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Poetics. When I began to study poetics, I did not fully appreciate what contemporary poetics examines. It’s not simply the “form” of poems. It’s critical theory.

Cruel optimism. When I read Sappho’s poetry in Early Modern Poets class last fall, I encountered the idea of “cruel optimism” in the Sapphic principles of the unattained attachment and the significance—or imperative of the absent “object of desire,” even before reading Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism (Duke University Press, 2011). In her tenacious dissection of her term, “cruel optimism,” which she defines and illustrates by way of several expressions, for example, an attachment to a “cluster of promises” for an “impossible” identity, outcome, potentiality, ‘sheer fantasy,’ or ‘toxic’ situation, (Berlant, 2011) and examples as shown with poetry, e.g. John Ashbery’s poem, “Ignorance of the Law is No Excuse,” (“We were warned about spiders, and the / occasional famine.” […] “He came up to me.”) in which the poetics of attachment play out before and after the critical action in the line, “He came up to me.” (For the full poem by John Ashbery, visit the Language Hat blog post here.)

Anyone hooked on the twenty-first century trend of “mindfulness” and “living in the moment” must read Berlant’s work on “cruel optimism,” as Berlant interrogates the notions of the “present” as found in lyric poetry; when we study lyric poetry, we take for granted that the present holds weight and meaning. Berlant challenges the present as it operates on other levels in the poetics of attachment: 1) She writes, “one must embark on an analysis of rhetorical indirection as a way of thinking about the strange temporalities of projection into an enabling object that is also disabling.” (Berlant, 2011) To this, I reflect on early modern poets including Queen Elizabeth I herself, and Sir Philip Sidney, whose lyric poems projected happiness onto the object of their desire whether it was a physical person, such as “Stella” in “Astrophil & Stella” or the queen’s youth in her sonnet, “When I was fair and young.”

Studying Sir Philip Sidney’s epic lyric poem, Astrophil and Stella, and envisioning them in my art journal

Secondly, Berlant asserts 2) that the poetics of attachment by way of “cruel optimism” create “a fake present moment of intersubjectivity” (Berlant, 2011) in which the object of desire, such as an ex-lover, a lost cause, a ghost—is absolutely absent. Thus, the “cruel optimism” is of a “potential occupation of the same psychic space” to allow an imaginary scenario to exist for the poet/writer. (Berlant, 2011) Thirdly, this functions as a projection onto 3) an “impossible identity,” open-ended meanings, “boundary-dissolving,” (Berlant, 2011) a myriad of poetic osmosis happening between the speaker and the addressee, whose identity may even be imaginary and unrecognizable to the real person or muse who inspired the poem.

  Holding the magnifying lens to Berlant’s work, we find an inverted focus on the “other” as this imaginary, affected attachment, nearly artifice. And we find the speaker, the “I” and the “self.” In Judith Butler’s work, “Giving an Account of Oneself,” (2001) the poetic accountability of these two bookend identities, or interpersonal perspectives, come into focus. The “self” and “the other” are constructions of the poem; these could be anything (as in Margaret Cavendish’s 17th century dialogue poems, in which she imagines a conversation between a man and a tree, for instance, or her own “self” interrogating her “barren” fertility problems and casting these as the “other”), not necessarily two individual human beings as subjects. Recognizing the ‘other’ is “subjected to that norm and agency of its use,” as Butler explains. (Butler, 2001) She writes, “I am compelled and comported outside myself,” and “the subject of recognition is one for whom a vacilliation between loss and ecstasy,” as it is the “possibility of the ‘I’ and the knowing of the ‘I.’” (Butler, 2001.)

In my work with the Gothic (or the EcoGothic, and Romantic-Gothic) women writers of the 1790s and early 19th century, such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Ann Radcliffe, and Mary Shelley, I search for this very phenomenon: where does the writer recognize her own “I” and situate herself apart from the “other” or conversely, portray herself as the other? This is, as I understand Butler’s work, a kind of poetic accountability (or accountability of poetics). The functionality of the “I” (for example, the female Gothic “I” or the lyrical “I” in contemporary poetry, or in Millay’s sonnets, her “I”) transgresses the boundaries of the “I” and confronts the liminal space around the “other.” At times, when we are hunting for the “other,” we find a convergence of the “I” with the “other” in this liminal space, a dissolving of boundaries, much the way Lauren Berlant talks of attachment poetics. When the poet or speaker, (or poetics scholar) is held accountable, these confrontations and central questions around self and otherness act as a frame of reference to position the other in relation to the self (or vice versa).

Exploring the “female Gothic ‘I'” from Romantic-Gothic literature
(my “Bride of Frankenstein’s Monster, on the Eve of her Wedding”) LCS Mixed Media watercolor in my art journal

Interiority, or interior subjects, then become dependent on this relationship, and in some cases, the self (as “I”) is relying on the conventional norms of the other (as “you”) so that the poem has some basis in a hypothetical singularity. “The notion of singularity is often bound up in existential romanticism and a claim of authenticity.” (Butler, 2001) What strikes me about Butler’s work is a call to authenticate the “self,” in relation to other living beings (mostly human), in a way that seems reminiscent of the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft and other Romantics, especially women writers in Romanticism (and even dark Romanticism, e.g. Ann Radcliffe, Mary Shelley). I find myself making connections between the 18th century philosophical writings of literary critics and writers, such as Mary Wollstonecraft and J.J. Rousseau, and the literary critics and sociologists like Berlant and Butler—specifically on the subject of the “self” and the “other,” and the problem of attachment, a favorite subject of both J.J. Rousseau and M. Wollstonecraft! So, it would seem we are still troubled by attachment poetics, and still perplexed by the recognition of the “self” and the “other” two hundred years later.

