January to March Books I Read

This blog post contains notes and reviews of the books I read during January through March 2021.

Quiet

By Susan Cain

Quiet is a non-fiction book about introversion in an extroverted world (or society). In Quiet, Cain offers an explanation for culture’s obsession with extroversion. She debunks the idea that extroverted people make better leaders than introverts, citing sociological studies. One of these studies by Adam Grant posed the following: “extroverted leaders enhance group performance when employees are passive… introverted leaders are more effective with proactive employees.” Later in her chapter “When Collaboration Kills Creativity”, she says “we should actively seek out symbiotic introvert-extrovert relationships, in which leadership and other tasks are divided according to people’s natural strengths and temperaments.” So then, rather than trying to make natural introverts something they’re not, why not instead look at the strengths of introversion, and those talents of introverted individuals? 

Cain goes into the biology of introversion too – “serotonin-transporter (SERT) gene… helps to regulate the processing of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood. A particular variation, or allele, of this gene, sometimes referred to as the “short” allele, is thought o be associated with high reactivity and introversion, as well as a heightening risk of depression in humans who have had difficult lives.” She also goes in the nurture side of things too but doesn’t skimp on the positive traits of introverts (those that are often disregarded because we’re so fixated on the loudest, most extroverted displays). 

This book is a treasure for introverts and offers deep understanding and validation. 

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link). 

The Drama of the Gifted Child

By Alice Miller

The Drama of the Gifted Child is a non-fiction self-help work about living after an abusive childhood. First of all, this book is difficult to get through as it offers a handful of horrifying anecdotal stories. Get through those (they’re sprinkled throughout) and you can glean some very useful and validating information about healing from an abusive childhood. She leans on some heavy and necessary truths like, “As adults, we don’t need unconditional love, not even from our therapists. This is a childhood need, one that can never be fulfilled later in life, and we are playing with illusions if we have never mourned this lost opportunity.”

A rather useful understanding on healing, she states: 

We cannot, simply by an act of will, free ourselves from repeating the patterns of our parents’ behavior… We become free of them only when we can fully feel and acknowledge the suffering they inflicted on us. We can then become fully aware of these patterns and condemn them irrevocably.” 

I found her approach satisfying and honestly, and much more productive than the “your parents did the best they could” inspirational quotes I see therapists posting on Instagram. I highly recommend this book to those who come from abuse, and please be very gentle with yourselves while reading it as it’s quite emotionally taxing to read (mainly due to the stories included). 

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link). 

The Soul of Money

By Lynne Twist

The Soul of Money is a non-fiction book about philanthropy, activism, and money. Overall, this book was about putting your money where your morals are. I have a fine-tuned understanding of this as it’s something I say in my animal rights activism to show people that their individual actions do matter, and every person has the potential to impact our collective future. I think she says nothing too revelatory here – though this may be because I come into reading it as an activist and she herself is an activist. So maybe we’re on a similar wavelength. Read it for the personal stories, and for enriching your experience with money, especially if you are an activist of any sort, a minimalist, someone who cares for the planet, or someone who wants to remind themselves of their individual power through spending. 

All in all, I came into it already agreeing with her premise and already thinking in a similar fashion, so the takeaway was minimal for me. 

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link). 

Frientimacy

By Shasta Nelson

Frientimacy is a non-fiction self-help book about making friends and deepening friendships. If you’re like me, you wouldn’t know how one can fill a whole book on friendship but I was rather pleasantly surprised by the amount of depth and insight this book contains. My primary takeaway from this book applies to all types of relationships – and that’s the Triangle of Intimacy. Basically, she posits that all friendships have three requirements: positivity, consistency, and vulnerability. 

She draws a triangle, and on the bottom, there’s positivity. That’s the baseline. Without it, you can’t go upward and you can’t build a healthy friendship. The two sides of the triangle slanting upward are consistency and vulnerability. She then says that the level of consistency and vulnerability must somewhat match, or your relationship is going to get off balance. So this means that the amount of time you spend with your friend should somewhat reflect the vulnerability you exhibit. Off-balance can look like over-sharing and under-sharing, all comparable to the amount of time invested. 

I’d recommend this book to those who need a good model for healthy friendships, so basically anyone. 

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link). 

