Tarot Letters 7

work work work work work work

Hey gang! Welcome to the 7th edition of Tarot Letters, where you folks submit questions that I pull cards for, with a little mini essay on my interpretation. This month’s edition is all about WORK. In a time where so many of us have had to contend with radical changes to our work lives, and question the meaning of work and capitalism and ugh ~productivity~ it makes sense that we all have a lot of different feelings around work and what it means about who we are and how we have to / want to live. And boy, there are some FEELINGS. I hope the cards and my words bring something useful to you all, and that you’re safe out there.

All image descriptions for the cards are at the very end. You can send me more questions at this open form here. I most recently wrote a guest post on the Queen of Wands over at Pop Tarot, with accompanying mini essay here. If you’ve been enjoying the newsletter and would like to support the work, here’s my tip jar. You can also now book a tarot reading with me! 50% of proceeds will be donated to initiatives helping migrant workers, refugees and trans people in Malaysia. My schedule’s closed for the rest of July but I’ll be adding dates for August by end of the month.

A new boss has upended my previously comfortable work environment. Every day is a new struggle to communicate and I can feel my stubborn resentment growing. How should I determine which aspects of their leadership style to maturely adapt to and which are actually worth pushing back against?

Oh man, I love how the Apparition Tarot version of this card kind of describes some work environments. The different quadrants and facets, all the different fingers in different pies, the juggling act that workers often need to do whatever their job title. The fact that this a Major Arcana card tells me that this current situation with your new boss is perhaps not an unfamiliar pattern in your life, or that you have had previous experience dealing with difficult communication. Don’t discount that; are there tools you already have that can be deployed here? There’s also a matter of factness to the Wheel of Fortune (which, at its very core, simply says to us “Life goes on”) that tells me perhaps this situation is best dealt with outside the realm of the emotional and personal, that some distance / detachment might help you look at this situation with more clarity. 

You are likely in the midst of an adjustment period to this new boss and the new ways of working that have come into play. You miss whatever season was before this, and you perhaps yearn for a return to Before. That season will come again, but before then the season you are in now — the one you resent — will always feel like it’s going on too long and like it will maybe never end. But everything does, everything ends and makes way for the next thing, seasons and phases restart and return. That is the essence of the Wheel of Fortune. So how can you ground yourself? This advice might be contradictory but: sometimes you have to just try things for the sake of trying to see what works, and you also have to hold firm to what you know about why you are at your job, and what you are trying to achieve. 

Maybe one day you push back on something that another day you will let go of, maybe one day you stand up to your boss on something that you had previously deferred to them to. Maybe one day the strategy gets you and your boss somewhere good, maybe another day it doesn’t end up too well. There are risks, and the results aren’t just “successes” or “failures”, it’s data that brings you through the cycles. One way to ensure “consistency” in this sense is understanding the why behind your actions, understanding what you’re willing to risk (and what you’re not), and keeping your eye on your larger goals. Bosses occupy a position of sometimes disporportionate power, yes. But do other things exist that motivate and hold you in this workplace and job outside of them? Let that lead your gut to knowing when to adapt and when to push back. You have these rhythms in you. Good luck!

I have been in the workforce for 4 years now and have changed jobs 4 times. 3 out of those 4 jobs have put me in an abusive workplace situation with constant sexist and queerphobic comments thrown at me. I have been unemployed since early this year; I am running out of savings to stay at home and I’m thinking of applying for jobs again. But I’m worried I might get into another bad working environment. I’m hoping for advice on how to navigate my life around this.

The Empress is here to remind you: You are worthy and deserving of security, safety and care. You are more than capable of taking care of and nurturing yourself, to tend to your needs — urgent and less so — in ways that prioritise your happiness and growth. This capacity includes a living with and within a support system that you helped build, or that was built by others out of care for you, which you deserve. Your patience is your commitment and “faith in good outcomes and the tolerance to endure what arises in the meantime.” You are an expansive person, holding multiple truths, identities, gifts, and desires — all of them valid — and you have the capacity to keep growing to accommodate more. 

I’m sorry you’ve had abusive experiences in the past. Nobody should have to encounter sexist or queerphobic remarks or any other form of harassment or abuse in the workplace or any other realm of life, and yet the reality is many people do, and too little is often available to help people navigate those experiences in healthy ways. I’m sorry that the need to survive under capitalism forces you and so many of us to bargain about our safety and freedoms, to be held hostage by paranoia and fear. Only you get to dictate the ways in which you tell the truth of your experience, so if you feel this word doesn’t apply to what you went through please disregard it, but when I first read your question, I saw a description of trauma. And trauma is something that requires healing, time and patience. 

I wish I could tell you, in some certain way, that you won’t encounter these things again. I can’t. I also don’t want to tell you to focus on what you can control, because the repercussions of corrupt and broken systems are put on those of us who suffer from that corruption and brokenness, to swallow it, to fight it, to put up with it, to forget it. It sucks! That I’ll say with my full chest. 

What I can tell you is that The Empress is a card traditionally associated with care, creation, and nurturing. Parents are complicated (often more so with queer people). If you have a good relationship with a parental figure, lean on them for support. If you don’t, lean on people who accept you and take care of you, because you need and deserve it. Many of us have had to learn how to parent ourselves. Healthy ways of doing this can look like: knowing what we need to feel safe and putting in effort to provide that for ourselves (and not necessarily doing that work alone); asking for help; putting in emotional work even when it’s hard because we know the work is for our own good; being kind to ourselves when we feel down or small; rewarding behaviours that contribute to our happiness. Recognise that you’ve had bad experiences that have hurt you, share this with others that you trust who will believe and validate you, let them hold you in your healing, remember you are a person that can create and nurture (that’s part of parenthood too), that you bring things of value to whatever you invest in (work etc), that people of integrity and humility will recognise that and validate you without caveats, that there are people who will accept and celebrate all facets of you including your gender and sexuality. May these affirmations light your way on your journey, however you choose to navigate it. Sending love. 

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I'm at a difficult place professionally. I've been made redundant last year and went into freelancing. It's not the first time that I’m working for myself and I actually like it. That said, the pandemic hit my sector really hard. I want to reach professional stability but I am not sure how.

I don’t know about you, but my sleep has been pretty messed up this year. It’s me adjusting to a new work and life rhythm (on all types of levels) and having a lot on my mind that make me restless. But something that helps me is the act of surrender in sleep, in laying down even knowing it’ll take me a while to actually fall asleep, knowing it might be a few hours here and there, knowing I might not get enough but it’ll get me to the next day, and the next, and the next. The Four of Swords often asks us to rest, and rest looks different for everyone. Relaxation even more so. Your question conveys a lot of anxiety. What would relaxing that anxiety look like right now? 

Perhaps it’s shifting from a future focus to a present focus, looking at what you can work on with regards to your freelancing in this moment, with the present conditions. Letting go of some older aspirations that oame from an older version of you in a different work situation. Perhaps even carving out time to really look at your own vision of “professional stability” for yourself, to highlight the elements that relate to you and those that feel like obligations you’ve picked up from other people or your sector at large. This pandemic and stability in a lot of different fields are subject to the long game right now, and so are you. That bigger picture situation is the mass of eyes and swords and checkerboards roiling above you. Sink down into the grass, make your arms a pillow for your head, allow yourself to be where you are and work from there. That’s all you can do right now. So how can you integrate that fact in a way that feels restful or relaxing? 