            In short, as a poet, I am guilty of crafting poems on the fragile, filamented, fragmented scaffolding of “cruel optimism.” (See my poem, “Capes and Daggers,” Fish Anthology 2019) In fact, I confess it’s a favorite tactic. Berlant’s interrogation of “cruel optimism” further disrobes the idea of the “affective attachment,” and positions the poet (or speaker) as the ‘wearer’ of the thing, effectively “wearing of the subject” and being “worn.” I love this idea of wearing the attachment like a garment but also wearing it down, the way a spirit must wait until the affected speaker is weary, vulnerable, and ready to be possessed—by desire, by this cruel optimism to a “proximate location” to, as Berlant alludes, the “good life.” (Berlant, 2011) Possession, both as a state of being, and as affective attachment, and possessiveness, as a trait, or quality, seem like a fitting mode that suspend “the cruelty of the now,” (Berlant, 2011) by building a fantasy scaffolding on the promise of an imminent happiness (reconciliation, reunion, resolution, miracles, once was lost but now found, etc.) I would love the opportunity to examine specific poems and apply Berlant’s model of “cruel optimism” to analyze how poems given an imaginary voice to the voiceless (ie. an absent actor). What about Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnets (those she’s written as a widow grieving her husband’s death)? Or, as a parallel example, it would be useful to create case-studies on several poets from different periods.

Cruel optimism seems to champion a kind of identity theft and reclamation at the same time. Poetics of attachment don’t work to retain or retrieve that identity all at once, but incrementally, in fragments, almost like a reversed Petrarchan blazoning. The speaker, by analogy, throws pieces of that impossible identity at a moving target, like a blindfolded knife-thrower releases daggers at a costumed assistant, spinning around on the wheel of death/transformation. No one ever really knows much about the knife-thrower’s assistant; in Berlant’s work, this is the “faceless universal subject of self-referentiality” (Berlant, 2011) as the action of the poem is not necessarily real; it may be illusion, the illusion of attachment, ultimately, an illusion of the ‘American dream.’  

This coming Sunday, February 21st, the Farnsworth Museum in Maine is hosting a special event to honor Edna St. Vincent Millay. It’s free and open to the public.

Experimenting with the new block editor and am re-blogging this with a few updates!

The Adventures of Fen Fatale ~ Ecoheroine

The Marriage of Tarot and the Empath

On the heels of the beautifully aspected Taurus full moon, my dreams lately have had me thinking a lot about empathy. Recently, I taught a series of workshops for Windham-Raymond Adult Education on folklore, astrology, palmistry, tasseography, and my favorite–cartomancy, the art of reading everyday playing cards for divination. I first began working with the Tarot, astrology, and cartomancy in 1992, while I was a teen-ager. Prior to that, around 1991, before I entered high school, a friend of my mother’s gave me a set of Celtic Tree Oracle cards–a system of divination with a guidebook and cards created by Colin Murray and Liz Murray, illustrated by Vanessa Card (1988). I still have my original deck and guidebook–even though there’s a little bit of tree sap on some of the cards from using them outside 20+ years ago. (I experimented with aeromancy, allowing…

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I am “Lady of the Lake”

One of the few helpful aspects of social distancing and self-isolation during this horrible time of the COVID-19 has been taking the time, in solitude, to read, write, organize, create, sketch, and to revisit old favorite hobbies, and passions, like art. Back in March, when my university transitioned to online courses, and my state governor issued a Stay-at-Home order, I felt reasonably “ok” with that, since I felt it was a good time to focus on my graduate study, which requires a lot of reading and writing. Last fall, two of my faculty advisors asked me a difficult philosophical question about why researching the topics I’d proposed was important to me–personally--and my answers then seemed flaky, e.g. “I am Lady of the Lake!” So, I have been thinking about how to answer those questions. It seems like I should be prepared to answer thoughtfully.

In May, I received Honorable Mention for my poem, “My Glacial Erratic,” in the 2020 Fish Poetry Prize, judged and selected by former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins. My poem will appear in the 2020 Fish Anthology, coming out later this summer. (That’s with Fish Publishing, which holds a number of writing contests each year, based in Ireland.) Since then, I’ve written new poetry, and started drawing images that go with my poetry, and some of it is inspired by recent coursework. Selkies, mermaids, the Irish merrow, bog-women, the Lady of the Lake, and other supernatural female figures in literature (Romanticism as well as other periods, particularly Gothic literature and Arthurian lit) have captured my imagination.

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“Irish Merrow” – one of my watercolors

Enter art journaling. To work through some of my ideas, I’ve started art journaling. It’s now summer, and I’m still self-isolating, and spending a great deal of time at home, on my own, creating. I’ve started working in a blank canvas art journal (Jane Davenport’s supplies).

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Painting on my deck. This piece is one of my mermaid characters from my “Blue Dog and the Sea Fan” series.

