The Emperor

daddy issues (ugh sorry)

Just a little note: this year I hope to send out two newsletters monthly, with one edition every month answering submitted questions with short tarot readings and kinda chat more with you and talk shop about tarot. Hope you enjoy this one, and you can find out how to submit a question at the end of the newsletter!

Hello from a sunrise-tinged, fraught, fecund, and vibratingly exciting time of year. I want to talk to you about The Emperor, the fourth card of the Major Arcana, and also the tarot card for the year 2020 (you figure this out by adding up the numbers in a year until you get a number between 1-21). Which is to say, I want to talk about authority, power (always power!) and anxiety. 

For a couple months, when people asked me what I would do after I finished work in December, I would say: I'll be taking a break. I said that so often, drawing and redrawing a circle around January 2020 like a border. It's very much January 2020 now, and I am definitively taking that break. Waking up late, staying at home, spending time on leisurely activities with outputs that serve no one but myself, like putting together a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle, like laying around in bed and playing around with abstract project ideas, or just wilfully letting time pass without a thought about waste. 

Without a thought about waste! I'm lying. I let time pass, but there was always a tendril reaching out from my mind and body towards the thoughts I should be doing something more useful. Soon, I won't be able to do this anymore. I'm wasting this time I could be using for something 'better' for me, and I'll regret it later. I can't be waking up late forever which is of course true and I know it but then it slides into a thought more sinister If I don't retrain myself now, the rest of my year will be too slack to hold the things I want to hold. The things I want to achieve. A tendril like the parasitic vines choking the cempaka tree in front of our house, with the thin curlicue creepers that execute a grip stronger than I expect. My dreams infused with stressful situations that demand fixing, taunting me with illusions of frantic urgency. Already my own hand erasing the boundary I drew and redrew in all those answers I gave everybody else. 

From left to right: Emperor cards from the Neo Tarot, Thoth, and Morgan Greer decks. (full image descriptions at the very end of the newsletter)

I've always experienced uneasiness and uncertainty around The Emperor. The Rider-Waite-Smith version of the card paints a brooding and forbidding figure. A patriarch and monarch (boo) with blood on his hands (hiss), even when they're manicured and washed, occupying a seat of power as a way to look down and upon governed, colonised subjects. As a queer brown woman, it's an easy image to project on, to throw my arms up against. Not an easy one to ingest. In the past my instinct has been to try and mask it with the feminine, a kind of glitter bomb attack — let me soften these edges into something I can understand, as a femme, as someone with feminine strengths trained into me. 

But it doesn't quite work, binaries never do. The Emperor resists glitter. I fight with this card, and it's taken a while to understand that that's perhaps the pathway into understanding and relating to it. That this card makes me face things that aren't soft and I need that, I need hard, prickly, jagged textures. To come up against what I feel might break me, to wrestle with combativeness and aggression, my desire/desperation for control, with what it means to have authority — for myself and for those around me — because authority, I believe, isn't wielded in the vacuum of the self. It bleeds out. Some cards hold my hand, or stand beside me, or ask me to sit near them and to contemplate the view. The Emperor gets in my face, demands eye contact, forces me to use my hands, my muscles, my flesh, my breath. The Emperor doesn't treat me like I'm fragile, and forces me to push myself beyond that thought too, to risk myself, some pain, some hurt, to believe it's for a purpose. 

A break to inhale and exhale, because I understand this can be triggering. It sounds like I'm describing a sword fight or a bar brawl, neither of which I've ever experienced, and which I have space and privilege to contemplate in the abstract. This energy may not be safe for everybody. If that is the case, I share this wonderful read on The Emperor by Jessica Dore: "The function of a boundary is to protect yourself, not to control others. If a boundary is geared toward personal peace and safety, not toward making anyone do anything, [and if] someone still has an issue with it, that’s a red flag. Exercise your sovereignty and remove yourself." Release any tightness within you anyway you need. 

Here are some ways I have been contemplating The Emperor and the energy of this card in recent times: 

A drawn pie chart with three segments: Control vs sovereignty, power over self vs. power over what to cultivate and Retreating from a kingdom I’ve built.

Part of the anxiety of these new years' days is this feeling of 'setting the right tone', that what I commit or don't commit to now will be where I will be in, say, September, as if the days don't move us like silt in a river, diffuse and liquid. One of my earliest readings of The Emperor came from my friend Kenzie (from 2016!) who said, "[To me, it's] structure without wiggle room, about caging yourself in with responsibility and without a thought to the human heart beating inside you." I feel I am failing myself both by denying myself the break I have been working towards and by frivolously frittering away the break through 'excessive' leisure. I have made myself my own villain, denying my own power like my power over my own time, the power of my skills and capabilities which will not rust from rest, the power of my human needs and the power of serving them (both now, and later when I am further recharged). If I am Emperor, and my dominion is my own mind, my own life, the landscape of my time and what I pay attention to — how do I exercise my rule, and perhaps more importantly, how do I shift the focus from me as an individual to the landscape I want to cultivate with my power? 

