being knowledgeable about what's going on inside your head, and I think that's the most important thing when you're asking for guidance. My hope is that the spread serves to help the reader collect his/her/zir/etc thoughts about the reigning issue, and helps give a little courage if the times are tough. A firm pat on the back or a swift kick in the rear, whichever is appropriate.

9. Outcome - The basic final card of any spread, where you'll be if you continue on the path or alter things as directed. Again: if you get a negative card in this position, I would think of it as a challenge to change that outcome.

So, now let's look at what I got. I wasn't asking a particular question, and it wasn't about me personally - because Mary-El is so heavily steeped in mythology, I decided to look for something I could use to develop the future plot of my novel, Berlin Confidential.

Marie White talks a lot about the collective unconscious with this card, and how her impressions of the Cups suit has shifted from being strictly about relationships to being more about humanity as a whole, which I think is PRETTY INTERESTING, if difficult to apply to one's personal life. You see what I mean? She is very concerned with big sweeping statements and not so much about relating each card to the reader on a personal level. But that's why I'm approaching this from a big mythy perspective. If we look at this spread as having to do with my novel, then yes, a definite Big Issue of the story is the nature of humanity and the way cultural attitudes shift and change. So: an appropriate card for position one.

For the Knight of Disks, we get a story about Siddhartha, growing up sheltered, then being horrified to learn the dirty truth of the world. In this deck more than in any other I've seen, "Disks" are incredibly earthy, concerned with the physical aspects of the world and the universe. As I see it, it can only be about Herr Inspektor, the protagonist of the novel, an ordinary man who is very sheltered in that he believes life and the world to be orderly and simple, until he is confronted by the horrors of this other world, the world of demons and monsters and murderous beasts. It's especially appropriate given the Buddhist background for this card, since Herr Inspektor is very much a middle-of-the-road character, trying to find a solution without going too hard to one extreme or the other.

It's funny - when I saw this card online before buying this deck, I wasn't sure how I felt about it. I thought it was super weird, having a big ol' baboon for the 9 of Cups. But I'm starting to love it. Marie White talks about the baboon as being an aspect of Thoth, who is apparently often represented by a baboon, so-! (someone needs to bone up on her Egyptian mythology). Without going into too much crazy mythology detail, Thoth was basically one of the gods balancing the universe, the other being his wife Ma'at (WHO, interestingly, we also see in this spread) - he seems to have been largely concerned with science, magic, arts, judgment of the dead and being an arbiter between good and evil. She also talks about being in awe of the universe, being able to accept your place within it. That sounds again very Herr Inspektory, and something he struggles with maybe more than anything. So yeah. Onward!

One of faaaaavorite cards, and one of the reasons I decided to get this deck, because LOOK AT IT. The Sun is about exaltation, total self-realization, and unfettered joy. Marie White talks about its place at the conclusion of the Fool's journey (and Herr Inspektor is, of course, our Fool), that he goes through all the experiences of the Major Arcana and comes out with fully realized potential. Difficult to determine what it means here, in this position. It's such a big, final thing for being a lesson that has been learned or needs to be learned - and of course our hero is not very Sunlike! Curious. I shall ruminate.

Here's Ma'at, Thoth's wife. Ma'at is all about the LAW and yes, justice, which is funny because that is exactly what Herr Inspektor is all about. We could see that as an obstacle in that his stubbornness about doing things the "right" way, obeying the sense of order that he knows, is not working out for him, and sort of blinding him to the reality of the situation. This actually could interact with The Sun in an interesting way, like by being so bound to his principles he is not embracing the fullness of his potential. The Sun could also reflect the impact of certain other characters on him. To say more would be to go into too much detail for people who have not been reading, though.

There is an EGREGIOUS grammatical error in the description for this one, and what's worse is it's NOT THE ONLY ONE. I have found several already, and they are all egregious, middle-school-level errors. Here she uses "you're" instead of "your." I am forced to conclude she didn't have an editor for this book, and if she did, SOMEONE DROPPED THE BALL BIG TIME. That along with the general inaccessibility of her interpretations makes it very hard for me to get into this deck, which is a real shame because it's gorgeous and I want it to be my deck forever. BUT ANYWAY.