Image descriptions: All cards from the Apparition Tarot.

Wheel of Fortune - The card is split into 5 quadrants of different colours with different images, a circle in the center where the dividing lines meet that has 8 arrows pointing outwards in different directions. From the top left, a black quadrant with a blue and green earth being held against white clouds by a green arm and hand emerging from the centre circle. The earth has a grey-bladed green-handled sowrd with a blue eye stuck through. A yellow quadrant with an earth rendered in two shades of green, white wings growing from the side and a light green explosion shape behind it. It’s held up by an orange arm emerging from the centre circle. Between the two quadrants is an arrow with two heads and a single eye (one green, one blue) on either side. The bottom right quadrant is pink, with another blue and green earth on the ground on a yellow puddle shape surrounded by stacks of coins with stars on them, and next to a golden pot with a pentacle on it surrounded by bees. A yellow leg and foot emerging from the center circle rests atop the earth. White quadrant with a single black circle, and a white leg and foot emerging from the center circle resting on it. Final quadrant is orange, with a yellow circle enclosing a series of differently sized orange flames, and the yellow circle is burning in red flames. Underneath it is the head of a green snake with its tongue out, it’s body running across and under the center circle.

The Empress - two eyes with golden irises emit a wavy beam of yellow and pink. Between the eyes is a triangle where the sides are three long thorny stemmed red roses enclosing a red heart with the Venus sign inside it, an open book with blank white pages and a yellow cover and a pink conch shell.

Four of Swords - A figure with long hair sleeps amidst green bushes or mountains on an open lighter green field/landscape. Above that are four wavy bladed daggers stacked on top one another; their blades are checkered black and white and their white handles have a single black irised eye. The backdrop is a wavy pattern of red-and-white (to the left) and black-and-white (to the right) chessboard pattern, with two circles in the top right and bottom left corner that is segmented into eight slices and further segmented into six concentric circles with alternating black and white colours (it’s a real dizzying and busy pattern all in all!)

Queen of Wands on Pop Tarot!

baby's very first guest post and ruminations on capital-W Writing

I thought I’d write a short intro to the guest post I wrote on Pop Tarot, one of my favourite places for tarot writing on the Internet, but then I ended up writing a mini essay. So I’m going to plug that guest post first so you guys can click and go read it! I was so honoured to be asked by Jamie; it was the best surprise ever to find that request in my DMs. I landed on the Queen of Wands, a card I feel a kinship with but do not yet feel closely connected to. Here’s an excerpt, and you can also read Jamie’s excellent piece on the same card here.

My first encounter with the Queen of Wands was from the Morgan Greer deck, and the calm yellows of the card, the soft leaves on her staff and crown and the big open sunflower in her hand did not make me think “warrior queen”. But her piercing gaze has stuck with me since, looking you right in the eyes, surveying a battlefield a breath before the clash, or in the ringing silence of the aftermath. I often read Wands as quite personal because what’s more personal than passion? But of course fire’s nature is to spread. Passion shared between people kindles a lot of generative energy, and generative energy powers a lot of movement.

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Four cards all depicting the Queen of Wands from four different decks, on a backdrop of white sheets with a print of small green leaves and white and yellow flowers. L-R: A big red heart containing flames, a flower with a large white center and multiple long and narrow yellow petals, and a white figure with breasts and long hair with a lit candle wick emerging from their head. In front of the heart is a white cat, and atop the heart is a lit yellow candle (Apparition Tarot). A long haired nude figure with breasts, rendered in white outlines and shading against a black starry sky. They hold a tall golden tree with many empty branches in their arms. In the right hand corner is a dark red circle (Visionary of Branches - Slow Holler). A royal figure dressed in voluminous yellow robes over which they wear a cloak clasped at the throat. In one hand they hold a wooden staff with green leaves sprouting from it, and in the other a large open sunflower. There is a wreath of leaves in their crown, they have bobbed blonde hair and they’re looking forward (Queen of Rods - Morgan Greer). A figure with straight and long fiery orange hair sitting and looming high with a sitting leopard and jagged red and orange “flames” or shards covering their bottom half. They hold a long metallic green staff across their body, topped with what looks like a pineapple without its crown. They wear a similarly metallic green cape covering their shoulders and chest, with a bright red lining, and a crown with ornage-red rays emanating from it (Thoth Tarot).

When I started this newsletter in January 2019, I was very careful about setting goals for myself. I had started too many writing projects with the vague but oppressive intention to use those projects as ways to spur me to generate more content and to garner more attention. Because at one point I wanted to be known as a Writer, because I had tied up some parts of my self-worth with my writing and who read it. I had to take a break from this whole framework for a few years, starting from about end 2016 to end 2018, where I just took a break not from thinking of myself as a writer, but from engaging in the whole performance of Writing.

In late 2016, I took a course with my co-brain Liy called the Creative Focus Workshop, run by Jessica Abel. I didn’t realise it at the time, but that course has been a really integral and significant experience that still shapes my approach to creative work (in a lot of direct but mostly indirect ways!) One of the big activities you do at the start of this workshop is called Idea Debt, a term Jessica got from Kazu Kibuishi that essentially means “when you spend too much time picturing what a project is going to be like, too much time thinking about how awesome it will be to have this thing done and in the world, too much time imagining how cool you will look, how in demand you’ll be, how much money you’ll make. And way too little time actually making the thing.”

So during the workshop, you are given a template where you list and then categories all your creative ideas. You see which ones are fueled by nostalgia (the vampire story you really wanted to write when you were 16), which ones are hampered by perfectionism (I have to figure out the political landscape of three fictional worlds before I can write this cool sci-fi adventure novel), and which ones just don’t make sense anymore in your current context (one of Jessica’s examples is: “Sequel in a series? 2009. After the first one didn’t work? Why would I do that to myself?”). Then you see which ideas that you still feel something for, that you still want to work on, and this becomes the foundation of your Creative Focus roadmap — because now you know what you want to spend time on (and why) and you then get to figure out how you’re going to make time and finally make this thing happen.

When I made my list in 2016, of the, I don’t know, dozen or so ideas I listed — I got to trash about 10 of them. And that was so freeing. It was so freeing to say, I have maybe 1-2 ideas I want to execute and I think I can make one happen in a short amount of time if I focused (and I did!) and then I don’t have anything I desperately want to create. It was freeing to decide to take a break, to realise I needed to step back to generate new ideas, and that not having ideas and a constant stream of things to constantly work on wasn’t a failure. I gave myself permission, which I’ve learned is one of the Greatest Power Moves of All Time.

I still wrote things here and there, usually for and/or with other people. But nothing that came from my own engines. And a few years went by like this. It was like a semi-retirement! I stopped feeling that weird nagging guilt of “I should be writing more” because then I’d just tell myself, there’s nothing I really want to write! (Okay full disclosure: I still felt that guilt sometimes related only to the one other idea that survived my idea debt list that I have said I wanted to work on since 2011. It involves family and personal history and I’ve reconciled with the fact that it’s the work of a lifetime, and there has been progress but it’s slow).