It never occurred to me to use my art (and poetry) to think critically about my proposed research, or to answer philosophical questions about my interdisciplinary research. I’d been approaching it methodically, seriously–with critical annotations, a working bibliography, term papers as building blocks, outlines. Now I’m approaching it differently, and I’ve got images of mermaids, selkies, bog-women, and memories of Ireland in my head.

Painting in my art journal– a scene from my trip to Co. Cork, Ireland in 2019

Part of that’s influenced by the research I did on Traditional Ecological Knowledge of seaweed harvesting in Ireland for a term paper. Part of it’s inspired by a Celtic Studies class I’m taking led by Dr. Sharon Blackie. I read her book, Foxfire, Wolfskin, and Other Stories of Shapeshifting Women (September Publishing, 2019) which I loved.

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I loved this book by Sharon Blackie!

There’s something very liberating about making art. And it’s a good exercise to pick up a different tool–any tool–whether it’s a paint brush or fountain pen–but a physical tool, one that can be held in the hand to transmit ideas from the mind to the page. I love color. I’ve always responded emotionally to color. As a kid, the gift of a set of colored pens delighted me more than dolls or toys. I still love art supplies and colored pens. Recently, I’ve become quite smitten with art supplies by Jane Davenport, an Australian artist and designer, known as an “Artomologist,” a play on her nature photography, and particularly her love for ladybugs, and other insects. I’ve also really enjoyed her books, such as Marvelous Mermaids. Jane Davenport has a series of art tutorials on Youtube, and I’ve really enjoyed rediscovering my love for making art, partly inspired by her wonderful books, tutorials, and using some of her supplies. The “Mermaid Markers” are some of my favorite supplies, a water-reactive brush pen, like a watercolor alternative, that’s been fun to use. But my absolute favorite thing of hers is the fountain pen, an INKredible pen.

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Inkredible ink fountain pen by Jane Davenport and one of my journals

Twenty years ago, I took a watercolor painting class at College of the Atlantic. Prior to that, I was a writing-art double major (or English major, art minor) at St. Lawrence University. For at least ten years, from high school through college, at four different schools, I loved making art. I incorporated art visuals into my poetry projects and liked making books. Then, in 2004, while in grad school at COA, I was living in a small cottage with a 15-year-old water heater, which leaked badly, flooding my little home, and saturating all of my possessions. My draft master’s thesis, which I’d meticulously organized into piles and chapters, along with my notes and data on my living room floor, floated in ankle-deep water on a soggy shag carpet. Even my old Dell laptop was submerged. One of the fatal losses that really crushed me at the time, three full art portfolios containing all of my art from more than four years in studio art classes–drawings, paintings, photography, self-portraits, watercolors, some of which I’d planned to frame someday (when not working on my master’s thesis). All of my art disintegrated. It was so shocking and sad, I focused on other things, like completing my master’s degree, and moved forward with other projects, and left my ruined art and love for making art, in the past.

In recent years, I’ve rediscovered my love for Kettle Cove State Park (southern Maine), and I have been lucky enough to swim in that small cove over an eelgrass meadow, where I swam and toddled around as a baby more than thirty-five years ago.  Recently, I swam at high tide, in the wake of the New Moon Solar Eclipse in Cancer this June.

Kettle Cove State Park, Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Stetson photo

Every time I swim there, I am flooded with sensations, poems, ideas, and epiphanies. I’m rediscovering myself. I’m reinventing myself. Below is a weird “inner self-” portrait I painted, using watercolors and real Maine eelgrass, which coiled and wrapped around my neck and arms as I swam at Kettle Cove in June.

I collected a few blades of eelgrass, which was floating in the water, and coiled around my wrists as I swam to shore. It also washes ashore along with rockweed, so it’s easy to find there. I incorporated the eelgrass into my art journal.

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“Inner self-” portrait,  multimedia,  “Lass in the Eelgrass” LCS  June 2020

Now, twenty years after my watercolor class in spring 2000 at COA, I’ve picked up my paint brushes again. I’ve started making art again, almost on a daily basis, for the past month. At some point, during the process of social distancing, self-isolating at my home in the Lakes Region of Maine, I felt inspired to start sketching some drawings of symbols and seaweed as part of projects, like the one I did for Folklore and Environmental Policy class. Then, I started sketching ideas for other aspects (inspired by literary works by Romanticism-era writers like Ann Radcliffe and Mary Wollstonecraft) while I organized a strategy for doing my graduate research. That led to the idea of starting an art journal that’s connected to the research I’ve been doing as a student in the Interdisciplinary PhD program. I’m a poet and “ecoheroine,” researching the Eco-Gothic and Arthurian lit in a tenacious pursuit of deep Romantic ecology of wetlands.

All of these images and photos are mine. Please don’t share my images. My art is work-in-progress. Thank you!

For the past six weeks or so, I’ve been taking a course to further my journey toward becoming a certified English teacher. “Methods of Teaching Secondary English” is a required course for teachers in Maine. For the class final project, we were assigned to design a lesson plan that is “original, inspired (or inspiring) and presented using some type of technology, which might be out of the comfort zone of the author.” I am not accustomed to making videos or movies of myself using iMovie or Youtube, other than the occasional cat video that I make in my living room. (Note: I never subject others to these little movies about whatever funny thing my cat did. I think the Internet has plenty of these gems without my contribution.)