For this card she talks about Muninn of Odin's two ravens, the one representing Memory. She goes on a big ramble that I can't make heads or tails of, stuff about realizing your potential (a lot of these are about similar huge themes and concepts, which is a problem when you're actually trying to divine distinct meanings from them!), which isn't important because MUNINN, GUYS. For the BC-initiated, Muninn, coupled with the "advice" positioning of this card, is really all you need to know.

This one is interesting. She talks a lot about different Archangels, which is a bit of a yawnfest for me, but the overarching message is one about spiritual guidance and building bridges/connections. Which is .... super weird considering this is the card that leads to the Bridge. Traditionally, Six of Swords is a travel card. Both these meanings - physical and metaphysical travel - are incredibly apt in terms of "action" for basically every character in BC.

Here we have a lamb caught between two lions. Marie White talks about judgment, the path to immortality, balance, self-sacrifice and martyrdom. This is basically perfect in every way.

Marie White is obsessed with relating Wands to sex. I've read so many of them and she just talks about lust and libido and sexual energy. To which I say, all right, but I need more, you need to be more specific, or what is to distinguish between 3 and 4 and all the other Wands? Hmm? Fortunately, I have something to add: for me, the Four of Wands has always represented freedom/escape/transformation, which isn't exactly traditional, but it's the meaning I got from Archeon and it's a meaning I've liked and kept. And I'm keeping it here.

And there you have it. If any curiosity has been aroused, Berlin Confidential is currently on hiatus, which means now would be a grand time to start getting caught up. It's long, but I'd like to think it's worth it.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Fuck The Empire & Other Thoughts About Hollywood

After having a regretful ten minute Netflix experience, I tweeted some thoughts off the cuff and after the fifth one decided to turn those thoughts into a post.

I became really interested in movies when I was thirteen, largely due to the influence of my dad, who was becoming a real movie buff around that time. As the next several years passed, he started working through a lot of old, well-regarded classics, and I grew gradually more willing to see things outside my comfort zone (which was SO NARROW at thirteen, oh my gosh) until we were watching a lot of movies all the time. I discovered new things, like how to identify a 1960s movie by the quality of the film and that Audrey Hepburn is in many ways the best. Eventually we decided to watch the very highly-regarded Hepburn machine Breakfast At Tiffany's, about which we knew very little. I distinctly recall starting it one night and then crapping out very early in the game, though I could not for the life of me remember why. I have come to assume that we became bored and just quit, which was always sort of strange to me, since we surely hadn't given it enough of a chance? That isn't like us.

So now, years later, someone recommends that I give Tiffany's another shot, and I see it's on Netlflix instant, so I started it up again full of open mind. Minutes later, I quit again, probably at the same spot, and I'll TELL YOU WHY. What I had forgotten is that an aged Mickey Rooney appears very early in the movie as "Mr. Yunioshi," Audrey's cranky upstairs neighbor, one of the most disgustingly stereotyped caricatures of a Japanese person I have ever been confronted with. Because you know, Old Hollywood was always casting white people as comedic Asian characters. And here's a thing: I've put up with that before, PLENTY of times. Peter Sellers in Murder By Death, various Monty Python sketches, the appearances in countless old movies that are small and upsetting but easy to brush aside. Sometimes it's played for laughs, and sometimes, ashamedly enough, it makes me laugh, often while peeking through my fingers like oh god, what am I watching.

