I unabashedly believe in the power of tarot. Not to predict the future (although it often seems to do that very accurately), but as a tool to help me recognize patterns in my life.
Aside from classic spreads like the Celtic Cross, there are also additional stand-alone cards that are fun to explore. My favorite is the year card, which I like to use to give me clues as to what I should be focusing my energies on in the upcoming year. The idea is that there’s one card in the major arcana that will be the underlying theme of that year, and also serves to teach you lessons that are sorely needed at that particular time in your life. The major arcana numbered 0-22 represent “The Fool’s Journey”, in other words every person’s path of self-discovery. The fool starts out completely clueless, but through his journey figures out his unique place in the world.
Figuring out your year card is easy. First, add your birth month and day with the current year. For example, if your birthday is May 1, for this year you would add up 5+1+2014, which equals 2020. Then add each of these digits together, 2+0+2+0. So your year card would be #4, The Emperor. If you end up with a number higher than 22, add the two digits together. Some people count the year starting from their birthday, so the fictional May 1st person’s year would run from May 1st 2014 – May 1st 2015. Personally I use January 1st. A matter of preference really; I don’t see it as an exact science, so the specific dates aren’t that important to me.
Last year my card was #12, the Hanged Man. It represents the point in the fool’s journey when he’s come up against something so challenging, he’s forced to let go of control. The idea is, if you stop struggling to control everything, things will begin to work themselves out effortlessly. Surrendering to your experiences can bring you joy. If you stop rushing and learn to stand still, you suddenly have all the time in the world.
As a kid I was convinced I’d be a successful actor by the age of twenty-three, an indie film darling taking the world by storm. Ewan McGregor would amicably split from his wife and fall head over heels in love with me. I would have a small but ardent cult following. I would be Julie Delpy in Killing Zoe, Parker Posey in Party Girl. I had a very clear, very specific vision of what I wanted to achieve.
Reality has served me a very different dish. After nearly ten years pursuing an acting career, I had no agent, no relationships with casting directors, and very little work I was proud of. Most of my time had been spent auditioning for poorly written student films. The jobs that I booked were by and large disappointing experiences, paid solely with (often empty) promises of footage for my reel. It wasn’t all terrible – I had some fun experiences on set, and I acted in a number of plays where I had real moments of creative satisfaction. But overall it was keeping me in a depressed, anxious state because I just didn’t have the stomach for the business. I’m an introverted person, and all the social interaction necessary to pursue acting was overwhelming and exhausting. My lack of success was making me bitter. I was vaguely aware that my acting chops were not really where they needed to be in order to book professional jobs, but I felt like my hard work should have some pay off. As long as I worked hard, I should reap some rewards, right? Well unfortunately that’s not always how it works.
After more or less writing off the idea of pursuing acting professionally, I was sent into a tailspin. This is what I’d decided on when I was twelve and had never looked back. When all of my friends were having their ‘what am I going to do with my life’ crises in college, I was smug and self-assured. I’d figured it out. Now that life was no longer in black and white, what on earth was I going to do?
Which brings us to this past year. It has been all about letting go of childhood expectations of what my life would look like at age thirty. I worked hard to embrace the concept of the Hanged Man. Instead of grasping onto whatever career idea came along first and charging full steam ahead, I decided not to make any decisions. According to my astrologist, in 2013 my moon entered a balsamic phase (you really can’t make this stuff up). It’s a liminal stage after one phase ends but before the next begins. It’s a time to rest up and get reinvigorated in preparation of the next cycle in your life. Clues were coming at me from all directions to slow down and assess.
So I’ve spent the last year putting out feelers in many directions. I took a drawing class. I collaborated on a comic. I did some jQuery classes on Codecademy. I made a beet galette. I sculpted fun things out of marzipan. I got my first paid writing gig. Every month I was exploring a different place that I might want to move to. Should I stay in New York and endure the teeming masses? Move to Portland and start an Etsy empire selling artisanal cutting boards shaped like animals? Escape to the wilderness of Vermont and raise piglets?
I thought living in this state of impermanence would be miserable, but it actually led to a fun, fulfilling year. I was able to pursue things casually and without pressure, because I wasn’t heaping on expectations of fame and fortune. It also made my office job feel less depressing – I could now view it as a necessary gig that paid the bills while I explored my options (rather than a constant reminder of failure, as it had been when I was pursuing acting).
2013 was not without its road bumps. All that uncertainty did lead to a good amount of anxiety, which I’ve been battling with meditation, yoga, and lots of pie. And pursuing things without expectation may have been freeing, but it didn’t always come easy. My first inclination was always to find an angle – how will this translate to money/happiness/ultimate fulfillment? It’s taken a lot of coaxing to get myself out of that habit, and it’s a trap I still fall into occasionally.
But overall the past year has been really positive. I’m beginning to carve out a life for myself that’s much more suited to my personality than that of an actor. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve begun to let go of this feeling that there’s a universal surveillance of my life. I always had the feeling that everyone in the world, as a collective group, was judging me. Judging my lack of success as an actor, my looks, my love life, everything. I’ve been slowly coming to the conclusion that no one gives a shit. Everyone is paying attention to their own lives, worrying about their own success, career, and relationships. And assuming that everyone was judging the ins and outs of my daily life was both self-loathing and egotistical. Intellectually I’ve known this for years, but it’s quite a different experience to actually feel the truth of it in your bones.
Now I’m looking to the year ahead. My card for 2014 is #13, Death. It’s about ending a chapter in your life. Shedding unnecessary habits and stepping out of patterns that no longer serve you. Being swept up in dramatic changes that you’re powerless to stop. It’s the time in the fool’s journey where he allows his former self to die in order to make room for a new and improved self. It might be a miserable and tempestuous ride, but eventually he’ll come out on the other side, battered and bruised but altered for the better.
I’m looking forward to my year of transition. I’ve been simmering in this balsamic stew long enough. I’d like to finally shed some old habits that aren’t serving me anymore (hello procrastination and needless anxiety), and move forward with a new phase of my life. At this point, it’s still pretty unclear to me what exact direction I’m headed in. But out of the primordial soup of the last year, things are slowly beginning to form into big undefined shapes. And hopefully over the next year I can start to sculpt more detail into these vague ideas, getting a sense of where I’d like to head next. Or if the Death card has anything to say about it, where I’ll be rocket-launched into, unable to stop the inexorable forces at play.