First, I had to learn how to use iMovie. I started by calling my best friend, who seems to know all things related to whatever issue I’m having on my Mac. Then, I watched tutorials on Youtube, started practice filming for a different assignment earlier on in the course. I made the dorkiest iMovie, trust me, including action shot of me, weeding my garden as a metaphor for how English teachers have to cultivate the “constant gardener,” or “constant writer,” in their classrooms. Then I set up a Vimeo account, which was fairly easy. I may be the last person to do this (have you done this yet?) Next, I had to edit my iMovie, patching together many, many pieces of footage, or “clips,” and record voice-overs for certain parts, attempting to sound professional without sounding like the authoritative Catholic school nun from the 1980 “Blues Brothers,” scolding my audience, well, without the ruler.

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I made a video for my final project. I designed an original lesson plan called, “The Writers Cafe.” Also, I had to do a rain-dance in my dining room, wait patiently for 22 hours while the video uploaded to Vimeo and “converted,” whatever that meant. It was such a long wait that I thought I had done something wrong. And I had selected the “high” quality resolution but not the best quality/professional resolution. I made it with the recent-most version of iMovie on my MacBook Pro. So far I have received some great feedback from my instructor and classmates on my lesson plan. The video is no longer available for viewing.

12088189_10207329637140552_1098530624650961937_nUnder the influence of heady salt flats, I languished in the discovery of untrammeled beach, where I spread out my blue sarapi on the sand, an old copy of Peter Benchley’s novelette, The Girl of the Sea of Cortez (1982) with its turquoise paper book jacket as faded as my cut-offs. I’m re-reading the coming-of-age story, remembering when I first read it in the 6th grade while I was living in Wiscasset. Back then, I swam off of my family’s little White’s Island in Sheepscot Harbor, and pictured the “manta diablo” appearing out of the murky green darkness of the Sheepscot River. It never happened, of course, but my sense of wonder never retreated with the tides.

This summer, I’m in southern Maine. Wearing my cowboy hat, my hips level, I shimmied down to the shore–quite a ways out, since it was low tide, in my nefarious string bikini, a pastel cloud-print one from Victoria’s Secret. It was hardly appropriate for wearing in public–but then, I’m a mer~sexual. I’m drawn to all-things from the sea. I’m 38 years old and this summer is my return to Kettle Cove, a state park overlooking Casco Bay in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. But I came here every summer in my toddler years, from the time I was a baby to the summer I was five. I can’t remember those summers–but I feel as though I must remember, somewhere, deeply embedded in my nervous system. I feel the memories, like muscle memory, that connect me to a life source, an energy here in this cove. When other people have an identity crisis, they’ve forgotten who they are; I feel as though I’ve just remembered! I am the Girl of Kettle Cove. I am the Girl by the Sheepscot River. I am not just just “the one who swims in the lakes,” but an open-water swimmer. I am the Girl of the Gulf of Maine. It felt like an epiphany.

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Swimming at Kettle Cove

Swimming through the eel grass in Kettle Cove, a nursery for sea life, and the “paddling pool” of my infancy, where my mother brought me as a baby, I must remember this cove, I think to myself the labyrinth of rocks and tide pools, paths through the meadow of floating milkweed, and wet mounds of silky strands of rockweed. Crawling through the thick eel grass bed, something in my body remembered toddling along the shore in the late ’70s, chasing sandpipers, free of the fears that would later inhibit me.

Long fronds of eel grass coiled around my wrists and forearms with every heart-shaped stroke, like a bellydancer’s bracelets that display her self-worth, her going rate–as I swim, I am richly adorned, self-satisfied and yet…grateful. I ask for nothing more than this water, this wave, this tidal current. I push out from my heart chakra, flex and relax my abdominals, imagining a balloon slowly inflate, filling my lungs with sea air, my belly with self-love and, elated, I channel that Neptune energy. Terns swoop and dive all around me; I float on my back and watch the cotillion as they turn and perform their acrobatics, fishing in pairs. Every wave that submerges my ears, momentarily stops all other noise and lets me exhale, just a breath, not a word, but a mantra nonetheless. I tip my head back and dip my hair, then put my hat back on over my wet Medusa-like head of curls, as oversized drops of saltwater drip from the straw brim. I love it here. So I will swim again tomorrow.

Late May at Nixie’s Vale is lovely. I lucked out in the fly-catcher department: phoebes swoop, dragonflies buzz around (by June) and nocturnal toads set up camp beneath my deck. It has been a few summers since I’ve spotted a bat, sadly, but my woods are a sanctuary for birds. It was sunny today, and I went to the seamstress to pick up a few items that she transformed for me: It’s like getting a whole new wardrobe of clothes that I already love. I’ve gone from a size 16 to an 8-10, down to 162lbs., with a 29 and a half inch waist, having lost forty pounds over the past year. I’m just getting back to my natural shape and feel like myself again. Hurrah! My best friend from high school said I look “high school skinny.” Well, I’m wearing the old blue jeans I got in Wyoming with my cousin, Tara, in summer 2002 when I was 26! (I’m now 38, so this feels like a magic trick.) Besides feeling fit again, I feel inspired.