By the end of 2018, I started getting the itch again. I started getting Ideas. And it felt like it was right on time, and also that I would have been okay if I didn’t get Ideas for a few more years. Record of a Year came from that itch, which was directionless and plotless but a strong enough feeling that I actually saw it through. The strength of the feeling was fueled mostly by the new certainty I had that all I had to do was show up for the Idea as long as it served me and no longer. That the biggest function of the Idea was not to “win” or “gain” anything, but to make space where I get to give myself permission.

We’re in that space now! I write whatever I want in here, I don’t tell myself I “have” to do anything for this newsletter despite whatever structures I’ve created for it and I’ve been able to make writing this newsletter a pleasant, unrestrictive, generative habit that threads through my weeks. Thinking about what to write here can be a real challenge — I’m always driven by the desire to make useful things, to make things that others can connect to. But it’s an enjoyable challenge that pushes me and stirs up new thoughts and perspectives, it is not an obligation. And sometimes people respond to how I address those challenges. Sometimes people will write to tell me they resonate with something I’ve written here, and that will always be such a rewarding rush. (The last two times I’ve felt this were a) when I started blogging into the void at about 17 and ended up finding a small gang of pals I’m friends with to this day and b) when I started a One Direction tumblr in 2014 with a manifesto that focused on enjoying myself and not worrying about being popular or subscribing to prescriptive rules, and I ended up finding a small gang of pals I’m friends with to this day!!!)

I started writing this all just to try and convey the depth of how honoured I was to be asked to write a guest post by someone I’ve never met or spoken to before, who lives somewhere else entirely, whose writing I found through another newsletter by someone I don’t personally know, whose writing I enjoy and respect, whose writing has helped me understand tarot in more enriching ways. I’m still so blown away when that stuff happens! Quite inadvertently (or not?) I feel like I recalled both Page and Queen of Wands energy in this post. I’m grateful for this space. I’m grateful, usually, for all the ways the Internet can facilitate connection. I’m grateful to those of you who read my words. Thanks for taking the time. I hope July is treating you all well.


Tarot Letters 6

the cards ask you to rally

Hi friends and new subscribers! Happy to meet the end of this month reading some cards for these questions, to be able to take the time to contemplate and consider and have conversations with some of you in my mind and heart. If you’re new here it may help you to read what this newsletter is about and to find a few more links about me and my work.

I hope you enjoy reading, or find something that resonates with you. Shares and likes are always appreciated! You can send me more questions at this open form here. Previously, I wrote about three as a magic number in the tarot minor arcana, and how the threes move you into the work of the collective.

If you’ve been enjoying the newsletter and would like to support the work, here’s my tip jar. You can also now book a tarot reading with me! 50% of proceeds will be donated to initiatives helping migrant workers, refugees and trans people in Malaysia. Image descriptions of the cards (this time they’re from Spacious Tarot) are at the very end of the newsletter.

How do I stop comparing myself to other people - how can I see myself truly for what I am and at the same time not place limitations on who I can be? I feel like I’m thinking the “grass is greener” and I can’t see the wildflowers in my own field.

Try this visualisation exercise with me, if you can. Imagine you are walking along a path. Note what surroundings you have put yourself in — a city street, a vegetation-rich jungle track, gentle beach waves lapping at your feet? Give yourself a little time to notice more details about where you are and where you seem to be going, the immediate track you see in front of you, that you seem to be following or making as you go. If other people appear, ignore them as best you can, if you dodge somewhere else to avoid them, fine, just take note if the scenery changes drastically. Now that you are focused on your path, think about your feet. Look down at them, and note whether you’re wearing shoes, if they’re dirty, if they’re injured, the textures you’re feeling underneath your soles as you walk onwards. Think about your arms, if they’re swinging or if they’re tucked in close to your body, if you’re waving them around. Think about your skin — do you feel a breeze, are you sweating, are you getting bitten, do you feel cold or warm? Think about your breath — laboured? Slow? Are you exhaling through your nose or your mouth?

You could lengthen this exercise until you feel like you have noticed every single thing there is to notice about your body in motion, in a specific environment, moving towards any kind of destination (decided for you or by you), you can notice your feelings in these movements, in this journey, you can go back to noticing the path you’re on and the surroundings. You can be wildly curious and impatient about oh my God, where am I going, what is it going to be like, what will I do when I get there? My point is, you say you can’t see the wildflowers in your own field, so what The Chariot is asking you to do is to try. Because you can see them, you can find them, try and name them, ask questions about them, and that’s all kind of your job. You are on your own special journey right now, back then, always, and when you focus on deeply knowing that special journey, you become in relationship with that journey, you claim it. You claim yourself, who you are, who you were, who you are now becoming. You become active in the story of yourself and all its twists and turns and little details. And then maybe it will become less important what color the grass is anywhere else but under your own two feet.

I'm in the worst physical health of my life, and I'm unable to see a way forward. Will I survive this?

Dear friend. Unfortunately, neither I nor the cards can tell you or anyone else if we will survive anything. I have great hope, however. Wands are about energies and boundaries and our illness and health is often about energetic boundaries — where are things leaking or depleted, what’s draining them, what’s attacking them, the things they need to be fortified, are we focusing them more in one place and not another. When I look at the Four of Wands it makes me think of a community working to raise pillars or a tent, working to raise something bigger than them that can house all of them, that can stand as testament to their work and energies, that can stand as symbols of celebration. You are in a state of depletion. It may feel you have no energy left, and to go looking for more may feel like it would cost you things you can’t even begin to think of paying. It may be in this moment the way forward is microscopic, the smallest possible atomic movements of the body and spirit.

The Four of Wands is about home and safety and being held in a structure of complementary passions responding to one another. Illness often traps us in our own bodies and the experience of living in it, and the systems we live in often are not kind to the ill. Many are left to survive, with perhaps some distant hope to heal, alone. I hope that is not the case for you. I hope you have stores of energy to reach to that live in other people, live in their care for you, their desire to see you survive, and heal, and thrive. Their connection to you that is rooted in the knowledge that your wellbeing is their wellbeing too. I hope they are within easy reach, I hope they know what you are going through and that you need their help and support, I hope they give it to you, I hope you are able to find the energy in whatever way, to tell them this if you haven’t already, and I hope you are deeply listened to as you deserve. We all deserve to build together and benefit from a tent of care, to know other hands join with us to hold up the sanctity of all our lives, in health, in sickness, in all manner of being in between. I am sending you good energy, and I am holding you in my thoughts.

PS: As I wrote this answer I thought of my friend, Nidhi, and her newsletter: “a space to share poetry, excerpts from my reading and to talk about my healing from chronic illnesses and mental health conditions.” It has often helped me better understand my own relationship to my body as well as my ableist notions of illness and health, and it’s also given me great energy watching her navigate moving forward (and being stuck, and feeling like she’s regressing, and moving sideways, and moving much more slowly than anyone else would expect, and so on) in her own experience of illness and health. (She also has a column!!) Maybe it will be good company to you too, in this time.