Another part of the anxiety is the anxiety of giving up control. If I see power as intrinsic to all of us, as something we channel from various sources, then I see control as a means to shape and maintain that power. To feel at all times like you've got a handle on it, that it's in a shape you can wield and never lose. I've been saying no a lot in recent weeks. No to tarot readings, no to requests to meet, no to other people's projects, no to possible collaborations. These nos are all in the service of the things I want to say yes to, the landscape I want to cultivate, and I've had practice saying no prior to this recent streak, but it's still hard. I still fear that every no is a door closed forever, is the end of any further requests. It feels like retreating from a kingdom I've built (my reputation, my cache as someone appealing to work with and to include) and I fear losing what I've built. I fear being forgotten. 

An emperor who rules forever is a dictator; control is power trapped with a choking grip. I've been reading up on indigenous fire management, as bushfires devastate Australia. Here and there over the past few years I've been thinking about older ways of being in society, of being in dialogue with our environment, of caretaking and governance outside of hierarchy. Of humankind's collective accountability as guardians of this world we live in. A tendril reaches out from those thoughts towards my domain as an individual. 

If I step back from everything I'm known for, it doesn't reduce me. And what if turning away from things that no longer excite me or no longer feel right for where I am is a way to practice my capacity for growth and change? To understand that I have skins to shed and the capacity to grow and build and make new ones, that there are versions of me I have yet to meet that offer different things to the world? Here the Empress presses a light and meaningful touch on the shoulder of the Emperor. Here The Emperor steps down from their throne to kneel on the Earth and understand what grows beneath them, around them — with and without their control. 

Possibly the last piece of all this is understanding my influence, and how I define 'influence', and how that matters in my relationships to others. It's been gratifying to receive inquiries for things, even when they are nos for me. It's gratifying to be sought! It's gratifying also to feel like you are making an impact. What's been interesting for me is shifting where I seem to think I'll find this gratification, because recently, it's been showing up more and more in my personal realm of relationships. Friends telling me, oh this thing you do / shared made me think about this in my own life and it made me do this. I tried the thing you suggested, and I liked it or it resonated with me. How you worded that made something clearer for me. When I was going through something hard, the way you showed up — for me and for yourself — helped move something forward. 

I grapple with the desire to exert control over people as a means to feel secure and to feel superior. To have them behave in ways I deem as 'better' for them, according to metrics I dictate. To have them behave in ways I can predict, that don't cause me uncertainty and distress. To feel useful and powerful in my capability to offer productive advice, to offer support to improve their circumstances, make them feel stronger. To lay claim to their growth and flourishing as credit to my goodness, my efforts, my influence. When I give in to this I forget my sovereignty, and the sovereignty of people I love. I forget the power of me simply existing in this world, as one of many members of my community, I forget that when I cultivate my garden, I can encourage other things to grow, to take root, to be planted by other hands. 

I carry a phrase with me, from horoscopes written by Naimonu James in December 2017discipline creates spaciousness. I have repeated it to myself many many times since then, as a mantra. In a recent love letter, one of my best friends wrote to me: "Now I think maybe what I called power was meaning." Meaning is personal as well as collaborative, meaning is made in dialogue, meaning acknowledges we all hold power, and enmeshing that power to create bigger and better things creates bigger and better things. I grasp The Emperor's hands and I tell them, I want no dominions, no colonies. I do not want a fleet in my name, a throne, statues. I want to feel belonging wherever I stand, I want always to remember my immense power to create, to love, to connect, I want intimate, fierce self-knowledge, I want to always feel shoulder to shoulder with my fellow humans to feel our individual powers magnifiying our collective power to fight and care for the world and each other. 

And if I've got to wrestle you to the ground, you cunning motherfucker, with your steely smirking eyes, if I've got to laugh through a tumble, through the breath being knocked out of me, and be reminded that I am a creature of blood and bone, that I have it in me to feel pain and pleasure and survive both, then come at me. Let's make it best 2 out of 3. 


You can donate to the fire services working hard right now during the Australian Bushfires: NSW Rural Fire Service and Country Fire Authority Victoria.