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Almost every day, I walk my dog through a wetland or along the road by the pond and back, swim in the lake (it’s warming up!) and do a little housework. Today I cleaned the kitchen, made a delicious lunch, which I ate while sitting on a bed of moss in my yard, overlooking the grove in my woods. I love the woods. But my new indulgence, thanks due in part to Matt’s handy work, is my hammock. It hangs between two trees at the base of a mossy slope at the far end of the yard. It’s the quilted kind of hammock designed for two people but I fit perfectly along with a notebook, water bottle–and sometimes the dog will join me and sprawl across my legs. A lush breeze sneaks through the trees from Raymond Pond and I look up at the silhouettes of tree branches, patches of blue sky beyond. Rays of sunlight pour through and fill me with optimism, hope and appreciation. 20150802_152908I feel so blessed to live here, to call this little piece of land my home. I call it “Nixie’s Vale,” but in truth, I’m just a temporary steward of the land. This spring I planted a garden with my father and I will tend it this summer, hopefully producing some vegetables. In between swims, gardening and hammock naps, I barely have time to write. Admittedly, I keep thinking of lines of poetry; I might sketch them in my notebook, but then feel more motivated to swim-walk-hike-weed-swim-cook-walk and make iced tea.

The trees at Nixie's Vale

The trees at Nixie’s Vale

Just discovered the Lit Witches’ Coven Book Club. Fantastic resource for clever women writers. Great for fans of Shirley Jackson, a “writer’s writer.” Hurrah!

The Marriage of Tarot and the Empath

On the heels of the beautifully aspected Taurus full moon, my dreams lately have had me thinking a lot about empathy.  Recently, I taught a series of workshops for Windham-Raymond Adult Education on folklore, astrology, palmistry, tasseography, and my favorite–cartomancy, the art of reading everyday playing cards for divination. I first began working with the Tarot, astrology, and cartomancy in 1992, while I was a teen-ager. Prior to that, around 1991, before I entered high school, a friend of my mother’s gave me a set of Celtic Tree Oracle cards–a system of divination with a guidebook and cards created by Colin Murray and Liz Murray, illustrated by Vanessa Card (1988). I still have my original deck and guidebook–even though there’s a little bit of tree sap on some of the cards from using them outside 20+ years ago. (I experimented with aeromancy, allowing the wind or a sea breeze to lift certain cards in the course of a reading in some secret grove on the coast of Maine. But over the years, I fully embraced my true path as a hydromancer, and have never mastered aeromancy, divination with the element of air.) I will have to write a different post on hydromancy.

my original deck of the Celtic Tree Oracle by Liz and Colin Murray from 1991

I had always been intrigued by different languages, different systems–from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs to runes, and even created my own “planned language,” with a full dictionary and grammar guide (my own version of an Esperanto, albeit without speakers other than myself). Learning the Celtic Tree Oracle system of divination was fun for me as a fourteen-year-old; I spelled out my name in the Ogham alphabet, and learned that the ash tree (“Nuin”) was associated with my birthday (in late February). As a result, I’ve always sought out ash trees. Just before I decided to buy my home at Nixie’s Vale in southern Maine, I was pleased to discover that the property beheld a rare black ash seep–full of ash trees–which served an ecological purpose to cleanse and filter the soils around the well, and replenished a perennial stream that meanders through the woods and flowed into the pond. It spoke a language to me: one of wetlands, of trees, of healing and replenishment, of water and folklore–one in which I imagined a water nixie living, protecting the well, the streams, the seep, and the nearby pond. That’s why I named my home “Nixie’s Vale.”

By nineteen, I was serious about the study and practice of cartomancy and Tarot. I began reading for others in college–friends, classmates, total strangers–on campus while a student at St. Lawrence University. Sometimes, my peers approached me on campus–students I didn’t know, and never encountered in a classroom, to ask me for a reading. I’d garnered a reputation for “accurate readings” by my sophomore year. (I read palms, too, but my preference was a deck of Tarot or regular playing cards.) I enjoyed a variety of references to guide my early practice but I loved books by Gillian Kemp. (She wrote The Fortune-Telling Book (2000), among other books.) Later on, I loved working with The Oracle of Love by LeeAnn Richards (2003).

A classic reference on cartomancy by Leeann Richards

Cartomancy is over 700 years old. Scholars in the field of semiotics study ways that signs and symbols as elements of communicative behaviors, which is a robust field of scholarship. Within that field of study, there are those who focus on the symbolism that corresponds with maps and cards. Cartography is map-making; cartomancy is divination with cards; notice the use of the same prefix “carto-” meaning, “map, chart,” or “playing card.” Early in the 16th century, historians and scholars see the use of astrology (see the work of Don Cameron Allen, 1942) and cartomancy in the Tudor court of King Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. (Allen, 1942) and (see the work of Ross Caldwell on the history of cartomancy in Europe). According to Caldwell, what we now think of as “playing cards” appeared in Europe in the 1300s, although the various methods for using them for divination evolved and split into various sub-groups throughout Europe and time. In the Tudor court, Anne Boleyn read cards–but she was likely using what we consider traditional playing cards, which had the likeness of King Henry VIII for several of the kings, and later, he commissioned cartomancers to make a deck featuring four of his wives–none of which were Anne Boleyn. In the Showtime series, The Tudors, we see a couple of scenes in which Anne is “reading cards” and she’s using ‘playing cards’ not Tarot. Then, Tarocchi, an Italian card game, was printed in Europe, and circulating, but it wasn’t until later that cartomancers combined the 52 cards of the traditional deck with unrelated illustrations inked by medieval monks–Christian monks, who created the archetypal illustrations that later became known as the “Major Arcana” of Tarot, to create the 78-card Tarot deck.

