See the cripple dance: On Temperance, bravado, and wanting to change the world

Bravado and arrogance are difficult (and embarrassing?!) habits to become aware of, but I’ve been noticing them in myself and wanting to confront or discuss them in some way. It’s tricky to do so much recovery work around developing self-love, self-awareness, self-compassion, and then note a swing to yet another extreme. When does self-confidence (oh Maranda, all the ‘self’ words!) become too much? When does it begin to cause unwanted trouble? When does it become self-defeating, self-sabotage? In what ways are these feelings and habits a response or reaction to shame?

Having a Libra Sun, I get excited for the Autumn Equinox.

That day feels special to me. On the morning of this year’s equinox, I drew the Ten of Wands, classic burnout card, the one that tends to haunt me in the early days of Winter. I think it arrived early this year as a warning, a reminder, to take precautions not to get burned out so bad this time.

I’d awoken from a dream where I’d pressed my palms against the burner of an electric stove, felt nothing, and then lifted them and turned them over to see the red burns and blisters I’d acquired. Finalizing my novel (I feel like I’ve been using the word ‘finalizing’ for at least six months now, way too long) kept me busy and threatened burnout. I’ve had to remind myself that it’s okay to slow down; it’s okay to miss deadlines, regardless of how anybody else feels about it.

I dyed my hair, a shade named Kohl Black, a colour I haven’t dyed my hair for many years, and I listened to Type O Negative, Black #1 and Everything Dies. It still felt like Summer here – I was wearing fluffy flip-flops through the fallen Fall leaves, smearing scent-free screen on my arms and face as the scent of the death and decay of plants and trees in the city surrounded me. There’s something magical about this process, watching ordinary things change.

Although I don’t share them online, only with a few friends who appreciate my quirks, one of my favourite things to do is take pictures of dead animals, roadkill. Most often it’s squirrels, birds, and mice, but recently I found a large skunk with a precise square of its hide cut off, exposing its organs. I hold onto the bones I find and the bodies of dried butterflies.

I knew this day would mean the end of something for me, but I didn’t know what it would be.

And I was feeling Jupiter, noticing the luck it brought to me, feeling it shift out of my natal sun and into Scorpio. I was worried about what it might take from me, but excited for my Scorpio friends. I took the plants out of my window – ivy, aloe, english lavender, lavender dentata, lemon balm, spearmint, a cluster of red flowers called velvet graffiti – and the pastel stained-glass moon and butterfly with their dangling moonstone and clear quartz in preparation for my landlord to install new windows before the weather cools down, and I coaxed my cat, Lily, to get into a borrowed carrier so we could leave the space while it was under construction.

In The Herbal Tarot’s re-imagining of Temperance, a figure in a blue robe floats alongside Echinacea flowers growing taller than them, one foot in the water, the other on land. Echinacea is known to strengthen spells, provide fortitude and resilience through tough times, and can bring one luck through poverty. It grows all over the city. The figure in the powder blue robe with a royal purple belt appears alone and serene, quietly mystified by the plants growing around them, unimpressed with their own ability to balance between water and land at once. Their ability to remain steady and unperturbed while still knowing how to feel doesn’t come naturally to them, though – it’s something they’ve had to practice. Something they’re still practicing.

On the Autumn Equinox, shortly after sunset, I had a moment of losing my temper. That was the end of something, a kind of ending. I’ve been known to have public meltdowns. It’s something I’ve been working on for a long time – examining what my triggers are, different ways to prepare for them and respond to them, how to recuperate from them. The meltdowns are fewer and further between, and my recuperation time has lessened. I’ve been able to reduce the damage done to myself and others. They’re not totally avoidable, though. Not yet.

I went on one of my regular dumpster trips after the sun set.

I’ve become more brazen in the ways I acquire food – a complicated mix of mania (and coming down from it with a new sense of self-confidence), desperation, and shamelessness. I’d been gathering bagfuls of food on the brightest days, swiping milk crates from alleyways, digging into trash bins while staff were still on shift and patrons were clustered on patios. It’s rare that my body can handle such acts, so I was doing as much as possible, afraid of crashing, afraid of losing access again.

