In one of the elementary schools I attended, I learned French, Spanish, multiplication tables, and of course the usual, how to tell time and tie shoelaces. Then I moved to a school where no one could read.
For the first time, I was called talented. It wasn’t hours of learning how to do these things and practicing that gave me these skills. According to the people at the new school, it must be some sort of gift. Like most people, I learned to crave these acknowledgments of “innate” ability.
Over the course of many moves, I hopped in and out of IQ-based gifted and talented programs. These programs didn’t help with the craving. They reinforced the notion that talent is something that you are born with and that the qualities found in your genes are responsible for what you can accomplish.
While we’re still young, we learn what makes a star.
We start forming our concepts of success at a very young age. In the Tarot, the Star card is associated with community. The card depicts a figure by a body of water.
I’ve seen more than one representation of this card with the Nile River, a symbol of community fabric that binds entire nations together. In the Sun and Moon Tarot, the figure is a mermaid. Their fins are submerged in the water, and they are a part of this binding fabric.
In the Margaret Peterson version of the Star, we see a seashell that takes on a galactic quality, superimposed in space. This card also hints at the connection between the micro and the macro, the individual and the community.
But when we think of the word ‘star’ – the center attraction, a figure that everyone looks to and is inspired by – it makes sense to think about the star in connection with talents, gifts, and also innate ability. We don’t exist in a vacuum. Who we think we are and what we think we are capable of is heavily influenced by the labels we’ve been assigned growing up.
If we’ve been shaped to believe in ‘mythical gifts’, we might stop in the face of adversity; we might buckle under pressure.
If instead, we believe what makes the world and what shapes the community are our efforts – not what we’re innately born with, but what we choose to do and how we choose to do it – we might persist. We might continue even in the face of failure. Rather than accept failure as a label for ourselves, we might accept it as a natural part of the process of doing.
In a sense, what we hear growing up is what makes us.
Whenever I think about what is heard, I’m reminded again of the Judgement card, one of my favorite cards to discuss. It is perhaps one of the most auditory cards in the tarot deck.
There are many representations of this card with a sound and a response in the participants in the card as a result. Isn’t this how we shape ourselves? We hear the world and respond by becoming the thing or believing the things that we’ve heard. Or sometimes just the opposite.
This is what talent is like.
Rather than it being an innate thing that we are born with, it is more like a response, like so much haptic feedback echoing out into the universe. It’s jumping into the unknown and risking failure, again and again.
This time last year, I was at the Reader Studio Tarot conference in New York City. I purchased a blank deck of tarot cards, a book, A Tarot of You by Andrew MacGregor, and there I made a pact with myself. I made a pact that I would try to do something that terrified me: I would try to draw – and if I succeeded, if I was able to keep up the drawing – I might try to create a Tarot deck.
I got a notebook, gathered some cut outs from magazines, and I started Andrew’s process with the Fool, as he specified.
I failed miserably.
I’ve been terrified of drawing most of my life. It’s one of my favorite things to do. But something about the medium brings to the surface my faulty beliefs about talent. I sit down to draw, and I think a miracle is supposed to happen. Immediately. Without practice, without guidance, without patience. Just right then.
And that’s not how it works.
You fail then you fail again.
I got one page down and then never touched it again. It’s an unfinished project that I’m super excited about and still haven’t finished. I’m like the figure in the Fool card, standing on the precipice of great things, having heard the call, having felt the inspiration. Still not willing to jump. The Fool card asks, what moves you? What inspires you to take that leap?
Earlier this year, I did a reading for a lovely couple in my city’s queerest cafe.
Much to my surprise, they chose to work with one of my more multicultural decks and asked questions that revealed our shared interest in personal responsibility. It was the kind of work I’d pay to do.
Just when I thought the whole thing couldn’t get any cooler, Lauren, the one who had booked the reading, whips out a majors only deck they made as a gift for their wife. I flipped a bit. Lauren made this. Jumped the cliff. Or maybe it was more like tying a shoelace. Either way, it proved there’s more than one way to move the Fool, that love can do it too.
The whole thing reminded me what makes a Star, community support, and mentorship, the celestial spark – inspiration, and the deep practice of the foolish. The kind that jumps wholeheartedly from one failure to another. Ever-moving toward the moment they hold something in their hands and say: “I made this for you.”
What makes you? What moves you?
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What makes me?
Effort backed with integrity and purpose. Mastering the dance between work that matters and rest that heals.
What moves me?
I’m going to record this piece.
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featured decks: Margarete Petersen Tarot, Sun and Moon Tarot by Decort, The Gersh Tarot by White