Drawing from my Celtic roots, I have always been drawn to decks that have a Celtic theme. One of my favorites is the Wild Wood Tarot by John Matthews and Mark Ryan. I love working with this deck. It’s unconventional–and that might be off-putting to those who are looking for a traditional Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck, but for those interested in Celtic mythology, folklore, or pre-Celtic mythology and folklore, this might be right up your alley, too. For those who are in love with pre-Celtic folklore, such as the old medieval tales of Robin Hood, or the folklore of the Green Man and Green Woman, as well as the animal kinship, connection to Nature, this is a valuable tool for meditation, divination, and drawing inspiration for writing in a journal.

Working with the Wild Wood Tarot deck

The relationship between Tarot and empathy is a constantly renewing interest for me as a practitioner of lightworking and healing arts, and as an Empath. In this context, what do I mean by empathy? It’s sometimes called psychic empathy, and I would like to point out that the definition of “psychic,” is “of or related to the soul,” so empathy is a soulful experience.

While it’s a relatively broad term, psychic empathy can describe the range of experiences one may have as an “Empath.” You’ve probably heard of telepathy and telepaths—Empaths, or highly empathic people, receive information in different ways, but are highly sensitive to the emotions of others. Sometimes these people call themselves “highly sensitive people” (HSP) and refrain from mention of any psychic correlation. Others delve into divination or experience lucid and/or prophetic dreams, as I do, and still yet others call themselves “healers,” “Reiki practitioners,” therapists, counselors, or some other type of healer. Most empaths are healers at heart. In addition, there are a myriad of other layers to the experiences of Empaths–including clairsentient (“clear feeling”) expressions of psychic empathy. I’m a clairsentient empath type, which is not uncommon for those born under the sign of Pisces, or those with strong Piscean energy in their astrological natal chart (Pisces Sun, Moon, Rising/Ascendant, sometimes those with Jupiter or Mercury in Pisces). In fact, in western astrology, all of the water signs–Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces, are likely to experience psychic empathy, and/or clairsentience in their lives, regardless of whether they choose to use this as a gift, or tool for healing (themselves or others), or in their vocation or, express it through creative arts. I’m a poet and writer, and tend to use my “clear feeling” gifts to connect with others, and to transmute those experiences into my writing. I swim at least five months of the year in the lake and the ocean to clear my mind, replenish my body and spirit with the energy of water, essential for any hydromancer, but also helpful for Empaths. Swimming cleanses the body and mind of others’ energy, and for me, recharges my energy physically and mentally.

I’m a Piscean poetess-empath & Mystic, swimming in the sea

Emotionally intuitive, and sometimes physically intuitive people are empaths. There are emotional empaths, physical empaths, intuitive types, and those who connect with animals through psychic empathy, and those who connect closely with the earth (the plant whisperers! I have lots of friends who fit this category!) An empath might be primarily emotionally intuitive, or both, that is, experiencing the emotions and physical ailments/illnesses/injuries or pain of another being. Depending on the individual’s experience, an empath might have additional gifts or abilities, which allow that person to receive other types of information. This might include highly detailed and specific information, names of people or places, details about emotionally-charged events (e.g. a trauma, a memorable event, a rite-of-passage) or just about any other type of thought. It’s not mind-reading. When an empath is a baby, s/he might tune into other babies (e.g. cry when another baby cries, or have a soothing/calming effect on other children). As an empath reaches puberty, the experiences can be heightened and frustrating, especially if the teen-ager doesn’t understand what s/he is experiencing is a form of psychic empathy.  Dr. Judith Orloff is one of the most well-respected experts on psychic empathy. You can find more about her work at her website here. 

Tarot has its roots in cartomancy, the method of divining with the use of what we now think of as traditional playing cards. Playing cards—with the King, the Queen and the suits of Hearts, Spades, Diamonds and Clubs—were invented for the purpose of divination about 600+ years ago. There are 52 cards in the deck for 52 weeks in the year; four suits represent the four seasons and the four elements—earth (diamonds), hearts (water), air (spades) and clubs (fire). And so forth. But Tarot came later. One of my favorite WordPress blogs on Tarot is Truly Teach Me Tarot, by Vivien Ní Dhuinn, who has fantastic information about the individual cards and how to read Tarot cards in various spreads for various purposes. I have referred to her website again and again, even though I have read (and studied) the Tarot since 1992. I’m always learning–Tarot is such a rich, robust arena of holistic systems for mindful ways of knowing, living, being. One of my favorite teachers of Tarot, for me, personally as a practitioner and lifelong learner, is Pamela Loffredo, a professional psychic-medium and Reiki Master Teacher, and Intuitive, based in Maine. She can be found through Leapin’ Lizards in Portland, Maine. Pam taught a series of Tarot classes at Leapin’ Lizards over the years, and I took one of her classes. I’ve learned a lot from Pam. 🙂 Another fantastic resource is Mary Greer. In Mary Greer’s 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card, she explains a bit about the relationship between the empath and Tarot. Her blog can be found here.