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I wonder if I have an unhealthy attachment to my work. I love my job. I already ran this by my therapist who asked if I feel bad when I'm not working (I don't) or if my self-worth is tied to how well I perform (also no). When it gets overwhelming, I feel comfortable taking a step back for self-care. So apparently I'm fine. But I can't help but feel a bit self-conscious that when asked to elaborate on my interests and hobbies, nearly all of them are work-related. Do I lean into it because it makes me happy? Or should I put on the brakes and try to find meaning in things not related to work?

When I read your question, I wondered at the layers and layers of asking but no real question beneath them all, and I hope you don’t take that as me being impudent. Apparently you’re fine, you say. And I think I can add to the chorus of, yes you are! I wrote about the Nine of Cups recently: “There’s beautiful balance and abundance in the Nine of Cups, and sometimes the shadow of that is thinking Well this is good, but surely it can be better and in striving for more, one may forget the true shape of what you already hold in your hand, the gift of what already exists and is real.” There’s some measure of that in all the Nines, the suggestion it makes for you to actually for real reap what you sow, and the difficulty some of us might have with the concept of “settling” for “enough”.

The Nine of Pentacles here depicts a well-kept and manicured garden beyond stately gates. It promises or entices us with the possibility of lush growth, beauty, luxury, comfort. We are at the gates, poised to step in or perhaps hesitating. Why hesitate? There’s nothing in your question that indicates anything is wrong or needs to be fixed, except perhaps your mention of feeling self conscious that your interests and hobbies are work-related. Is anyone outside your inner voice making you feel this? If so, leave them to their garden and either enjoy yours in peaceful solitude or find others who prefer the plants your garden has on offer. If it’s mainly or only your inner voice telling you there’s something “wrong” with your attachment to work, and you feel you have not conversed enough with this voice (found out where they’re from, what context they’re speaking from, what concerns they have), then do that. As for finding meaning in things not related to work, you can do that if you really want to (and not because you feel you should), and still be as into work as you are.

Sometimes the simplest things evoke the most complicated reactions in us. Step into the garden. Enjoy it. Revel in the fact that you love your work, it lights you up in many different arenas of your self and life! That you’ve made decisions, encountered setbacks, gained victories that lead you there. What a gift that is! The garden here asks for nothing but for you to be in it. You don’t have to water anything (they’re already watered), or prune anything (they’re growing just fine and not endangering anybody), you don’t even have to plant anything new (there is enough)! If you haven’t already, try and take that step. Try on just being for size.

I feel lost, and not just since this crisis; uncertainty seems to be my default mode right now. I'm aware that I need to turn inwards for guidance but at this point I'm wondering, what are the signs I should pay attention to?

I’m fascinated by the posture of the young bird in this card, how it seems to be looking at the world upside down. I also wonder at the wavy wisps behind it — snow drifts? Smoke? Steam rising from the ground? Cloud formations? No right answers, only ideas. That’s the Child of Swords vibe. I’m on an island right now with my friends, and every day we ask questions about the nature around us, and none of us are really inclined to bring out our devices, call up the all-knowing Internet, and confirm our theories. We’re enjoying the possibilities created by us saying “I think maybe it could be this” or “It looks like this, and I’m thinking it could be connected to this?” It’s childlike and we’re getting so many things wrong, but we’re also having a lot of fun. We don’t know so many things, and we’re so curious about so many things, and somehow we are imagining new answers to those many things, pulling from all the different things we encounter, think and have absorbed.

So perhaps look to the things that make you curious, that give rise to a lot of questions in you. Questions often produce a lot of friction — how well (or not well) we deal with uncertainty, not knowing, not having access to answers. If that’s the case, how can you play with questions a bit more, formulate them differently, ask different kinds, collect interesting ones from other people, how can you turn your head upside down, turn your questions upside down, to look at something strange and mysterious in a new way? Perhaps the Child of Swords asks you to step out of your committed relationships with answers, to explore other ways of existing in not knowing.

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Image descriptions: VII The Chariot - A rushing river, dark blue with white froth and waves on top, carves its way forward and straight through a high-walled valley or canyon. The sky is faint yellow and the sun hazy bright on the horizon. It is unclear if the river will bend or end in a waterfall. Four of Wands - two pairs of crossed wands, each with one black and one white are positioned next to one another. Yellow-orange sparks issue from the tip of each wand, a luminous reddish pink glow emanates from the bottom of the card and extends around the shape of the crossed upright wands, against a larger backdrop of hazy medium blue. Nine of Pentacles - a checkered possibly metal gate opens onto a yard or garden. A tall spiralling green plant, reminiscent of a Christmas tree or other evergreen stands in a wide base pot, whose edge is decorated with circular pentacles. Beyond the plant/tree are green border hedges, possible dark mountains and more greenery. Child of Swords - A black bird is perched on white ground (possibly snow) with its wings folded back and its head leaned down to look between its legs, possibly at the upright sword positioned behind / next to the bird. There are curving white wisps against the pale grey sky, and along the horizon are dark grey faraway mountains.

Three as a Magic Number

three’s company, three’s community, three moves you into the collective

Some notes: Earlier this week I published a non-tarot newsletter on Harm and Healing Within Communities, and you can read it at that link if you missed it. You can also now book a tarot reading with me! 50% of proceeds will be donated to initiatives helping migrant workers, refugees and trans people in Malaysia.


I’ve had two best friends since I was about 17, They were best friends first, and then I became best friends with each of them individually and the friendship grew from two to three. My first romantic relationship was with someone in a polyamorous relationship. I was friends with them both, I was friends with some of the other people they were in relationship with, and when me and my partner made a commitment to each other, we knew it included a commitment to a unit of three (and more). 

These were and are both cornerstone, foundational relationships in my life. They’re an important part of my understanding of family, of understanding being in a community of care that you are accountable to and that is accountable to you. They taught me about empathy, about communication (and how much of it you need to do to make sure things work and people are safe and happy) and conflict, about vulnerability and trust, about not shouldering things alone, and about the capacities and potential of my love. These are the things I think about when I look at the Threes in the Tarot Minor Arcana, and these are the things I am thinking about now in a time where so many of us are imagining things we never thought we were allowed to imagine (or that we didn’t want to indulge in for fear of disappointment) about the way our world can be dismantled and rebuilt. 

I wanted to share some reflections I have on the different Threes, and the energies I receive from them that I think is relevant to working, fighting, grieving, imagining, caring, and loving collectively. 

Four cards from the Spacious Tarot against an aquamarine blue cloth with red flowers. L-R: Three upright swords stuck in the ice, the sky dark grey blue with a tinge of peach pink on the horizon line. Jagged cracks emanate from where the swords puncture the white ice. Three golden pentacles lie underground amongst the deep root systems of three upright trees with light coloured bark and dark oval whorls. One white cup, one bigger yellow cup and one blue mug with a handle sit on flat-topped blush pink stones of varying heights, overlooking a small pool covered in white mist. Tendrils of forest green three-pointed leaves drape over some of the stones. Three white branched wands glowing red at the tip float above a kind of path, possibly a stream of water. The sky is dark behind them, tinged red by the light of the wands.