At the Center of All Beauty

By Fenton Johnson

At the Center of All Beauty is a non-fiction memoir and reflection of solitude, singleness, and being a creative. Each chapter is dedicated to the stories of one or two solitary artists – from Emily Dickinson to Henry David Thoreau. Johnson looks at the rather voluntary aspects of being alone, for the sake of one’s art, for the sake of one’s soul need to be with oneself. He walks through his own history and parallels with “great” artists. It requires the right headspace for reading, and not one of seeing aloneness as deprivation – which it can be. 

When he speaks of solitude, it is not hermithood. But rather, he identifies solitude as the purposeful choice to spend a life in recognizing oneself as a solo passenger through life. He includes married people in solitude, and identifies it as a state of being, not a legal standing. 

I’m not sure who I’d recommend this to, perhaps someone entering a new phase in their life – retirement, buying a home solo, planning a trip that has deep personal meaning. Maybe this book is for nobody and maybe there’s an intentional piece to that. 

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link). 

Complex PTSD

By Peter Walker

This is a stunner of a book on Complex PTSD. It’s a non-fiction bible on the experience of CPTSD – from the author’s first-hand life with this diagnosis, to detailed information on how to live day-to-day with this incurable experience. I won’t go too far into describing the book as it has a very specific audience, but I would recommend it highly to anyone with this diagnosis. It genuinely changed my life for the better and I have not found any other book comparable so far. 

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link). 

Attached

By Amir Levine and Rachel Heller 

Attached is a non-fiction self-help book that you’ve likely heard of if you’re in the dating world. It’s become (thankfully) quite popular for individuals to identify their attachment style – avoidant, anxious, secure, or some combination of two. This book is quite valuable for anyone to pick up, as it brings to awareness some of your own traits, and also enables you to identify those folks who may bring out some aspects of you that you’re not fully a fan of.

I highly recommend this book to everyone – whether you’re in a romantic relationship or not. It can really help you with healing from trauma, unhealthy patterns, and curiosity you might have about why you act the way you do in relationship. 

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link). 

How Not to Die Alone

By Logan Ury

Though this has a hyperbolic title, it was not as profound as advertised. This non-fiction self-help book goes through attachment theory (just get Attached – reviewed above). It also goes through how to make an awesome online dating profile for those swiping, implores everyone to go on a second date (not axing people after one date), and nudges you strongly not to “slide” into milestones like moving in together. Instead, about moving in together, she says this should be a conscious choice, not just a default because someone’s lease expired. 

My biggest takeaway from this book was her very interesting types of daters who are very much still single (I really like a good self-categorization) – the Romanticizer, the Maximizer, and the Hesitater. The Romanticizer believes in fairy tales, soul mates, the ultimate love of a lifetime. So they exit when things are simply not dreamy, when they are not being swept off their feet to the max. This type believes they are single because they have not met the right person yet. Their challenge is to become more realistic about their expectations. 

The Maximizer always things there’s something better out there, and they never want to settle. Their challenge is recognizing when they are actually settling versus when they are nitpicking. The Hesitater perpetually thinks they’re not ready to date because they’re not the person they want to be yet (ME!). Their challenge is diving in unready and acknowledging that they will continue to grow even inside of a relationship (and that’s totally okay). 

This book is a great primer on some different ways to view dating differently. You can skip it if you’ve read Attached and a bunch of other dating books. If you haven’t read a dating book before, it’s a good entry point. 

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link). 


2020 Most Impactful Books I Read

In my second installment of “Books I Read”, I’m going to talk about the most impactful books I read in 2020.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead

This is probably my new favorite (fiction) book, even surpassing Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse. Drive Your Plow is written by Polish author Olga Tokarczuk, a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Man Booker International Prize. It is dark, fixated on the intersection of the mundane and the fantastical, and holds a message about the widespread abuses and disrespect towards our fellow animals. Drive Your Plow tells the story of an older woman, an unreliable crone archetype who swaps people’s names for descriptors and lives in a remote village with harsh winters and pleasant vacation-worthy summers.

She and a neighbor discover the murder of another neighbor, who appears to have been trampled inside him house by deer. The story teeters from there between eccentric narratives, pulling you into a fantasy land, discoursing with fascinating villagers with wits and uncommon specializations, sitting at the woman’s table for drinks and a meal, all before landing you back down to earth with a heavy realization that slowly creeps on you (and the villagers) as you near the final pages.

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link).