But I also frequently rely on my own intuition, my own experiences as a lightworker, an Empath, and a Mystic, and a hydromancer, sometimes, aspiring to draw from dreams, ancestral knowledge, traditional knowledge passed down to me from my grandmothers, including my Irish grandmother, who taught me some elements of Irish cartomancy before she died in 1992.

Reading the Wild Wood Tarot at Nixie’s Vale

Since the invention of Tarot, Empaths have used not only the cards themselves but the whole experience of sitting with another person and “reading” for him/her. In my experience, whenever I’ve “read” for someone without the use of cards, or any other tool (including their palm, or use of a pendulum), the other person can be incredulous. It seems to me, when I have illustrated cards with symbolism in front of the person, or some other tool (e.g. a moving pendulum, lines on a palm) the person embraces the information more comfortably. People like visual aids. I tend to think of Tarot in this way when I give a reading. I’m not unique. Other empaths use Tarot as a tool and their empathic abilities as guidance. It seems to me that this is a long-standing relationship between empaths and Tarot. After a 400 +/- years, we’re talking commitment. A quick Google search will turn up countless results for “empathic Tarot” readers, each explaining their gifts and how they use Tarot to help others. There are hundreds online and many fantastic readers on Youtube. Some of my favorites include AquaMoonlight (she’s in Maine!), Ashley at Hello Tarot, Andrea Leigh Cox on the Detox Intuitive, Reading the Signs Astrology and Tarot (she’s in Ireland!), Wendy Bones Tarot. In particular, Andrea Leigh Cox is a gifted Intuitive, Detox Specialist, a fellow Pisces, a beautiful soul, and utilizes her many gifts to help people. To learn more about her work, visit her website. I have learned a great deal from Andrea, and feel she is a kindred spirit.

How about you? What has been your experience with Tarot, or card reading, and psychic empathy? Please leave a comment to share about your experience, or if you have a favorite deck of Tarot, please feel free to comment below. Thank you for reading, liking, and sharing my blog.

Working on a new poem. This is too long and it’s a draft. But in honor of April being National Poetry Month, I’m trying to keep up with Mike Dockins’ plan to write a bunch of poems this month. So, here goes.

                                                  Hiding Juniper

Would it be a nightmare if I dreamt
I climbed upstairs, my grandparents’
Old yellow farmhouse, where I spent
Vacations and holidays in childhood,
Played board games and invented
Some of my own; knew the secret
Hiding places: Nana’s sunny ledge
A pocket amidst the juniper hid us
She pretended to be an owl, eyes
On the birds all around her, and I,
A little fox, bounding and blonde,
Skirting the fields and meadows,
Beyond their borders into moss
Havens, emerald rock shadows.

Nana brought me on the odd errand,
Trips to the “Stump Dump,” or attic,
Crossing a stream, or walking Sally,
Their yellow lab-retriever, whose
Antics included a wide sheepish
Grin, when embarrassed, down
The Woodman Road to Uncle John’s
House. We’d push the drawbridge
Upward, to enter the attic—full of
My mother’s memories, four decades’
Worth: the Nancy Drew collection,
Paper dolls (I added to the designs),
Sewing baskets, the one scary box
With the green rubber spider mask
(The precise location of which,
I was all-too aware), and full jars:
Coveted crashed glass marbles
In a spectrum of colors I liked—
Blues, greens, pinks and purples.

Would it be a nightmare, if instead,
I mounted the stairs and found: parked
At the top, your grey Toyota 4Runner,
Its front end blocking the attic door,
My escape hatch in any dreamscape,
No matter the origin, or fear, I fled
From monsters or unknown enemies,
And found my way to Nana’s secret
Hiding places: the juniper ledge,
Mossy Stump Dump, or the attic—
Especially the attic, where she once
Described a “safe room” that Grampa
Engineered: a sliding wall, or partition,
That offered a place to hide valuables
And their children, if ever necessary.
Contrary to this, my mother told me
That I imagined this, that the hidden
Room did not exist (except in Nana’s
Over-active imagination). She and I,
Both dreamy Pisces, also both had
Mercury in quirky Aquarius, Venus
In feisty Aries and nature-loving
Earth moons. So, I don’t doubt,
Nana and I conjured safety
In the simple architecture
Of our bond, hand-in-hand,
An automatic intimacy,
Hiding in the juniper.

Would it be a nightmare, if I told you,
I was frustrated to see your silver truck
Parked in my path to the attic stair,
Something, or someone, slammed
A door downstairs, in my dream,
Your truck fit in the doorframe
Of my grandparents’ bedroom.
I could not maneuver around it.
Suddenly, I found myself running
Down the hall toward the fire
Escape, only to end up in the garage.

A young man in a plaid shirt and cap
Leaned over sundry yard equipment,
He held a weed whacker in his hands,
Examining the controls. Fearing that
He would cut off my arms with it, and
Seeing nowhere to hide, I searched
For a weapon to defend myself,
As I might in any other nightmare.