Three of Swords

We start with pain. If you have the privilege of knowing pain as temporary, I hope you also know that that is a privilege. There are cuts inside of us that never heal, that sting and prick and ache as we try to live. Grief and heartbreak and trauma are heavy weights some of us have no choice but to develop the muscles to carry everyday, weights that break our bones. Then there are the chronic pains that drain energies like a leaking bucket. Sharing pain in a way that doesn’t multiply it, that doesn’t jostle the tender, the raw, the inflamed, requires skill. I’ve been in spaces where people’s pains were summoned thoughtlessly as a means of connection, as a mere exercise for healing together, as if all people in pain need to do is name their pain and speak it. As if they haven’t done that before.  As if their pain is mere currency for empathy. 

adrienne maree brown, whose work on holding space and facilitating I am indebted to, has a concept in her book Emergent Strategy that goes: Move at the speed of trust. As I grow older I realise part of how I show up for myself and for others is understanding, in every relationship and interaction, where the speed of trust is at and calibrating myself to it. There are no shortcuts. You don’t skip over the trust building to “get to the real work” - the trust building is the work. With the communities we want to be in relationship with, with the people who organise in our localities, with volunteers and newcomers in our localities, with the people who want to fight us, who want to block the work we do, who want to win arguments and show us we are wrong. 

Pain is never the only bridge — there are connections that are only possible when we mix in joy, respect, challenge — but it is a bridge, and it’s also a teacher. Where are the swords inside you? How do you hold and soothe the sting? What does that tell you about that type of pain? What skills have your pain taught you? What don’t you know about other types of pain? How can you respectfully learn? Do you understand your own limitations of holding pain? Do you know the threshold where you call in for help? Who do you call? Do you call, or do you usually decide not to? Why? Who calls you when they are in pain? What does it take from you and what does it give you? Learning how best to hold yourself and the things you carry teaches you how to hold others. 

Three of Pentacles

I have a soft spot for the Rider-Waite-Smith rendition of this card. Building a cathedral! What a lofty ambition, and what commited devotion to put your hand in to building something grand and sublime, to building a home for your devotion and the devotion of others. What the RWS version shares with this one is the intent and power of laying down a foundation, of understanding what’s underneath your feet where you want to build. And then the power of looking at empty space with other people, exchanging glances and smiles and thinking, oh the potential here. The potential of what could fill and shape this empty space. Building, channeling physical energy is important, and there’s discipline and devotion required to fuel this. But I also want to talk about the effervescence that can come from collaboration. 

There are many of us who do not have the power to build what we want to see in the world — or more accurately, there are many of us whose powers are blocked by barriers erected by those with more power. Who want to claim ownership of our space and visions, and want to claim ownership over our labour to build what they claim to be theirs. Imagination is a radical act of resistance for this reason. And the frisson of imagining collectively, of feeling possibility open up inside of you and then recognising the same thing has happened for a friend to your left, a stranger to your right, exchanging that glance that says “You too? Fuck yeah! Shall we?” can be as powerful as lightning. Do the seeds of trees know how high into the sky they will reach from the loamy depths of dirt? Do they know the grandeur of thousands of them standing side by side, roots tangled together, filling and shaping land and water and sky? They don’t but they grow anyway. Imagine the joy they might feel if they had it in them to hope. Seedlings saplings thick trunked trees going “Wheee!” as they punch upwards together through the soil, changing and enriching the landscape. 

Three of Cups

Think about a person in your life whose laugh you love. Whose laughter feels most like a reward when you earn it from them? Who makes you laugh until your sides hurt, until you feel you’ve swallowed your own voice, your own breath? When was the last time you laughed? Like really really laughed? Does it feel too long? How can you remedy that now — who can help you? 

You know what I love, at parties or group dinners or whatever? When one person takes on the responsibility of pouring everyone’s drinks. There’s a quiet care in that act that gives me pangs — the way the person they pass a glass to will pass it first to someone else and wait for the next one, and so on and so on, the way everyone might wait until the last glass is filled before raising them for a toast, so that no one drinks until everybody drinks. The intimacy of filling someone else’s cup. People do this with cake too, which is also great. 

Joy and celebration can feel spiky, brittle and fraught in times of turmoil — when trauma and grief threatens to overwhelm. In those moments not only must you fight against any instinct to shy away from joy, but to commit to actively generating it, seeking it out as nourishment that you deserve, actively working to share it with others. Think about how good it feels to be held by someone you trust, someone who wants wholeheartedly to give you happiness, who gets happiness from you. Think about the tender sweetness of being held by someone you’re just getting to know, someone who is learning to understand you, someone who is excited to learn how to be happy together. Seek their embrace and step into it (and remember wherever you are, whatever you can or cannot access, you can always embrace and hold yourself). Share joy, celebrate the space you occupy, the time you share, each other, celebrate the memory of those who are no longer amongst you, and drink it all in. 

Three of Wands

When I share my light with others, I’ve seen them shine it back to me. When I share my light with others, I have seen them collect their own firewood and kindle their own flames. I used to be worried that sharing, giving things away, making offerings meant a multitude of worrying things. That I would be seen as self-important (Why does she think people care what she has to share?); that I would be judged poorly (What she offers has no value); that I would be losing something (Well, you’re just giving it away aren’t you?). 

I spoke to a close friend recently about how there’s nothing I offer more freely, with no feeling of obligation, and which gives me so much purely from my sharing it, than this newsletter. It’s a very satisfying marriage of discipline and devotion, and the clearest example of me saying something with my whole chest (when I set my initial intention to start the newsletter as a pressure free space to work on and share my writing and my thoughts on tarot) and having that unburdened clarity and conviction carry me through every instance of my commitment to it. 

That discipline, devotion, clarity, conviction is also supplemented and would not flow so strongly without seeing how people gather around these words and thoughts and feelings with me, and soak up the warmth together. Every time I sit down to write one of these, I carry the spark of other fires with me, I use them to spark little thoughts and connections, and then I see others taking those and using them as torches down other paths, kindling for other fires that I then get to enjoy. I am learning every day how much energy I get from feeling interconnected, how much power I get from the wisdom and generosity and passion for others and how that emboldens me to share. In your community, whose light inspires you to ignite your own flames? How does that collective bonfire guide others?

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The Threes come early in the Minor Arcana suits, and it signifies an important beginning — because it’s the first instance of moving beyond the individual / internal and moving outside of your own body to think about who you’re in relationship with or who you want / don’t want to be in relationship with. It adds to the foundation of self, because we do not live alone or in vacuums, and because our collective nature strengthens us all. We are shaped by other people, and that is a gift and a tool.


I hope very much that there is something useful / resonant for you in this edition of ROAY and the previous one on harm and healing within communities. Thanks as always for reading, sharing, sending your comments to me. Again, you can now book a tarot reading with me! 50% of proceeds will be donated to initiatives helping migrant workers, refugees and trans people in Malaysia. You can also send me questions for free short tarot readings at this open form here. If you’ve been enjoying the newsletter and would like to support the work, here’s my tip jar. #BlackLivesMatter #MigranJugaManusia #FuckAllSupremacies #AbolishThePolice 💌

Harm and Healing Within Communities

thoughts on collective work to build collective safety

Hi all, I’m doing something a little different this month with what felt like it could be a needed offering. I’ll be releasing another newsletter this weekend that’s tarot-focused, cards that have helped me consider collective work and this moment.