The Highly Sensitive Person

This non-fiction self-help book is validating to those who literally are more sensitive – to light, sound, taste, all of it. I easily qualified as a highly-sensitive person (HSP) given the results of the quiz that starts off this informative and kind book about what it means when the world is louder and more abrasive than you’re able to easily navigate through. Where “sensitive” is an insult in our culture, the author details how some (including me) just interact with the world in a different way. And there are plenty of benefits to being sensitive – it shows in my writing for one.

We’re quickly outgrowing last generation’s “tough as nails” brainwashing and bringing in a new era of acknowledgment of the simple fact that the world is incredibly diverse and all the more interesting and rich for it.

Author Elaine N. Aron says,

“We are the writers, historians, philosophers, judges, artists, researchers, theologians, therapists, teachers, parents, and plain conscientious citizens. What we bring to any of these roles is a tendency to think about all the possible effects of an idea. Often we have to make ourselves unpopular by stopping the majority from rushing ahead. Thus, to perform our role well, we have to feel very good about ourselves. We have to ignore all the messages from the warriors that we are not as good as they are. The warriors have their bold style, which has its value. But we, too, have our style and our own important contribution to make.”

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link).

Paganism: An Introduction to Earth-Centered Religions

Paganism is a non-fiction introduction to Paganism. Though I already knew a bit about it, this book did an outstanding job of overtly discussing the critical aspects of Paganism – from morals and ethics, to the convergence of religion (or spirituality) and science. I thoroughly enjoyed journaling to the prompts at the end of each chapter.

This book enabled me to refine my practical approach to relating to the earth. It doesn’t require leaps in logic or reaching to unfounded and irresponsible (and destructive) ideologies based in shame and punishments (if you catch my drift).

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link).

Wordslut: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language

Wordslut is a pop take on gender linguistics by Amanda Montell. As a writer, it’s affirming to be reminded that criticism of women’s speech and writing is in aims to uphold a false idea of the “right” (white male) way to speak.

This book gave me some fresh takes on the state of language right now and got me thinking a lot about women in the workplace. With all the articles coming out about women needing to drop the “ums” and “likes”, I’ll proudly keep speaking in a way that’s connection-focused and community-oriented.

Montell says,

We’re also living in a time when we find respected media outlets and public figures circulating criticisms of women’s voices – like that they speak too much vocal fry, overuse the words like and literally, and apologize in excess. They brand judgments like these as pseudo-feminist advice aimed at helping women talk with “more authority” so that they can be “taken more seriously.” What they don’t seem to realize is that they’re actually keeping women in a state of self-questioning – keeping them quiet – for no objectively logical reason other than that they don’t sound like middle-aged white men.

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link).


Creative Forgetting

I’ve talked numerous times about my idea that everyone is creative. And this month, we’re going to talk about this creativity, but from the perspective I’ve been enduring. So it may or may not be well known, but childhood trauma causes memory loss. I have suffered significant memory loss throughout my life. But recently, as I’ve spent a lot of my time in my home, I’ve remembered some significant memories that punch through just a very small bit of that fog. Today’s topic is not about the science of that, or memory loss’ protective quality. It’s about creative forgetting.

I wanted to tie this into trauma-related memory loss because I think some of the same themes are playing out here. So creative forgetting is literally me forgetting all the time that I’m a writer. After a draining day or week, I’ll sit on my couch and watch YouTube videos of highly creatively disciplined individuals making their art.  I’m so happy to see other creating, and even making their living from the things they create. And I spend time too making lists, either in my head or on paper, of things I’m interested in. I do this to try to gain creative inspiration. I pull out my watercolors and paint. I make a pizza or pancakes. I sew. I read. And in all this, I conveniently forget that I’m a writer through and through.

Like many creative endeavors, writing is not regarded as valuable in our society, and it can be ridiculed (until those people who ridicule me try their hand at writing themselves). And I think that when you’re creative (everyone is in some capacity), but in a traditional way (like with writing), you have a stubbornness in your step. You know you’re doing something that’s highly valuable, and that people aren’t about to admit is highly valuable. But writing is traditionally creative  – gasp – and society wants automatons. By the way, when I say “traditionally creative”, I mean that it’s normally considered creative. I believe that everything is a creative act – from washing the dishes to fixing a car to investing in stocks.