Go to this link to submit a question you want me to pull some cards for. I can’t guarantee I will answer all questions submitted but I will do my best. I am hoping to publish those short reads by end of January.

Marianne from Two Sides Tarot created a spread recently for exploring Emperor energy in your life; I haven’t tried it myself but I love the idea.

Previously, I wrote about the rituals I closed 2019 with. If you'd like to subscribe, click here. If you’ve been enjoying the newsletter and would like to support the work, here’s my tip jar. Thanks so much for reading.


Image descriptions of tarot cards featured: Neo: A short haired figure in fully white long sleeved top and long pants, their right palm outstretched with a yellow 7-pointed star floating above it, and their left arm leaned on a brown plinth behind a black ram with earthy pink horns. They are barefoot on a green surface and sitting on a purple plinth in front of a large red circle/sun and brown sky with wisps of lighter brown clouds. Thoth: Rendered all in shades of red, yellow, white and orange. A crowned monarch sitting with their right foot crossed over their left knee and looking to the left, a shield with a winged bird creature with two heads facing each other on the left and a kinda pissed off looking lamb/small sheep sitting mostly in shadow, bearing a small flag with a halo behind its head. Two long necked rams stare out from over each of the monarch’s shoulders. They hold a staff and a round item with a short cross on top in front of their body. Morgan Greer: A figure with a white hair and beard and a crown with an eagle head sitting on a red throne looking to the left. They are wearing a gold chest plate, red trousers, brown booths and a dark red cape clasped at the collar and thick gold cuffs at the wrists. In their right hand a gold staff topped with a cross and in the left hand a straight sword with a gold blade, and under that hand there is a statue of an eagle with their wings raised and also facing left.

All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals

goodbye 2019

The title of this newsletter comes from the little white book that accompanies the Dark Goddess Tarot deck by Ellen Lorenzo-Prince (a deck I’ve written about before on this newsletter). It’s the mantra attached to the Siren of Wands, Qadesh - Egyptian Goddess of Pleasure. This card came up when I did one of my yearly rituals, a year ahead tarot card spread, and this newsletter will be about the rituals I’ve recently done to wind down the year and step over New Year’s Eve into newness, continuation, hope.

I hope whatever you’re doing in these last days of 2019, you are safe, and that you can hang on to the memory of morning to remember that the days come, the sun rises and sets, and that whatever time you have, it means something.

End of Year Review

I’ve done this every year since 2011 - essentially answering a list of questions that allow me to reflect and look back on the past year and chart the paths I took, the landscapes I travelled through, the parts of me that transformed or dropped away or sprouted anew. Tumblr was and maybe even still is rife with these kinds of list, and the original questions numbered in the 40s, and over the years I’ve whittled them down, thrown away questions all together, added new ones in, asked others for more.

My 2020 review is now up on my website 🎊🎊🎊 I started working on it early last week, a couple hours at a time, and set a vague mental alarm clock for a few days after that to look through it one last time (doing the sloppiest job of proofreading) before posting it. I go through some detritus — Google Calendar, text messages, social media accounts — to fill in some memory gaps, but also I tell myself to focus on what comes clearest in view first. I am always so hungry for time and space to do this, because once I start, I need to keep going and to have mental space to think about questions and answers even as I’m not writing it all down. But I also know I can’t keep tweaking it for more than a week or so, because then I am trying to rewrite something, or present something polished when that’s not the point. Not for me, anyway.

My friend Al tells me he does a version of this on his birthday every year, and that sounds like a great idea too.

Altar Reset

In the past few months, with work being so busy and taking up so much of my time, I didn’t do much with the altar (a wood and metal cabinet with 3 tiers including the top) and I knew that I wanted to spring clean a bit before the year ended to essentially shake off the cobwebs. After clearing everything out, throwing away whatever needed to be thrown away, cleaning whatever needed to be cleaned or wiped down, I started developing an altar with Capricorn season in mind.

I set down a dark blue batik cloth with brown and white patterns of leaves, which I think Liy gave me. I wanted the altar to have levels, different heights for shape. A dark green leaf-patterned shoe box from IKEA became a stand and little platform for 3 tarot decks and pulling cards. 2 tarot boxes draped with scrap green velvet became a platform for an orb made from shells I got from the Philippines, under which I can light a small candle. In the centre 3 new pastel pink and blue ombre resin coasters from my best friend Sara, where I place some gemstones. Behind the tarot box a glass jar, water, and 3 miniature fan palm fronds from the garden. Liy described the palette as “forest lagoon”. Fitting for the season of the sea goat.