I crouched low to the concrete floor,
Studying a chainsaw that resembled
My vacuum cleaner; its cord wrapped
Around an attachment, but I trembled,
Terrified, not knowing how to wield it.
Then, jean-clad shins and hiking boots
Appeared in front of me, knobby hands
Held out at his sides, an offer? A threat?
I picked up the chainsaw and pushed
It hard into his legs out of self-defense
And ran out through the open bay,
Out onto the dirt driveway. I mapped
Diversion tactics to no avail and he
Caught me by the hand, and carried me
To the 4Runner, which was now sitting
Where it belonged, realistically.

He put me in the passenger seat.
My dream self slumped, played dead,
Like one might do with a grizzly bear,
So he’s less inclined to kill (or eat).
The dream guy steered and talked,
His voice muffled (I was dreaming)
And handed me a bag he’d packed:
My odd childish hobbies, favorites,
Heirlooms, romantic novels,
The right cosmetics.

Would it be a nightmare, or
A wonderful dream, if he were real,
If this happened, and the helpful
Man with knobby hands came
For me, and found my hiding spots,
Parked his chariot by the drawbridge,
Took the time to meander awhile
In meadows while I slunk afoot
Lichen-covered granite ledges,
A blonde fox in the juniper.

For G. 

LCS

 

I arrived at the Department of Mysteries’ Center for Occupational Prophecies, where I attended a required workshop–after one hour of sleep last night. Because I’m not used to city parking situations, I got a little lost between the garage and Department of Mysteries building (but my wand, er, smartphone, led me in the right direction.) I’m not too proud to say that I also got lost on my way back to the garage but by then, I was under the influence.

The man leading the workshop smiled like he was full of smelly cheese a la Professor Slughorn as he loaded his PowerPoint. Posters with backward lettering, apparently motivational spells, clung to the wall with Scotch tape. A smoky haze of cigarettes, marijuana and fire-breathing dragon breath immediately enveloped me in Conference Room B. (The Death Eaters were in Conference Room A, thank goodness.) Most of the attendees gruffed and puffed over the necessary paperwork. Most of us had filled out our Star Trek logs prior to the workshop. I held my breath in between moments when I could not contain myself and blurted out: “Is this the workshop where we learn how to write an ‘effective resume’ or is that next week?” and “Wait, is that an example of ‘what to do,’ or ‘what not to do?’ Both are grammatically incorrect.” *Shudder* Apparently grammar is a matter of opinion. Not surprisingly, it was followed by a bulleted list of tips: 1) Use correct grammar, 2) Maximum 1 page (etc. It really only got worse from there.) Here’s an example of a resume that the Workshop Wizard liked:

John Smith
15 Plain Road
Anyplace, ME 04099

Tools I Know:

Drive tractor. And 4-Wheelers.                                         Compressers
Cutting tools                                                                    Electric discharge machine
(Etc.)                                                                                 Misc. tools

4d8747b630bc9052300ef9497c024a19

At the 10:30am break

Clearly, the Workshop Wizard prefers the functional format, which hiring managers have practically outlawed. When I overheard some guys in the back row grumble, “Here she goes again,” and moan any time I asked a question or made a comment, trying to help the innocent, I clammed up. I wished I’d brought my invisibility cloak. Or, at least magic ink so that my SS# and contact information wouldn’t be visible on the sign-in sheet as it was passed from person to person at an alarmingly sluggish rate, especially in the back row.

After the workshop, I fled on my broomstick into a nor’easter. It’s the kind of snow that splinters your eye balls with miniature ice picks. Wind blew long curls into my mouth and I walked awkwardly along the slushy side-walk, swearing and muttering. People avoided me. I probably looked like one of those “Lost Souls” from the Lakes Region. (We don’t get off the Mountain of Doom very often.) By the time I had circumvented the block twice and changed direction (my eye glasses fogged into a cataract-glaze), I was dazed and confused like Liv Tyler. I felt hot under the collar. My pretty blue wool coat smelled like college days and frat parties. Finally, I found the parking garage and climbed the stairs to the 4th floor–but my sea green Subaru was not there! Did I get towed? Oh, no! I scrambled up the stairs to the 5th, then the 6th floors, horrified to see giant mounds of snow I hadn’t seen before. Merlin’s beard! I’ve been towed! I knew this public parking garage–albeit inconveniently located but only at a $2/hr rate was too-good-to-be-true! Argh! In slight panic mode, or more realistically, an allergic reaction to Conference Room B in the Department of Mysteries (Miseries?) I took the elevator down to the ground level and found a nice parking attendant who was willing to look for my car (on the 6th, 5th, 4th and finally, 3rd floor), while I had an neurotic breakdown, probably breaking out into hives by this point. (I tipped the helpful fellow and thanked him profusely.)

Then, as I warmed up the car, relieved it had not been towed, I listened to a new voicemail: “Leah, you have been selected to attend a required workshop next Thursday….” (in addition to the one I’ve been selected to attend on Tuesday.) When am I supposed to practice casting the Patronus charm? When I am supposed to study for the OWLs? When am I supposed to fight evil and save the world?

Tomorrow night’s the full moon in dramatic Royal-Leader-of-Meltdowns-and-Billowing-Manes-Leo. This blast of energy lasts 10 days.

Leah

Poet. Artist. Ecoheroine. Human ecologist. Spiritual mermaid and Mystic. I write about literary ecology, wetlands, water, Romantic ecology, and quirky adventures with my dog.

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