For me to feel that I was worthwhile in my pursuit of writing as a full-blown career, I went to a coding bootcamp. This step in my education brought me a very interesting career as a Technical Writer. I blend my writing skills with some engineering skills – even building a full iOS application as a previous job. But there’s that inherent awkwardness in feeling that your position is looked down on. I wrote about this in I’m Not In It to Become a Developer, after someone said I’d make more money as an engineer (even though I have no interest in being an engineer).

So I was thinking – what if I keep forgetting that I’m a writer because I myself have integrated some other people’s beliefs about the worth of writing? I know the worth of writing. I know it’s a significant industry, a competitive industry, a powerful industry. I know that celebrities and politicians inevitably write a memoir or a self-help book. So then why the creative forgetting? Perhaps because the value of my writing has not been validated. Perhaps because my writing has not sold more than a dozen copies. Perhaps because I operate behind the scenes, most extremely as a ghostwriter. Or affectionately, as gutter, which I call the process of totally breaking down a piece of work and reassembling it.

This all isn’t about a need for me to gain attention about writing. If you snug up close to each sentence, it’s evidently a practice in thinking about why I keep forgetting that I’m a writer. Partly, it’s because I’m not reminded. And that’s not going to happen. Nobody’s going to remind me that I’m a writer. The other part of it is that I’m met with a lot of media that asks me to explore myself. Whenever I read something on Instagram or otherwise about exploring myself, I keep getting caught off guard. Thoughts course through me – do I not know myself? I look up and there are six stacks of books in front of me, and a 17 Penguin edition book collection of Victorian and contemporary Horror classics. Do I not know myself? Or is this self-care shit getting out of hand (*closes Instagram*)?

So then memory loss comes into play. Writing is how I define myself. So then is forgetting that I’m a writer a from of temporarily rejecting my identity (and myself)? And I should clarify that when I say I forget I’m a writer, I mean that I may have some free time on the weekend, and it’s not the first or second or third thing I think of doing. Of course, this could all have a lot to do with the pandemic. We’re all at home (or should be because of COVID) and there’s not a lot of external stimuli.  But what I’m trying to get to is that whatever your passion and your craft and your skill is, it is valuable. It is so valuable that for you to grasp its significance would terrify you. So please, whatever society tells you, what you do matters.

Remember who you are and keep reminding yourself every day so you don’t walk around in a daze. So you don’t wander into odd hobbies along the way that you’re not really interested in that keep distracting you from your deep work. But funny enough, if you’re a writer like me, you know those weird winding roads you take enrich what you do. Just don’t get lost there. Do what interests you, find other avenues, but remember who you are. Know that your forgetting is not forever. I recently reread a story about a girl named Vasalisa in Women Who Run With the Wolves. In this story, a little girl goes through a mini hero’s journey of developing or recalling her intuition via the external symbol of a doll. It’s a worthwhile read to understand the steps involved in building trust in the self.

What is inside of you cannot be lost or forgotten forever. Leave yourself a paper trail if you need to while you explore so that you don’t forget. What you do is an expression of a wealth inside of you. It cannot be crushed, but it can be artificially diminished by what society says, by stumbles and falls, by a whole lot of other factors. But it’s all yours and your only job is to keep remembering and keep returning.


Buying a Couch Changed My Life

I’ve spoken about the home in indirect and direct ways before. It sounds like a bit of an exaggeration to say that buying a couch changed my life. But there’s a bit to it. For some backstory, I grew up moving around a lot and going to a lot of different schools. Not only that, but I grew up with an American mother and French father. So I spent nearly a decade living in France, during which I was considered the American girl. It didn’t help much when I moved to the US, since I was the French girl here. I was always the outsider. Even at home. I spent a significant amount of my childhood in my room alone. I parented myself, and eventually, I played parent in a lot of ways to my own mother.

I come from a very dysfunctional and abusive background – I won’t get into all that here. But I want to set the stage for showing how I was able to overcome some of this through creating sacredness in my own apartment now. When I was a teenager, I shared a room with my mother (it’s as bad as it sounds, worse even). Every few months, she would go through massive purging, in which we would get rid of a significant amount of items. A lot of it were things we realized, if just days later, that we actually really needed. So I really got into the habit of deep purging.

I continued this self-enforced deprivation for a long time. When I was in college, there was a point where I was doing laundry two to three times a week because I had so few clothes. And this may work for some people, but in combination with fears around never feeling like I had enough, this was a toxic cocktail for self-loathing enforced by significant material deprivation.

