See the cripple dance: The Seven of Cups and the pleasure of sadness

The Seven of Cups is often a confusing card to me, which makes sense since it often represents confusion.

In most renditions, the cups look something like a daydream, a hallucination, a vision. The figure appears shocked to stumble into them, not knowing how to respond.

In Dame Darcy’s Mermaid Tarot, the figure swims toward the cups, objects emerging from shells within clouds, arms tangled with jewels. In Kitty Kahane’s Magic Mirrors Tarot, a figure cloaked in violet grasps two of the cups, choosing hearts and snakes, love and transformation, feelings and change, blood and skin. In Thea’s Tarot, two entwined bodies attempt to balance the cups between one another, but it’s clear they won’t be able to hold the pose for long. Are they twins? Friends? Lovers? Emotional personalities? Structural dissociation? Fictional characters? What will happen when they turn and face one another?

On the Summer Solstice, I made a mix-tape for myself.

As I took an afternoon nap the next day, the tape came to mind as a representation of the Seven of Cups. Making a mix-tape isn’t something I’d done for maybe a decade, let alone one just for myself. But as I began, it felt like a form of practicing self-love: If we grew up making tapes for secret crushes and dates, what does it mean to do so for ourselves?

Last week, I had a conversation with a friend about sad songs that shouldn’t be played in public, because the feelings they conjure are too overwhelming when you’re just picking up mundane items at the drugstore or buying a coffee. But actually sometimes I like that feeling of unexpected sadness, small intrusive memories, and imaginary conversations. In those moments, I wonder if anybody else is feeling that song the way I am. And I start writing another short story.

The day after that conversation, thrifting with another friend, it happened. Amy Winehouse came on over the sound system. At the back of the store, I nudged my friend and said, “This! This song should not be played in public without warning!” Back to Black was an album I listened to excessively when I was twenty-one, barely surviving disastrous alcoholism, a nervous breakdown, and intolerable loneliness. I remember it on full blast while I was under my blankets hoping to die in my sleep (but struggling with insomnia and mania, too).

The song ended, and instead of continuing the mix as before, the rest of the album began to play. And everybody sang along, a bit like a scene in a movie. I sang, too. These used to be my karaoke songs back when I could stay up late enough to perform.

It’s become pretty tough not to pathologize everything I feel, everything I think.

In my Spring remission, I’ve become manic. I’m having trouble sleeping, but I’ve been able to recognize that this is not my usual insomnia: I’m not experiencing ruminative, despairing thoughts. I’m just: awake. Awake when I don’t want to be. Awake when my eyes are too heavy to open, but my body and brain will not let me drift off. Manic is an imperfect word for what this season is to me, for who I am in this season and how I behave – but it’s the most accurate one I’ve found yet.

There’s a Sylvia Plath quote that’s always haunting me. You know the one. You’ve underlined it, too. You’ve copied it out into multiple diaries. Maybe, like me, you read it while you were in the hospital.

What is my life for and what am I going to do with it? I don’t know and I’m afraid. I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And what do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones, and variations of mental and physical experience possible in my life. And I am horribly limited.

This quote is the Seven of Cups. It’s the inability to make a choice, because there are too many lives you desire simultaneously and not enough time to live them out. I am still trying to live some of those lives at once, though. Sometimes I succeed. For me, it has something to do with fragmentation and the structure of various emotional personalities co-existing, the way I function with borderline personality disorder and cobble together various lives, all the while trying to record it all and minimize the (inevitable?) damage I might cause to myself, harm I might cause to others.

I’ve been imagining all the different lives I want to live, all the stories I want to write. I’ve been imagining what it might be like to feel something new, experience something new. I’ve been having conversations with strangers and fictional characters. I’ve been thinking about what it means to court sadness, to desire tears, to want to feel sad. Not depressed. Not despondent. Definitely not suicidal. Just sad.

In After Tarot’s rendition of the Seven of Cups, a figure turns away from all their options, clutching charms that glow in their hands as a snake twists its body against their waist. A hooded figure and a crumbling sandcastle try to get their attention. We cannot choose just one cup without the others haunting us. Why do we feel pressured to? What would it look like to be allowed to dream, encouraged to dream? What if we didn’t have to come back to so-called reality right away? How can we make our daily lives correspond with our dream lives?

In the New Vision’s rendition of the Seven of Cups, the figure has yet to make a choice. This time, their witnesses are visible. Again they might be friends, lovers, siblings, fictional characters. Clearly the choice the main figure makes will affect them, too. They appear both frightened and eager to see what happens.

You know how ~science~ often takes a million years to confirm knowledge many of us already contain?

Well, here’s the sad song study: the short version, and the longer version. Sadness is pleasurable. We have physical, emotional, chemical responses to sad music. And often, we intentionally listen to sad songs to evoke particular feelings. It’s like poking at bruises or pulling your own hair. What are the ones you listen to on repeat?

SIDE A
Bif Naked – Sick
Marilyn Manson – No Reflection
July Talk feat. Tanya Tagaq – Beck + Call
Melissa Auf der Maur – Meet Me on the Dark Side
Stabbing Westward – Save Yourself
Amy Winehouse – Tears Dry on their Own
Florence + the Machine – Breaking Down
Placebo – Black-Eyed
SIDE B
Dresden Dolls – Bad Habit
Green Day – She
Lana Del Ray – Summertime Sadness
Alanis Morissette – So Pure
PJ Harvey – Long Snake Moan
Ladytron – Blue Jeans
The Raveonettes – Hallucinations
Babes In Toyland – Bruise Violet
Elastica – Stutter
Hole – 20 Years in the Dakota

At home, I’ve been listening to my mix-tape.

Although I began recording with no specific theme, I’ve plucked out a few each time it spins around: Love goes without saying, I guess. The other major themes are: Summer, sadness, summertime-sadness, loneliness, rage, injury, comfort, injury-as-comfort, and (not) being saved or rescued. “I got that sadness, summertime sadness. I can’t even save myself. Save yourself. I should just be my own best friend. I know you haven’t saved me and you haven’t saved her yet. The ugly marks are worth the momentary gain. Everyone has a dark side. Why don’t you like mine? I don’t know which me that I love. That’s why I spend my days alone.” Etc.

The dumpsters I wrote about with the Five of Pentacles are still being generous with me. A few days ago, I stumbled into the practical and impractical at once: Dozens of bananas, which I filled my freezer with for my daily fancy-blender smoothies, and bouquets of wilting gerber daisies in a multitude of purples, for which the only vase-like container in my home was a wastebasket, so that’s where they’re being kept. There are petals scattered around my apartment, and though crumpled, they still smell fresh. It’s kind of romantic.

Have you ever felt like you had a crush on yourself?
Have you ever worried about breaking your own heart?
In what ways do you court yourself, and in what ways
do you let yourself down?
What are your most mundane desires and your most glamourous ones?
What pleasures have you found in sadness?
Which cups look the most appealing to you and why?
How many lives can you live at once?

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One comment

  1. Asali says:

    This was so timely, Maranda. Thank you as always for your genius.

    I’ve already got two songs on my mixtape for this specific Summertime Sadness I’m moving in.

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