Content note: I will be discussing sexual violence and harassment, and responses to both. I will not be writing or sharing specific cases or examples. I speak not as a sexual violence survivor, but as a commited ally to survivors. This essay is very long, although it is NOT meant to be comprehensive. It may help to read it in phases / sections over time! Thank you for reading any part of it, I hope it can be useful and/or affirming. 

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There’s an ongoing conversation happening this past week in Malaysian discourse spaces about sexual violence. It’s a new round of an old conversation. Survivors are sharing their experiences, many people are upset, and there are points being thrown around about consent and morality and punishment and culpability. I’ve been thinking a lot about how we handle harm in our circles and communities, how the binary thinking of guilty party / victim doesn't actually center the needs of survivors and worryingly disregards how holding harm doers accountable is crucial and necessary community work that keeps us ALL safe. I know for some the current discourse has been traumatising, aggravating, enraging, overwhelming, numbing. I’ve seen the different shades of responses and I am thinking hard about what to share that can be of use to people, and can bring in grassroots, community-based and community led care into the mix.

First I want to share my observations on common responses to harm, where it comes from, what’s missing. Then I’ll share resources that have helped deepen my thinking around these topics. Finally, I’ll share my own practices in facing harm and navigating healing with others. 

Photo by wang binghua

This conversation is happening in a particularly volatile and fertile time of many other discussions — locally and internationally — on harms done to Black bodies, harms done to migrant workers and refugees, harms done by institutions like the state and the police, how they do not live up to (misplaced) expectations of "protecting" anybody because that’s not actually their job. But this is not the first time Malaysian spaces have been filled with stories of sexual violence, and it won’t likely be the last. I see now as a moment to once again consider how we can think of ourselves as collectively responsible for mitigating and facing harm in our communities, to really dig deeper into our feelings, to take actions, and commit to having more tools for the next conversation, to contribute actively to reducing harm. What are the things we can think about and reflect on to do that?

Harm is a nebulous and subjective thing that can mean a lot of different things to people. I acknowledge that harm involves things other than sexual violence, although that is the starting point and the primary frame for this essay. Harm covers a lot of things "crimes" DON'T cover, things that involve a lot more grey area and nuance and complexity. This perspective of harm has opened up my understanding of justice, accountability, and what we can all actually do and ask for that will address our pains in ways that hopefully help them heal and strengthens our connections and care.

Here are examples of harm I was thinking of (some of which I’ve had some experience with) as I wrote this essay:

  • Sexual harassment (where it covers various behaviours and language and there is still no law in Malaysia);

  • Sexual assault allegations against someone in your circle (often devolves into A said/B said, survivor might not want to involve law enforcement, law enforcement might not even be helpful, nobody knows what to do re: the harm doer or how to deal with the impact on group dynamics)

  • Someone in your circle / network makes a racist / sexist / homophobic / transphobic / fatphobic / ableist / classist / fascist / anti-Semitic / Islamophobic / [insert atrocious thing here!!] statement or action

  • Violations of trust within intimate relationships

  • Emotional abuse like gaslighting or manipulation that can be harder to “prove” or have evidence of

  • Defamation lawsuits or threats to silence allegations of sexual harassment or violence (how to support the survivors, how to address harm when you feel muzzled, many don’t have legal knowledge to feel they can stand up to the threats or even properly understand them)

  • Maintaining and sustaining long-term relationships with someone in an ongoing abusive relationship or survivors of violence and/or abuse

  • Someone close to you / in your circle is experiencing suicidal thoughts or ideation, and there’s a risk of them self-harming. Considerations would be preventing the harm without further traumatising or alienating them, when and where and how to involve other parties such as health or mental care professionals, as well as what this might trigger within your circle and how to be there for each other

  • There are more examples (sadly) — very likely what I write in this essay and the things I share on how I navigate harm won’t fit or can’t be stretched to fit those examples, because this is a big web of interconnected issues and pain points and there are many conversations that have happened and are happening in all corners and parts of the web! This essay is one small puzzle piece

We are all capable of inflicting harm, just as we are all vulnerable to being harmed, often to and by people close to us, or who we respect. It’s this closeness to harm and the discomfort that closeness brings that I see triggering a lot of overwhelming emotions. When someone inflicts harm, a common response to harm doers is: conflate the action with the entirety of who they are, banish and ostracise them, "cancel" them, "cancel" people who are connected to them, distance ourselves as much as possible — “I’m not like them. I would never do what they did.” It seems easy and we like easy, easy feels safe. Block them, ostracise, put them away for their mistake, they won’t be able to harm anyone again, brush your hands off, done justice. 

These responses are rooted in a punitive and carceral way of thinking trained into us by the violences of the systems we live in. What I mean by that is we take it for granted that punishment fixes harm, that structures like jails and courts actually fix any of our human problems, that larger systems know better than we do about how to handle the intricacies of our human lives and relationships. Some of us have had the privilege of putting our faith in larger systems: the government, legal system, police, courts, NGOs. We may think, well it's their job to handle “crimes” so let's pass the harm doers and the survivors to them. 

The thing is, a lot of times things don't work out this way. As long as victim-blaming exists, as long as we question survivors and deny their stories, subject them to traumatising questioning and investigative processes, drag their reputations through mud when they come forward, as long as police brutality is endorsed, as long as we allow homophobia / transphobia / fatphobia / ableism / xenophobia / [insert atrocious thing here!!] to dictate who we support and who we don’t care about — this sentence could go on forever and I still wouldn’t be done. As my friend Sam said to me after reading my draft: “The law is ill-equipped to handle issues where there are many grey areas” like intimacy, like consent, like relationships.

Systems thrive on control, order and domination, and often they seek to implement it at the cost of real transformative justice and healing. What is healed when we put someone in jail for 5, 10, 25, 50 years or more? If our current legal system works, why after years and years of court cases that drag and go nowhere, of cases shuttered that never even make it to court, of so many human lives taken, of capital punishment, of continuously building and putting people in prisons, do we still have to deal with so much harm and trauma? 

What we see more of is that harm done is often unacknowledged, harm doers are not held accountable or given resources to really face their actions and the consequences of their actions. Nor are they given resources to help them heal their own traumas and excise their harmful response in future exchanges and situations. And culturally many harm doers are taught there is no NEED for them to seek these resources, that accountability is weakness. Survivors often endure trauma for a long time or are even re-traumatised in various ways, they often endure in silence and isolation, they also do not get resources to heal, we do not get to the roots of the harm and so it keeps happening. All of us remain unsafe. 

And lot of the (very valid) anger that comes up when new stories of sexual violence emerge comes from this infuriating continuing lack of justice and healing. New perpetrators are sometimes seen as a compounded version of every perpetrator before them who dodged accountability, part of a collective of harm doers. The anger curdles into this bloodthirst, a carceral and punitive rage. Meanwhile, the survivors keep stacking up. Where does that anger really go and what does it push forward? When harm isn't acknowledged, then it isn't addressed. These stories all eventually fade and are forgotten by many of us and the survivors get forgotten too; from those who never report to those who go all the way to court (and I say all the way because currently that’s the sad single peak of justice for those willing to enter into existing legal systems to try and obtain it). 