I’ve previously talked about minimalism in the following articles: Clearing Out (written while in an abusive relationship) and Why I Failed at Minimalism. And for a while, I considered myself a minimalist. I realize now that I used it as an excuse not to settle down anywhere and do the healing work I needed to do. After all, that shit was terrifying. I would have to look at nearly two decades of abuse that lingered and messes with every facet of my life.

I came to a point where minimalism (or deprivation under disguise of a social phenomenon popularized by Marie Kondo) was an excuse to keep moving from place to place. It was an excuse for home never being a satisfying place to be. It was an excuse for home to be sterile, frantic, unwelcoming, and even frightening – replicating the “home” of my childhood.

Probably the most significant, clearly identifiable turning point in my adulthood – and you may laugh – is when I bought a couch. My friend and I went to Home Goods in February – yes, I bought my first ever couch at the age of 29. Before that, I just had a desk in my living room. I would joke that I lived like a frat boy. Picture a nearly bare apartment with some IKEA furniture – but without a TV or gaming console. Books instead.

So my friend and I were in Home Goods and I could not figure out for the life of me which couch was “good” or “comfortable”. My friend put the most wholesome peer pressure on me – “buy the couch, it’s okay”. I sat on it in the corner of the store with her for a good ten minutes, not saying anything. My brain was short circuiting. Who the fuck was I to own a couch? What gave me the right? My brain went blank save for the nasty little voice. It reminded me that I’d had a roommate in college who burned down our apartment. What if that shit happened again? Why bother getting a couch?

Being up at the cash register was another good ten minutes of brain fog. But I bought it. I bought the fucking couch – and this heavy chonk in my living room feels very grounding. The first night I had it home, I was afraid to sit on it. I remember the delivery man looking at my stunned face after he’d set it down and going “you should enjoy it.” He didn’t know what saying that meant to me.

My gorgeous couch now sits in my living room, and I sit on it with my cats. I fluff up the pillows every single day and look over at it so many times throughout the day (including when I’m on work Zoom meetings) that you’d swear someone was sitting on it. It’s light grey and makes me think of a couch a nice older woman would have. It’s respectable – not the gothic couches I had all over Pinterest boards. But better because it’s in my own apartment and I used my own money to buy it, and the style is going to age well.

So when I say buying a couch changed my life, I mean that it was a significant symbolic statement to the universe that I’m ready and willing to settle in. Not to settle in a location, or to settle down. Not to never move again. No – it’s symbolic for settling into myself. This big bulky anchor acts like it – reminding me daily of the power that comes from waiting, studying, harvesting only that which is ready to be plucked.

And come to think of it – my three card Tarot spread for today ties in perfectly with this conversation. I drew Judgment, the King of Cups, and the World. When I saw this trio, I thought of the advantage I now have of mature (King of Cups) discernment (Judgment) over each piece of my life and myself (The World). Through liberating myself to settling into the symbolism of placehood, I’ve opened myself up to personal growth in a way I never had before. I’ve given myself an investment that only I could give myself. Nobody was going to do that for me. My parents abandoned me far before the age that I could properly develop my identity and self-esteem. So part of my recovery was giving myself the little space of home that I never had.

Why a couch? Why did it take a fucking couch to get me to this place? I have some theories – but maybe I’ll explore that more another time. For now, I can say with a sense of humor that a couch changed my life.


I’d Be Woman and I’d Be Free

I walked outside on cemented sidewalks, cracked and directive. I walked down streets lined tightly with buildings, metal fences, and defensive closures. I came to the park and led my feet through the grass where there were walkways to otherwise take. 

I listened to the same sound of my feet coming to the ground again and again. I thought if I let go, I might fall. If I let go of the things in my mind, they might all come tumbling down and be soaked up into the earth. And then I might be free. 

I thought if I let go, it’s disintegrate and sink right into the earth, and I’d be comfortable there. But when I cling to those thoughts, I have my identity. I have my wounded heart. And if I let go, I don’t know who I’d be. The earth is more than willing to take those thoughts. It pleads. I walk and the trees around me whisper for me to give them attention, and to release. 

I, undignified, hold the hurt. When the earth comes to me, as she does more and more frequently, she soothes me and tells me that she knows I have suffered. She sends me poetry through words so vivid that I write them into existence. She sends me written messages and funny little coincidences. She sends me numbers and overwhelming impressions that it’s all going to be okay. 