There's nothing really more offensive about Mickey Rooney's performance than Peter Sellers or Graham Chapman, but somehow this time it was just NOPE. Fuck you, movie. I had a moment where I thought about just pushing it aside, that old justification, "oh it's just Old Hollywood, that's what they did, movies can still be great in spite of the social atrocities of the classic era" - but no! FUCK that noise. I don't want to sit through racist stereotypes that have no purpose other than cheap laughs, and I don't HAVE to! This may not seem very radical, but it depends on your perspective. My approach to movies has always been bound up with a lot of obligation: I appreciate good cinema and I want to make movies, so this is part of my history and art education, and I have to see as many old greats as I can fit into my life. I think a lot of people feel this way. Forgive Hollywood's transgressions because this movie is still a game-changer, a paradigm shifter. But you know what, no matter how much of a movie buff you are, how important movies are to you - there's still places where you can draw a line, and you MUST draw a line. We forgive Hollywood's bullshit all the time. Exercise your right not to forgive.

I remember being basically forced to sit through Birth of a Nation in a college film history class, and that movie had me shaking and crying by the end with how disgusting and horrible it was. Fuck the system that lets us forgive that fucker because it was the First Feature Film, because it did things with the camera that no other movie had done at that time. Fuck D.W. Griffiths. Someone else would have come up with that shit without him, and they probably wouldn't have had to glorify the KKK while doing it.

We can't pretend the various awful chapters in our history didn't happen, and that there isn't still a huge amount of hurt from it, from the insane culturally ingrained racism that led us to things like Birth of a Nation and Mickey Rooney's role in Breakfast At Tiffany's. Those things still stick in us like needles. But let's be crazy for a second: let's say we don't forgive that shit. Let's say we stop with the "it was a different time" bullshit, and if something makes you uncomfortable or angry, don't fucking watch it. I am definitely not the first person to come to this conclusion, but it's probably a point that can never be made too many times.

Breakfast At Tiffany's had its chance, twice. Moving on to something that managed to be old without being gleefully hateful.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Day 30 - Your favorite book of all time

After a great deal of deliberation that has been going on throughout this here meme, I have settled. When I was younger it was Good Omens; then, for a long, devoted time, Catch-22. I still need to reread the latter, which may account for my lessened reverence, but regardless, I just don't remember having a reading experience like this one.

The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco

And the meme begins where it started, haha. I recently realized that I shouldn't even have answered this to the first question, because I didn't read it last year! It was this year, several months ago. So the answer to that first question would have been the His Dark Materials trilogy. But it's okay, because it means now I don't have to write about this book again. You can go back and read that post.

I'll just reiterate that the experience of reading this book was kind of like no other for me, and it was sort of breathtaking and liberating as one who isn't too good at reading books. As much as House of Leaves or The Raw Shark Texts altered my perspective toward what to expect from novels, this book still goes above them in what it did for my readerly self-esteem. It was a joy, and it was satisfying, and it filled me with inspiration and ambition. I don't believe I could ask for any more from a book.

Well, that was fun! Now back to your regularly scheduled increasingly infrequent updates.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Day 29 - A book that everybody hated but you liked

There are a few good candidates for this one, since the list includes Most Everything I Had To Read In School, with some major exceptions where I also hated them. Here, though, is the most notable and surprising example:

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë

There was a trick to this one: I didn't read it in class. Because of the year I spent living in Estonia, I was not able to take the placement exams before entering high school, and didn't manage to get into the AP class until midway through the year. By that time, the class was already deep into Jane Eyre, and hating it vocally and abundantly. It seemed impractical for me to join when they were so far into it, so my teacher had me read Lord of the Flies instead, which everyone else had already done. This was a win on TWO levels, because I really loved Lord of the Flies, whereas my love may had been tempered by classwork... and, it gave me the opportunity about nine years later to finally give Jane Eyre a try.