So WHERE TO GO NOW? I've been in a few situations in my life where I was called in to directly support sexual harassment and sexual violence survivors (to participate in mediation processes, or in discussion circles to help them triangulate responses, to contact others on their behalf to ask for advice, to help communicate demands for accountability and solidarity, etc) and each time I’ve felt some measure of overwhelmed, deeply inadequated and super uncomfortable. I’ve also felt resentment at times, like — why do I have to deal with this, I wish I didn’t have to deal with this. I’m humbled by the diversity of my own feelings and can now be grateful to have been called in as I was, and given the chance to learn a lot from those experiences, to be more informed of my duty and responsibility to the people I care about, the people I am in community with. It’s from those experiences that I am sharing all this here today. 

Because our community — the people we know, live alongside, can name, can reach out to directly, who we share some measure of trust with, whose wellbeing is connected to ours — they and we are an important (in some cases, the most important) line of defense and response against all types of violence and harm. And so we need to strengthen our capacity to show up for our community, and practice it any chance we get. If this moment is showing us anything, it’s that our lives depend on it.

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Resources on accountability and harm from people who know better than me

I’ve found these resources really expansive in teaching me about how harm happens, how it multiplies, how to centre survivors and how we can think about accountability versus punishment when it comes to harm and violence. I note that nearly all these resources are US-focused and US-based. I am new to this and am still working through the most readily accessible resources (which is often America due to the space they take up). If you have non-US centric resources, I’d love to hear about them. I also think translation of existing resources is greatly needed, for those who have the capacity!

  • WCC Penang has a few publications that are available online for sexual crimes survivors, from a legal justice angle

  • I know this can be a LOT of reading and watching things and that’s overwhelming, especially when this is probably one in a long list of other resource lists people are sharing right now. Vanessa Newman shared a great post on how to deal with information overwhelm and outlines steps that keeps you accountable to your own learning without overloading yourself

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My own practice of navigating harm with others (a work in progress)

I practice the points below (not sequentially, not in any kind of chronological order, not all at once) to the best of my ability, I don’t always get it right and it’s by no means foolproof or complete. There is always more to learn and do. I share in the hopes that it may help others looking for ways to develop their own practices or articulations when it comes to navigating harm and preventing further trauma for survivors. As I mentioned above, I am speaking from the perspective of an ally to survivors. I do not believe the burden should ever be on survivors to take on the brunt of the work to raise awareness / educate / advocate and I think they have every right to decide not to engage with harm doers. 

I am also a non-disabled person with class, access and majority ethnicity privilege; I try to maintain awareness of and act from that position. I acknowledge that some of the work below can be too much to ask of those without my privileges, and am speaking to those who DO have the capacity to take on the work, as part of investing in collective care. I am ESPECIALLY, ABOVE ALL, WITH MY WHOLE CHEST, directing this list and essay to cishet men although I will not hold my breath for y’all. 

When I first learn about harm occurring (first steps)
  • I always start with validating the experience of the survivor, believing and acknowledging that they have experienced harm, that harm has happened and impacted them

  • I practice consent and confidentiality around sharing stories of and from survivors (ESPECIALLY if they were shared with me privately), taking the time to consider whether what and how I’m sharing and who I’m sharing things with endangers them, risks violating their privacy, or risks adding on to their trauma. Public expressions of support for survivors of sexual violence, abuse, harassment, rape at a time when there are hostile sentiments towards them can be an act of solidarity and resistance against victim-blaming or shaming narratives, but they need to be done with the survivors’ wellbeing and safety in mind. Think about what RTing / reposting / tagging means for survivors when it comes to stories of sexual violence. Check out the point here about modeling digital consent (resource courtesy of my friend Deborah)

  • I allow myself to take time to process, respond, and/or acknowledge how the layers my personal relationships to harm doer, survivor, or both might affect my response. I find someone I trust outside of the situation (a friend, my therapist, etc) to unpack these responses if needed

  • I audit my capacity so I can figure out what I’m able to offer to the survivor and/or perpetrator (listening, logistics, research, monitoring, mediation, advocacy, resource creation, financial help, etc) and what boundaries I have to draw around my time and energy

  • If we share a baseline of established trust / good will, I may ask the survivor what they need or what I can provide to support them in this moment (no strings attached and letting them know there’s no pressure for them to respond or take up my offers), and I invest effort in making and holding non-judgemental and safe spaces for them (to grieve, to express, to be distracted, to be held, to vent, to freak out, to make plans, etc). If we have an ongoing relationship (of any kind), I make a note to try and periodically check in so that support doesn’t taper off once the impact of them sharing their story fades with time

  • I remind myself that how the survivor processes may not be what I expect or would personally do. Embrace that all ways of responding to trauma are valid, and mitigate any ways that may cause more harm to the survivor or physical injury to the perpetrator. I sit with my discomfort and direct my energy from judging anybody to understanding my own feelings

  • I refrain from speaking on behalf of the survivor without clear and honest communication with them. I remind myself to keep practicing saying “That’s not something I can talk about publicly” “Out of respect for the survivor / concern for the survivor’s safety and wellbeing, I won’t comment” “I don’t have enough details to make a comment right now” 

  • I remind myself that survivors may also take issue with my response to their stories / situations / the harm doers for a variety of reasons too numerous to list here. The focus then is really listening to what they’re telling me, where I’ve caused harm, how accountability looks like for me. I do my best to sit with any feelings of defensiveness on my own or in trusted spaces away from survivors, with the goal of unpacking it and moving through it. I admit to my mistakes, reaffirm and recommit myself to my intent to centre survivors, prevent further harm, and contribute to healing where I can

  • If I can afford it, I send money to trusted organisations in my community that actively work on fighting domestic or sexual violence, centering survivor’s needs, and advocating for legal and cultural reform and awareness about these issues.

  • If you don’t know which organisations are working on those issues around you, its always a great time and not too late to learn. It also never hurts to invest time in more reading about harm, accountability, sexual violence, transformative justice, healing etc and actively working on these issues on your own (for me that’s often therapy, conversations with trusted friends and writing). Taking accountability for your own capacity to harm others is important work too

For me facing harm with the harm doer has looked like
  • I acknowledge that impact matters more than intent and make sure that I don’t lose sight of the fact that another person has / other people have experienced harm because of the harm doer, who I may be in relationship with, and that my responsibility to both the harm doer as my friend and the survivor is to engage with the harm doer in an accountability process (if I feel capable and safe doing so). Holding friends accountable is an act of care and investment in their wellbeing — this can help guide you on what to say (see below)

  • If I’m friends with the harm doer or they are someone I trust or look up to, I have to recognise that I may have been hurt by their actions as well and I need to make space for my own feelings first, so I can make space to face this with them. I release putting time pressure on myself to provide public or private responses. I also allow myself the choice to step away from any responsibility to “fix” things with / for the harm doer if I feel I cannot take that on

  • I validate my instincts if I feel like I have all the information I need and if I feel the best course of action for me is to directly end the friendship, without directly addressing the harm doer I am in relationship with