But I resist and I keep all of those thoughts within me, and they make me sick. They make my body weak and my mind foggy. They set me into trance and prevent me from using the creativity inside of me. When the earth comes, she magnifies the parts of me that I want to let out. 

I’m the woman who wants to run through the woods in the daytime and dark. I’m the woman who wants to breathe wild literature into existence. I’m the woman who wants to speak the absolute, moving, changeable truths I feel moving in my rib cage. I’m the woman who wants to build, with my hands and with my heart. I’m the woman who wants to breathe flames and pour coins and move water. I’m the woman who wants to breathe into the mind of my other. 

I walked outside on cemented sidewalks, and they told me where to walk, where to stop, where to refrain from stepping foot. They told me, “this is the way everyone else will walk too.” I walked down streets tightly lined with owned spaces, feeling the restriction of fences and walls integrating into my own body. There, in the park, I kept my thoughts and didn’t let them go. Without them, I’d be woman and I’d be free.


Using the Tarot for Self Exploration

In previous articles, I spoke about some of the ways to incorporate spirituality into the day-to-day. One of my methods is using the Tarot to hone in on insights. Social isolation has given me the opportunity to develop a deeper relationship with this tool. Every morning, I journal and consult the Tarot for information about a specific question, from clarification about my dreams to elucidation about happenings in my life. There are different types of exercises with the Tarot that I do that help to ground me and learn to trust my inner guidance.

Reading Narrativizations of the Major Arcana

One of the most potent ways that I have worked with the Tarot is through learning about the story of the major arcana. The major arcana is comprised of 22 cards (including the Fool) that correspond with archetypes of human life. This sequence starts with the Fool (0) and ends with the World (21). Each card shows a part of the human growth journey, through the initial naïveté of youth and ignorance all the way through the integration of the self. Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom and Motherpeace are great resources for this type of study. They go through the imagery that appears on the cards, as well as histories and philosophies of the card meanings. Since Tarot decks have different imagery, it’s important to grasp the fundamental insight of the major arcana from a variety of sources. I regularly work with more than four decks. They each have different imagery for each cards. So I am able to apply my knowledge of the archetype mixed with the visuals distinct to the deck that I’m working with.

Learning to Trust My Own Interpretation

I was initially drawn to the Tarot because I saw it as a tool that provided external guidance. That, of course, I could not wholly rely on. I had the same belief of the Tarot that a lot of people have – that it’s a fortune telling game. However, the more I work with it and get to know my deck collection, the more I have come to terms with the Tarot being a tool of reflection.  That is, I see in it what my subconscious mind cannot quite openly express. As I learn to trust my own intuition again, I have been working steadily to rely less on the description booklets that come with decks. Instead, I sit quietly with the imagery for several minutes until I see a story arise. Once I see a story, I speak it out loud and I also write in my journal about the reading.

Moving Out of the Fear Mindset

When I first began working with the Tarot, I was misinformed about cards like the Tower and the Devil. I assigned them the meanings that they seemed to be associated with, or I relied on the booklet meanings. These were often morose and unhelpful. I sought out books and online resources that could explain the cards in a way that weren’t so straightforward. The Tarot is not always so literal. So it was not helpful to see a card depicting great bodily tragedy and tie that into my life. Of course there is always the chance that the card can have a literal meaning. But that is highly unlikely. I learned to work with the Tower as a card representing emotional or spiritual upheaval, which makes more sense in the context of my life experience. And I learned to read the Devil as a card about sexuality and repression.

Spreads for Self Exploration

With learning to trust my intuition more, I have challenged myself to create my own spreads. The traditional Celtic cross and past-present-future spreads were not resonating with me.

Multi-Deck Three Card Spread with Clarifiers

The most common spread I use is choosing two to three different decks and over-hand shuffling until I have three fallout cards from each deck. In the following, I used the After Tarot and the Fountain Tarot.

I glean three different messages that create a story from one deck, then use additional decks as clarifiers. So in the example above, my base deck (the deck I choose the base the reading around) is the After Tarot (on top), and the Fountain Tarot (on bottom) clarifies each of the cards that it sits below. This method has given me some very clear and precise readings.

Single Deck Three Card Spread

Normally, a three card spread would involve positioning past, present, and future cards (in that order). I find that I don’t work well when time is described too rigidly by the cards. I rarely ask questions that have to do with timelines, due dates, and cutoffs. I often ask for clarification about things that are happening, or dreams.