As you may recall, I have a not-so-good relationship with Jane Austen, who is sort of on a similar playing field with Ms. Brontë, and so I didn't exactly have high hopes for this one. Ironically, the main reason I decided to finally read it was because I thought the most recent movie adaptation looked cool (AND THEN IT KIND OF WASN'T). But! to my immense surprise, I did like it. I didn't love it, but I found it engaging and enjoyable enough. The reason was twofold: first, I liked the creepy gothic horror of the whole setup, and second, I found Jane to be a stronger and more relatable character than any of Austen's brood, and while I continue to find Mr. Rochester pretty deplorable and continue to puzzle over the scores of literary women who find him somehow deeply attractive (seriously, I don't...??? did you miss the part where he is creepy and aggressive), I think Jane holds up well enough for it to be a good read.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Day 28 - Favorite title

I have several. I think there is real art to a well-crafted, meaningful title that roles pleasantly off the tongue and has just the right number of syllables. Good titles are really hard to come up with, and if they sound like poetry and make you feel feelings before you even know what the book is about (which is the basis for a lot of my favorites), well, that is an accomplishment indeed.

Here are some of my favorites, in no order, presented without explanation because more often than not there isn't one. Note that almost all of these are books I haven't read, and in many cases I don't even know what they are about. I feel like once I read a book, the title loses some of its mystery and beauty (especially if I don't like the book itself). I've italicized the ones I have read.

Good-Bye to All That, by Robert Graves
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers
100 Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien
The Way Through Doors, by Jesse Ball
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce
The City & The City, by China Mieville (currently reading)
Man on the Threshold, short story by Jorge Luis Borges*
John Dies at the End, by David Wong
If on a winter's night a traveler, by Italo Calvino
Catch-22, by Joseph Heller

*if I had the time/inclination, I could list a ton of Borges titles, but I'll stick with just this one as it is my favorite (though not, interestingly, one of my favorite of his stories; I don't even remember what it's about!)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Day 27 - The most surprising plot twist or ending

The Raw Shark Texts, by Steven Hall

This book is actually nothing but crazy plot twists. It's a whole pile of THE PLOT (or rather THE CONCEPT) THICKENS, and I remember just sort of constantly being in a state of "WHAAAAAT?"

And that's all I'm gonna say! Man, this question. Even alluding to a surprising twist ending has the potential to ruin it, you know!!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Day 26 - A book that changed your opinion about something

Another hard one. I don't know that a book has ever changed my opinion about anything, not in the way I think this question means. Which is probably another sign that I don't read enough and don't look adventurously enough for books outside my comfort zone. I have a lot of catching up to do. But here's the best thing I can think of:

Twelfth Night, by William Shakespeare

This play changed my opinion about... Shakespeare! Haha. That feels like cheating. But it's true. Prior to this play, I'd only read the standard school curriculum fare, and it wasn't doing much for me. I liked Shakespeare sort of because I knew I had to, but I didn't feel a real fondness until I went to college and read this. This play is FUN and not incredibly difficult to follow for a newbie with the language, and it's got cross-dressing and an arguably gay pirate (totally gay pirate). I remember reading it in my dorm and laughing and suddenly realizing that I was laughing at these jokes written in Shakespeare English, and I was so pleased with myself. And suddenly the floodgates were open: I could appreciate just about any of his plays, and the ones I didn't like after that were just... the ones I didn't like! As opposed to didn't get.

So, thanks Twelfth Night! Someday I'll write a movie sequel to you where the apparent happy ending falls apart very quickly, because that is what would happen.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Day 25 - A character who you can relate to the most

This question is bugging me. I've been letting it sit for hours (literally! hours!) and have not come up with any answer that I like reasonably enough. Is the issue that I am taking this too seriously or that I don't relate to characters deeply enough to just be like "oh that's the one I can relate to the MOST"?? I ... don't know.

I'm going to say Holden Caulfield, because while I don't agree with anything he says and have never really felt the way he feels, I get him. And I love him.

I'll do better on tomorrow's question.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Day 24 - A book that you wish more people would've read

Another weird question in that I have no real way of knowing what books are specifically neglected, and also the phrasing carries a vague implication of "because they would have been better for it" - which, I'm sure I could think of one like that, but I'd rather just go with something that I like that I want more people to know about. And I just haven't met a whole lot of people who've even heard of this book, though I know they're out there. So:

The Raw Shark Texts, by Steven Hall

This book is so baller. One of the best things about it in my opinion are the little snippets of reviews that plaster the inside cover, on this pictured edition anyway. Read them! Read them all! They are great. If I had my copy on me I would quote them for you. Curse my being away from home, again.