  • As soon as possible (and again — if I feel safe enough to do so), I try to address them directly to open space for response and dialogue. I might reach out to other mutual friends to discuss taking this action as a group. My experience with this has primarily been in a situation where the harm was a non-sexual violation, but I do think I would use the same scripts in a situation with sexual violations. Sample wording: 

    • Here are the details of what I've heard. There are allegations of you causing harm. It greatly concerns me. As your friend, I am asking for your honest side of the story

    • I care about you, which is why I want to be here with you in an accountability process but that does not mean I will excuse the harm you did or just “forget it”

    • This doesn’t have to mean you are a bad unforgivable person, but harm has still been done, and now there’s space to address that instead of burying or ignoring it. Addressing it and taking responsibility is a commitment I need to see from you as my friend

    • Are you okay — what do you think contributed to your actions? What support can we give you to address those root causes? Are you worried this might happen again? I have concerns about this happening again

  • Trying my best to make a mutually safe and non-judgemental space for their response and noting what it looks like: Silence? Evasion? Anger? Defensiveness? Remorse? Helplessness? [Insert other response here]? From here (or after follow up questions) I ask myself, how does this response make me feel, is it lacking anything, what in it gives me hope, does it worry me, does it address directly the concerns / requests brought up by the survivor?

  • If my friend says no to the last question, or their response scares me or it doesn’t dispel my concern, then I ask myself if I can continue being friends with them, if I feel safe enough to stay friends with them, and if staying in relationship with them can help them adjust their response, hold themselves accountable, and/or learn more. I ask myself if this will take more conversations, if I have the capacity for that, if I am willing to commit to longer term engagement

  • If I decide on longer term engagement and continuing the friendship, I work on sharing relevant resources with the harm doer for their further education, including other people they could speak to about these issues as well as providing other support based on discussions with the harm doer and others in our community. I try to be honest with my friend about what my expectations are, what commitment I need to see from them as part of rebuilding trust and accountability, what my boundaries are around communications, time, energy, disclosure, shared spaces and interests, etc. I might set a timeline or milestones for myself (or shared with them)

  • Sometimes all this still leads to the ending of a friendship. Throughout my participation in the accountability process I have to remind myself and accept that this is a possibility, and one that needs to happen if I cannot see a healthy way forward. If it occurs, I take the appropriate measures to ensure my safety and security, and give myself time to grieve, again in trusted spaces where I can unpack and work on my own healing

Things I try to work on consistently
  • Knowing my own triggers so I know when to step back or ask for help. If this work is done with and alongside community as it should be, then everyone working together on community healing and safety can trust that other people can step in when anyone needs to step back. A trigger I have is handling suicidal ideation, for example, and I handle it by learning more on my own about the topic and how to hold space for it, and asking for help from others who feel more capable holding space for it so I can direct people to them instead

  • Working on dealing with conflict in my inter-personal relationships swiftly, and always centering honesty, transparency and kindness. If I have been harmed or hurt, I practice advocating for myself, clearly articulating my feelings, what they’ve done, and what I need from them to heal and/or move forward. If I have harmed or hurt someone, I acknowledge the harm, I take time to listen and let them speak, I make space for my feelings of shame, guilt, self-loathing (and I make that space with a trusted person that’s not the person I harmed), I ask them what they need from me, I commit to providing that to the best of my ability, and I commit to working on behaviours that lead to the harm or hurt. This is real life, real time practice for accountability and harm, and it can absolutely apply to things you think are “small” slights. When we know how to deal with the smaller stuff, it trains us for the bigger stuff! The tools I use for this work vary widely: therapy, writing, tarot, consistent self-reflection, reading, facilitation work

  • Practicing self-forgiveness, acceptance and sitting with my discomfort. Myself and my strong network of support remind me that I am enough and I try my best; I trust them to call me out (and this allows me to just focus on doing the best I can) and to hold my jagged bits. Sitting with your own trauma helps you see and sit with other people’s trauma. It’s not comfortable work, and it won’t guarantee comfort. But it helps you practice being more tender, vulnerable, and accepting of discomfort. I also acknowledge that so many of us have to do this work alone, or can’t do it because we don’t get the help we need — what can I share that may help someone else get more on this front?

  • Deepening my empathy. I do this by learning about people whose lives are very different from mine, listening to them, reading things, accummulating more lenses through which I can see the world, staying open and staying humble (a difficult thing for a know-it-all!!)

  • I am and have been friends with people who are in ongoing abusive relationships. I used to ask all the time — of them and other friends — why don’t they just leave? And then I educated myself on cycles of abuse, roots of violence, relationships based on trauma, and the insensitivity of my judgement. These friendships have been opportunities for me to actively practice longterm care and empathy. This could look like: formulating a safety plan with my friend and other trusted friends, in cases of emergency; providing safe spaces to decompress or escape; remembering that my friend is more than their abusive relationship and encouraging their other likes and our shared interests; remembering also that my friend is strong, and has the capacity to care for themselves and others and inviting them to do that for me sometimes, when they can, is a sign of trust and love; encouraging them to seek support in therapy or other support services, helping them access these things safely

  • The previous point also applies to my friendships with survivors of violence and abuse, who have taught me how to more compassionately navigate triggers and trauma. This could look like: looking up information about possible triggers in the media we consume together; always asking for consent when it comes to touch or sharing personal space; asking to have an honest conversation about triggers but not pressuring them to share if they’re unable or unwilling; working hard not to other them out of a misguided attempt to be sensitive to their trauma; reading up on my own about experiences similar to theirs

  • Practicing and learning how to hold space for people to experience difficult things. This could be my friend going through a hard breakup, a job rejection, a family tragedy. For me this has looked like: better listening and not just waiting for my turn to speak, silencing impulses to “fix” and offer advice, cultivating patience and deeper empathy instead of giving in to judgement (and at the very least keeping silent on any judgemental responses). I’ve experienced time and again the power of just being present with someone I love while they go through something hard — to hold their hand as they cry and breathe through it with them, to listen quietly as they get something off their chest and being comfortable with silence so maybe they can be too

  • And to allow myself to walk away from the space I hold and make with people without feeling like I have to bring their problems “home” with me to keep working on them. To trust that I deserve to think about myself, take up space in my own life, and that I am in continuing dialogue and relationship with this work and the people that I am in community with. To trust that I can and will keep showing up and trying again, for the long haul.

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If you made it all the way through this, thank you for reading. I so sincerely hope you found something you can take with you into your own life and forward on your own journey navigating and deepening your relationship with these issues. If you have any thoughts, corrections, concerns, additional resources to share or if you think it would be useful to have this essay in another format (Zine PDF? Translating sections to BM? Audio recording? Video???) please feel free to comment or reply to this newsletter! I’d love to chat. I am happy and grateful to be in community with the readers of this newsletter — this space and the sharing keeps me accountable. Thank you also to Sam and Nadia for reading through this draft and providing feedback. 

Last words: You can now book a tarot reading with me! 50% of proceeds will be donated to initiatives helping migrant workers, refugees and trans people in Malaysia. You can also send me questions for free short tarot readings at this open form here. If would like to support me and my work, here’s my tip jar.

#BlackLivesMatter #MigranJugaManusia #FuckAllSupremacies #AbolishThePolice 💌

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