In the above spread, I used the Ember and Aura Tarot (indie deck) and asked for some guidance about reframing a belief that I’ve been carrying that is not serving me. I read all three cards to build a story about how to form a new belief that benefits me and helps me move peacefully in the world and in my relationships. I can use this as a journal prompt or simply sit with the cards.

Every time I do a spread, I write down the cards and my interpretation in my journal. I also take a photo of each spread in case I want to revisit it later.


Building a Body of Work

In the first decade of my adulthood, I have often come back to the idea that I was lacking a body of work. I have realized that the body of work comes over time. That may seem like an obvious statement. But it is not so obvious. I listen to podcasts and read books by people who have been working on their body of work for decades. The disparity in my thinking rested in that I did not see the correspondence between accumulation and expertise. There are a couple of points to further look into here, accumulation and the building of a body of work.

First, let’s look at accumulation. Now, depending on what we find to be our calling or great interests, we can look at accumulation in more than one way. Accumulation can also occur without a direct gain of knowledge (let’s talk about this in another blog post). Let’s take writing as our first example. I have been working on building a body of work for my writing since I was about seven years old. Most of that time was spent unknowingly doing such. But let’s say my body of work started about 4 years ago, when I started this public blog. In the past few years, I have been accumulating blog articles.

These blog articles demonstrate a few things, including: I am interested in writing outside of being paid to do so, and I have the diligence to continue studying beyond structured schooling. Now, this is my public accumulation. It is for the sake of releasing information into the world that I think is interesting because it offers thought alternatives. Of course, I also have a decent body of private accumulation of writings. These live in about 10 journals that I’ve filled up. I used to get rid of all of my private writing. But since becoming more comfortable with my process of self-exploration, I have kept all of my private writing.

In addition to accumulating public blog articles and private journal writings, I also have a professional body of work. Now, this is owned by companies, so I don’t show this work in a portfolio. It is often enough in the professional world to simply give companies and other professionals a good understanding of what body of work I have written for pay. Aside from professional work, I have also created a body of work comprised of two novels, one of which is now published and available on Amazon.

This may seem like a lot of work. And it has been. I write every single day. But I would not have it without accumulation. I remember starting my blog and believing that it was too late for me. I wasn’t a traditionally published author, so what place did I have carving out my own little plot on the internet? Who was I to put my name on a website URL and publish my personal thoughts? I did it anyways. And shortly after I started my blog, I gained the courage, through discipline and letting go, to begin writing my first book.

I used to feel that I had to qualify what I spent my time on. I asked myself the value in all that I was doing. But I felt that contributing to this blog and writing books was what I was being called to do deep inside. Writing is my complete release and my raging freedom. I don’t have to publish everything I write, and I definitely keep most of my writing private. But what I do put up is my public accumulation, my contribution to my body of work. The ego was not the part of me that wanted to attach a body of work to my name. The ego was the voice making me question my place in the world, when I have a good idea of it.

So the first part of building a body of work is simply accumulating. It’s not releasing daily content. It’s not putting monetary pressure on the things you love to do most. It’s diligence over the duration of time. There is no need to be an expert now. There is no need for perfection. At the end of the day, when I am finished my professional work, I am still a writer. I will continue to write and create private and public works. There is no incentive beyond the feeling I get that I am fulfilling what my soul most wants to do, which is get words onto a page.

Building a body of work is the more calculated form of accumulation. A body of work shows a personality behind the work. An accumulation can be bits thrown to a wall. For a writer, it can include a drawer full of poems written on napkins, old grocery lists, photo-collages meant to be book covers. Accumulation is disorderly, contains mediums that are extraneous to the main themes of the work, unedited. It’s private, primal, un-curated, insecure, weathered, worn, hyperbolic.

The calculated body of work takes many forms for a writer. For me, it’s these blog articles because they show the themes that I like to work with in my writing. This blog is my outlet for alternative thoughts that I can’t otherwise speak into existence. It is here whenever I absolutely feel the urge that I need to get a thought out. The calculation rests in that I sensor my thoughts in this medium. This is not done to distort the message or manipulate the reader. It is meant to create a more understandable narrative. If I were to use a completely uninhibited stream of consciousness, the articles would become crowded with distracted thoughts that only I am able to make connections to. We all form strong mental associations to words and images, but it’s not useful for me to speak about the formations that I make as they are highly personal and amoebic.

