Five of pentacles

Two weeks ago I went to New Orleans. A lot of classic New Orleans tourist experiences — beignets, po boys, muffaletta, gumbo — are off limits to me because I have celiac, and others — staying drunk all the time around mardi gras — are unappealing to me because I get hangovers from two glasses of wine. But I did get to see green lush thriving plants at the butt-end of winter, and experience the thrill of being in an unfamiliar but familiar-from-culture city, and also magic.

I love magic. I love imagining that magic is real. I am interested in all systems of divination and fortune-telling and anything that has to do with the intangible world, however anyone wants to define or describe it. Over the years I’ve visited all kinds of psychics, astrologers, tarot readers, shamans and energy workers. My favorite experiences have been with tarot, which makes sense; lots of writers are into tarot, which is about archetypes, symbolism, and how meaning and narrative are constructed in our conscious and unconscious minds.

It’s fine by me when people are skeptical and don’t want to engage with this kind of stuff at all. For many reasons, for some people, magic will always seem like a scam at best and a tool of oppression and manipulation at worst. I also felt ambivalent about “belief” for a long time and then more recently I decided that belief doesn’t matter. I understand that this is the way some people feel about spiritual practice and maybe someday I’ll get there. For now, I just have a pack of tarot cards and a small library of books about tarot and astrology that I consult when my life feels dull and spark-less. For me, this stuff is mostly a reminder that a whole other world that I can’t explain or describe exists.

I was feeling anxious in New Orleans, for what I kept explaining to myself were legitimate reasons. It was our first time leaving both kids with my parents, and I was having occasional intrusive thoughts along the lines of “what if we both died right now” (very cool, normal, relaxing vacation mindset.) Also this article was about to be published and was being fact-checked, which was horrible even though the factchecker had a nice bedside manner and understood that it was rough for me to be taken through the specifics of events that had been traumatic.

But it was also the end of my second month with the IUD and though I really, really didn’t want to believe that its minute addition to my hormonal situation was making me anxious, it was time to face facts. I hadn’t experienced panicky, crawling-out-of-my-skin, existence-is-uncomfortable feelings for years and then once that thing was in my uterus they were back like they’d never left, not all the time, but any amount of those feelings is too much. I had been so pleased with myself that I’d gotten the IUD, pleased to have made a decision. How annoying, how unfair, that the reward for my decisiveness was that I was being forced to make yet another decision: should I tough it out, or get it yanked?

I got it yanked, last week, on the day my article was published. It felt like absolutely nothing coming out and I can’t tell whether my sense of feeling immediately better was due to the publication, the removal, both, neither.

The five of pentacles was in the position of “message from above” in my tarot reading. On this card, in the Rider-Waite deck, two figures stand outside in the cold. One has a crutch, the other is covered only by a frayed shawl. Behind them, from inside a building, light shines through five stained glass pentacles. They aren’t headed in, though, at least not obviously — they seem oblivious to the warmth just on the other side of the wall.

I told Jonno that I thought of myself as the limping figures, staring at the brownstones I’ll never live in every morning on the mile-long trudge to school. He pointed out, gently, that I had the money to fly to New Orleans, the money to pay for a tarot reading, the freedom to leave my children with my parents. I have the freedom to think about what side of the wall I’m really on.

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