But here is why they are all great: almost all of them feel compelled to compare this work to three other things. Some of them choose authors like Borges (YEAHHH), Melville, Kafka, Pynchon, Murakami... is that Douglas Adams I see there on that little picture??? It IS. Weird! I don't remember that being on and furthermore I can't even figure out what that guy is talking about? But okay. Others go after specifics works, like I think maybe Alice in Wonderland makes the list, but mostly it's not so much books as it is MOVIES. Which might be weird and dubious to other people, but to me is kind of a good sign and also what makes these little blurbs very interesting. I recall movies such as The Matrix (yes) and Memento (so much yes that I was actually extremely suspicious during the first few chapters that this whole book was just ripping off Memento but boy was I wrong)... but here's the fun part! THEY ALL MENTION JAWS.

An inordinately high number of these review excerpts talk about Jaws. Why??? Doesn't that seem kind of strange? Sure this is a book that appears to be about a shark, but is Jaws the only thing we can think of that has a shark in it?! But as it turns out, that's kind of the whole point?

You may notice that I have now spent three paragraphs talking about the review excerpts on this book and not the book itself. I promise you there is a good reason, which is this: you shouldn't really know anything about this book before going in. I bought it at the insistence of a friend, who refused to tell me anything about it, only that I would like it. Bewildered and somewhat frustrated, I studied the blurb on the back (unhelpful) and the review excerpts inside, at which point I became OVERCOME WITH CURIOSITY. Look at all those fancy authors! And so many mentions of Jaws? WHAT IS THE DEAL WITH THAT YOU GUYS

Well the answer to that mystery, which might only have been interesting to me, is buried deep within the pages of this totally fascinating wonderful book. After I finished it, I wrote the author a message on Facebook, and he actually responded and we had a little bit of a conversation. Friendly guy! I remember telling him that this was something I wish I'd written. It's very much an elegantly synthesized clusterfuck of all the neat stuff whirling around in my brain waiting to be made into a story so brilliant. Goddammit, I reserve all my best jealousy for people who are capable of doing that very thing.

Also, this book made me REALLY AFRAID of the clanking of my radiator for a little while.

Also, my girlfriend read it right after me over like a three day period or maybe less, and during that time she started announcing her theories to me as she was reading, which sounds annoying but totally wasn't because she was right constantly. That actually also sounds annoying, but it still wasn't. This book is way out there on the field of imagination, and I don't know how she is so smart and so aligned with Mr. Hall's wild ideas that she was just on the ball again and again? I wrote him again while she was reading and told him where she was in the story and gave him a list of all the things she had been saying to me. And he wrote back saying something like "Whaaaaaaat! She is awesome!" and I was like "Dude, I know."

It wasn't exactly like that, but man, that conversation is buried deep within Facebook's grim underbelly, so that is CLOSE ENOUGH.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Day 23 - A book you wanted to read for a long time but still haven't

Foucault's Pendulum, by Umberto Eco

I have wanted to read this for years, well before I even considered reading The Name of the Rose. I gave it a couple false starts and chickened out, intimidated by how insanely complex it is purported to be. This ain't your aunt's Dan Brown bullshit. I kept thinking, gotta put it off, wait until you're smarter. I knew it was probably gonna require a lot of research, and I fully intend to keep a notebook handy while reading it so I can write down whatever I want/need to look up. Now that I've read The Name of the Rose and loved it so damn much, I think the time for this one is fast approaching. I'M READY. Haha probably not. BUT WHATEVER I am excited about it.

I just want to read all the Eco. ALL OF IT.

Plus this book is about secret societies and the SEPHIROT and I am ABOUT THAT.

As for the Foucualt Pendulum itself, CHECK IT OUT IT'S REALLY COOL.