The body of work gives other people a lot into the workings of the creator’s mind. With writing, you can learn far more about me from the words on this page than what I am saying directly. The more material I create and publish, the more you can make your own ideas about how I think and live my life. This idea of who I am lives uniquely in your brain as your perception. Although I can mostly control what goes into my body of work, I cannot fully control how my work is interpreted. The body of work does that for me. A consensus of my writing is made outside of me, based on what I have released.

The value of a body of work is immense. Consistency and perseverance are required. There is romance is the daily toil. One must accumulate, and simultaneously build a body of work. One must work in private, and also show something – not everything – to the world.


Capture and Freedom

To me, capture is the sense that I cannot fully express my individuality. And freedom is full expression of self. Navigating the world that we live in with a sense of freedom is unheard of because we live within the bounds of systems that rely on us to have needs. I was visiting my bookshelf this morning, mourning for the loss of a great many books that I gave away in my minimalist adventures. I found that there were unread books that I still stirred a great interest in me. Since we are in social isolation, I find it very rewarding to remind myself that I have far more tools that I thought I did. I don’t need to rush out to a book store right now. I have a couple of hundred books waiting to be read for the first time, or revisited.

So on to capture and freedom. One of the books I revisited this morning is OSHO’s Love, Freedom, Aloneness. I own several of his books and I enjoy OSHO’s perspective immensely. Lately, this book is highly pertinent. Coming into this world as a child without a solid family system has always weighed on me and made me feel less-than. As I go through this social isolation without a single other soul for support, I find that it’s more important than even to understand that there is nothing innately wrong or bad with being alone. I have known this, of course, but to read literature about it solidifies and validates my experience. Eventually, I would like to validate my own experience and philosophies without relying on books like these.

As an additional point, I have always found that I much prefer to be alone than to be in company. And our modern society views this lifestyle as dangerous and anti-social. So I have spent a considerate amount of my time masking this need for aloneness with relationships that were wholly unsatisfying, draining, and damaging. We are washed with so many pieces of information that tell us that we need to have this relationship, and that relationship. When  force myself into society’s mold, I feel suffocated and it takes me months to regroup and recharge after a stint with “normalcy”.

The chapter I was drawn to during today’s reading is called Solitary and Elect. Here, he speaks of the requirement for society to have needful citizens. Without needs, society would not be possible. Further, he says “you need to be needed; you have a deep need to be needed. If nobody needs you, you feel useless, meaningless. If somebody needs you, he gives you significance; you feel important.” This is a common web I see in workplaces, where an individual may start a position with the goal (conscious or subconscious) to make themselves indispensable. This is done through means of excelling, or more covertly and irresponsibly, through means of creating output in a way that cannot be duplicated with ease except by oneself.

He talks about therapy too, in that we pay someone to listen to us so that we can feel worthy of being listened to. Unfortunately, those raised with improper attachments who recognize that they are deprived of a listening ear end up paying a lot of money for something that others receive for free. Of course, there are some more complexities to the therapy example as we look more deeply at attachment theory. But on a base level, when the community improperly socializes a child, they grow increasingly needy for lack of attention or shut off that mechanism entirely and become distant and wholly uninvolved.

OSHO speaks of meditation as the disturbing to intimate relationships because it brings in spirituality, which he refers to as religion. Note that I am going to use the term spirituality instead because oftentimes, when people think of religion, there is a connotation of organized religion. In a relationship, one would rather have they partner be a drunkard than a mediator. With spirituality, “the fear is that she or he is trying to become sufficient unto herself or unto himself”.

Rather than enjoy the bondage and capture, because it feeds our ego, the alternative is to choose solitary life. This does not mean being alone. It means rather than one is happy whether or not someone is walking by their side. “He never waits for anybody and he never looks back,” he continues. In aloneness, one is whole. The capture is in relying on others to feed the ego. The freedom is in being fine with or without a person and circumstance.

Achieving this state of freedom has been highly complicated by people, naturally. They have words on a page to sell. It is important in this process to understand that there is no escape from society. The imperative path for me to take is allowing myself to be drawn towards the things that I find a natural affinity to. It is not admitting capture; it is living in semi-bondage and recognizing my worldly limitations, while growing in mind and meditative practice. Freedom may surely not be attainable, but we can all work within society to cultivate attitudes of non-attachment and aloneness.