Feeling like the universe was being so kind to me; afraid that when Jupiter shifted out of Libra and into Scorpio my luck and good fortune would fade with it, crumble into memories that feel almost like fiction. My behaviour, under remission and mania, had been verging on dangerous over the last few months, and occasionally irresponsible, but I’d managed to keep myself relatively under control, safer than I’ve been in the past. It’s not that I felt invincible – I felt/feel extremely vulnerable. But I did feel brazen and bold. I know the worst things that can happen. I want/ed to gather, steal, hoard as much magic as possible before the next disaster.

I want/ed to feel new feelings.

As I approached, I saw bodies in the storefront window, two cars in the otherwise large but empty parking lot. I knew these were signs to be safe, to wait, to re-think my approach. But I didn’t wanna let anyone, not even my own worries and fears and premonitions, tell me what to do.

I wanted to venture forth, be daring, take take take. Maybe I was feeling performative, too. Maybe I was pretending to have no fear at all – like I’m beyond the rules of the pre-ordered world, and the universe will shift to protect me.

In Thea’s Tarot, Temperance is re-named Grace. A nude figure with long, dark hair holds onto a string of stars, glancing in the opposite direction of the hand she holds the highest – again, seeming almost unimpressed with the strength it takes to shift the burning lights to where she wants them to be. The stars are woven through her ankles, wrapped around her waist and her neck. Maybe there’s a bit of a mess, but it’s within her control.

I collected over half a dozen loaves of bread, some cookies, some pre-packaged salads, and even some potted herbs.

But as I was digging through the dumpster, I looked behind me, looked around, and noticed the two men from the window again. This time they were in the parking lot. And they were walking toward me. I stopped what I was doing, put my hands on my waist, chin up, a neutral expression on my face.

They came closer, silent. I didn’t quite feel intimidated by them, though that seemed to be how they wanted me to feel. Instead, I felt annoyed. Annoyed at their presence, annoyed that they were interrupting an otherwise beautiful evening. But annoyed at myself, too, for not listening to my intuition when I saw them in the window, when Jupiter began to retreat.

I knew they’d want me to acquiesce to whatever they said, and I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction. I didn’t want them to feel like they had any control over me at all. So I didn’t play innocent, didn’t say sorry, didn’t say I didn’t know that what I was doing was wrong.

Instead, I started ranting about poverty and food insecurity, capitalism and waste.

They tried to reason with me, tried to explain that their business would be at risk if I smashed myself unconscious or was otherwise injured in their dumpsters, if I had food poisoning, tried to tell me all the food they’d been throwing out was breaking their hearts.

And I had another chance to play nice. Instead I said, “I don’t care about your business.” And I continued ranting from there, witnessing the scene I was in, watching their facial expressions and postures become altered, pushing their buttons. They changed tactics and started pushing mine. This went on for some time. I wanted them to feel guilty for encroaching upon my ordinary survival tactics, and I told them I hoped they felt ashamed of their unaffordable organic grocery store, ashamed of their waste, ashamed of their life decisions.

Eventually I pissed them off enough that they threatened to call the cops. They told me if I dared come back to their dumpster I’d find it locked. But after a while, they walked away. They got sick of arguing with me, told me to gather what I’d found and take it home, but don’t expect to find anything else in the future. They waited by their cars until I left. I was lucky they left me behind, lucky I had somebody’s arms to cry in. But we’d all triggered one another, and it was messy.

You know the classic Temperance, Pixie-style. Our familiar androgynous figure, shifting water from one cup to another in an impossible way, like it’s nothing at all, keeping it together, remaining soft and calm, bright yellow irises blooming around them. In Modern Tarot by Michelle Tea, she calls this creature a feminist spiritual hero and reminds us that this card often comes up when we need to slow down and chill out. Maybe we’re drinking too much, maybe we’re working too much, maybe we’re isolating too much, and maybe like me, we’re endangering ourselves and others with the way we respond or react to anger, rage, and helplessness.

In my case I could have tempered conflict or avoided it altogether, but I chose not to.

I may have been right in much of what I expressed when I was caught at the dumpster, but did I need to say it? At that very moment? To those very people? Was it necessary?

I wanna change the world. Of course I do. And sometimes that means altering parts of myself, keeping myself and my friends safe. I’m not always good at this, but I’m learning new skills everyday.

Michelle Tea wrote some reassuring words I needed to hear, but again, I found them a day late:

Slowly I recommitted myself to being alive on this planet not some other planet I thought I could create if I could only get the entire world to fall in line with my vision! My feminism, and all my politics, became right-sized – something I believed in and engaged with daily, but that did not dominate my psyche.

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