One of my 2018 resolutions is to re-enthuse myself about the behind-the-scenes, unseen, invisiblized process of developing skills as a writer.
But before that came to me, I had to rest. I had to stop and allow the tasks on my to-do lists to remain undone.
I wanted to write about the Four of Swords last Fall, but I also needed to experience the Four of Swords, and that meant I couldn’t write. As I was crowdfunding the publication of my second novel and mailing every copy that was ordered on my own, I was contemplating burnout and trying to avoid it. I was in remission from severe chronic pain and environmental illness, and in my joy at not being housebound – at being able to wander the city, collect trash, and make new friends – I pushed my body harder than I should have. I knew better, but to have my body cooperate with my desires was astoundingly novel to me (it still is) so I kept going.
As I was in the process of mailing copies of We Are the Weirdos, I got sick. Again. I thought it was a cold. I took oil of oregano and bought grapefruit-flavoured throat lozenges. It came on slowly, but it kept getting worse. I realized I had the flu. I didn’t get the rest I needed, and I didn’t know until I recovered that people in my city have been dying from the flu. Sickness is serious.
I didn’t ask for help carrying dozens and dozens of paperbacks to the post office. I wanted to see what I was capable of. I gathered long receipts each trip and occasionally talked to postal workers about my creative projects – they know me since I’m a regular, but with a new book, I was sending more mail than usual and they were curious. A few of them actually bought my work and told me they wanna join my weirdo club! It was a delight.
But I had to go back to bed. I was burned out. However, for the first time, I was experiencing burnout with the accompanying depression that I thought was unavoidable.
I took a hiatus.
I stopped writing See the Cripple Dance, and I stopped offering tarot readings. I stopped answering emails and told my readers and supporters to please refrain from contacting me until the New Year, because I needed time to recuperate.
The end of Fall and the early days of Winter are my Burnout Season – that’s what I’ve named it after recognizing this pattern. It’s when I feel not-very-social-at-all and I can hardly work. It’s when my writing-based supplementary income to my social assistance wanes, because I’ve got no energy or words to share. And over the last few years, it’s when I become housebound again.
In the Everyday Witch’s Tarot, a figure in grey robes rests on their back, their palms folded neatly over their stomach. A black cat rests by their side, tangled in their long black hair. The witch has propped their pointy hat upon a bedpost, freeing themselves from the pressure of making, doing, moving. Their eyes are closed. Stars glitter beyond their open curtains. Cobwebs are laced in the corners, signalling the passage of time. The figure is surrounded in deep red, a ferociously passionate colour, but their emotions and ideas are quieted in sleep. Their swords remain still, sharp edges grounded.
In the Collective Tarot, a deep fuchsia sky fades to plum, and the swirling silhouettes of birds are contained within a frame of feathers. The atmosphere of the card is warm and mysterious. The guidebook tells us, “The Four of Feathers is structured space for peaceful retreat.” It’s about making your boundaries known and not apologizing for them.
In my crazy-cripple-witch reclaiming process, I’ve been redefining particular words and assigning my own meanings to help me cope through a world structured by ableism and capitalism. One of the words/concepts that bothers me the most is productivity. As I became housebound, I found myself claiming and embracing anti-productivity. I got excited about doing nothing, about short to-do lists in my planner involving not much beyond painting my nails and writing in my diary.
In Cristy Road’s Next World Tarot re-imagining of the Four of Swords, a lone figure sits hunched over a typewriter in an attic painted forest green. The view of the sky from the arched window shows a lavender haze with glowing rays – sunrise or sunset? When I read the cards for others, I often ask them what time of day it appears to be, and I continue from there. When I initially looked at this card, it struck me as sunrise. It looked to me like this figure has stayed up all night, typing alone, scattering rough drafts all over the unpolished hardwood floors. There are multiple coffee cups on their table and an empty plate. The half-burned candles perched on wall sconces are burned but unlit. Their wooden chair looks uncomfortable, and the archives of their existence are packed away into red milkcrates, forming a wall of lived history around the room. A cardboard box is labelled “regrets”.
Like the cobwebs in the Everyday Witch’s rendition of the Four of Swords, the Next World hints at the passage of time as well. Not only by the vision of the sky, but by the dinosaur-shaped mug holding markers of various colours, by the year “2013” scribbled on another cardboard box, and the aforementioned burned out candles and empty coffee cups. And there’s stillness, too. Despite this figure leaning over their typewriter, eyes wrinkled as they scrutinize the page before them, we can see that they’ve brought their bike inside, and it rests on its kickstand with a red helmet dangling from the chrome handlebars.
Looking at this card gives me almost gives me a felt sense of that mix of exhaustion and brain-buzzing creative energy that sometimes comes to me at night – it makes me taste stale black coffee, hear the first morning birds chirping, feel the smudged ribbon ink on my fingertips. And it reminds me that is no longer a feeling I am enamoured with – I haven’t been for a long time. It reminds me of my once-upon-a-time instinctual lack of self-care, a time before I didn’t even know that word. It reminds me of the desperate urgency of my words, my inability to edit, my longing to connect with somebody who shares my pain, and my fear of my words being met with indifference. The card makes me think of sore hands, too. I remember developing tiny blisters when I used my typewriter more often, and I remember that my hands and wrists were where my chronic pain originally arose.
There’s an exercise I do with my hands when I’m writing or when I feel anxious. I release whatever I’m holding onto – physically or otherwise – and I wiggle my hands open and shut, like they’re flowers blooming and closing, blooming and closing. Then I hold one finger at a time, pressing back the tip with the palm of my opposite hand, stretching as far as it will go. Each time I do this, I take a deep inhale and exhale, reminding myself not to rush. Sometimes I imagine slow down spelled out across my hands. When I’m finished, I feel more able to write and to breathe from a calmer headspace, as if something has been mended.
In the traditional Pixie’s Tarot, the sky is not given the same focus as the cards I’ve chosen to present here. Instead, light pierces a stained glass window, and the lying figure’s hands are clasped in prayer. The walls are shades of healing amethyst. When I imagine that in the cards I’ve shown here, the figures hands are also in prayer, I see how rest is a form of prayer and writing is a form of prayer, too.
The trouble with claiming anti-productivity is finding myself in an extreme state: a refusal to do anything at all and call it revolutionary. And yeah, I really do believe doing nothing can be revolutionary. I believe humans should be able to do nothing at all and still live in comfortable, stable homes, get all the food and love and care they need, and not have to defend their existence on the planet to anybody.
But I also know that if I do nothing for too long, I suffer.
After the Four of Swords, an emergence must happen.
In the Next World Tarot, the candles remaining are still sturdy and strong. They can be re-lit when the darkness returns. In the Everyday Witch’s Tarot, a glimpse of a mantelpiece is seen in the background, another space for fire when the resting figure is ready. And in the Collective Tarot, we know that once the birds have restored their energy, they’ll return to flight, and we’ll see smoke emerge from the chimney once again, warming the dwellers within.