A composite photo of the altar. From left to right: The seashell orb atop an upturned glass and glass dish atop the draped boxes. Around the glass dish is a set of yellow prayer beads with a goldenrod tassel, at the base of the boxes a painted pendant of a blue wave from my friend Dhi. A wooden bowl filled with soil, an unlit stick of palo santo resting across the lip. A lit candle below an ornate black framed mirror. 4 gemstones on a resin coaster with a gold edge. A green glass bottle. 3 decks of cards (Tarot of the North Atlantic, Herbcrafters, Dark Goddess) leaned up against the shoebox, hidden from view. Behind it a clear glass jar with 3 palm fronds in it.

I got our stepstool and sat in front of the altar. I hooked up my phone to a bluetooth speaker, and introduced sound to the space, to change and agitate the air. The act of putting together an altar has always been for me like a version of making a 3D moodboard, and a way to physically manifest intentions. I think about elements, what I want more of in my life, what I want to see everyday, what I want to touch and have in my hands, what scents I want to experience.

I hope to spend more meaningful time here next year, to remember it and use it as a space to reset myself.

Cleansing Fire

This is not a yearly ritual, because it’s a fraught one, and also it’s something I feel should be saved for a real pulling need. I do not want to contribute to pollution with frequent or excessive open air burning, and had Malaysia still been experiencing haze, I would not have done this regardless of whether I felt a need. And I’m not Smokey the Bear, but the precautions I took were to do it in a fire-safe container (in my case, a clay-based plant pot filled with dirt) in my backyard, away from plants, and near the garden hose. Do NOT do this if you’ve never made a fire, or in an open area where you could literally start a wildfire like don’t do Australia or California dirty like that, they have enough of this shit to deal with.

For months, I had saved and dried some herbs in a drawer in our vegetable crisper (in the fridge). There were the brittle branches of the rosemary we loved that died, there was a forgotten bag of curry leaves and kaffir lime leaves. There were the blackened stubs of palo santo from the altar. I saved these all knowing vaguely that one day I wanted to make a fire with them.

The pulling need was I had some letters I felt I needed to write, to people I don’t talk to anymore, about issues I didn’t know how to talk about anymore, and I wanted a way to release these things into the universe, away from me.

I was alone at home the night before Christmas. I was anxious about being scolded by a neighbour, but I put together the materials for the fire on the deck, nestling the letters at the base under a tent of rosemary branches. I brought the pot out to the garden, lit what I could of one of the sticks of palo santo, pushed it into the base, and watched the whole thing crackle and light up. The fragrant smoke stung my eyes, the sky was clear, the flames grew and the light of it illuminated the garden. The smoke blew back under the roof of our deck, turning white as the last of the leaves went up in flames. I tamped it all with a brick and showered it with water for good measure, the scraps went into the compost.

All in all it lasted 10 minutes, but the smell of the smoke lingered in the rooms of our house for a while after, and whatever the fire burned felt lighter in my body.

Year Ahead Tarot Spread

The basics of this spread is it involves 13 cards: 12 to mark every month of a calendar year and a central card that represents a “theme” or “core” for your year, usually a major arcana card. If you look online, I am sure there are many permutations of this spread with different variations. Last year I did one with 2 decks, and split the read into 4 quarters, pulling 8 cards total. I started doing this spread at the end of 2017, and I check in on the photo and notes I take periodically throughout the year, to meditate on a particular card and think about its energies, and how it applies (if it does!) to the situations I experience as the year goes on.

This year I went back to the 12 + 1 cards. I used the Apparition Tarot deck to start with. I had spent the morning cleaning the house after 2 days of no water, and I felt more at peace to make space for this once I knew water was flowing through the house again, and that it wasn’t stagnant. I showered, moisturised, Palo Santo’d the room, the cards, myself. I did the read on my bed, surrounded by my chosen decks, my phone playing calming music, guidebooks, journal, pen.

I picked the 12 cards after shuffling and spreading out the cards in one long straight line. I picked the 13th card by gathering up the remaining cards, shuffling again until I landed on one card that felt right at the top of the stack, and placed it face down in the center of the circle. I uncovered the 12 cards first, took time looking at all of them and making notes of patterns and which cards evoked strong feelings. Then I looked for the corresponding cards from the Dark Goddess Tarot, and placed them beside Apparition. I read from Dark Goddess’s guide book, listing the mantras of each card from January to December like a litany poem. It was only after then I uncovered the central card, and placed the corresponding Dark Goddess card next to it. It was a Major Arcana, which made me feel affirmed and relieved, like having an arrow hit a bullseye.

I chose Apparition because of the abstract nature of the visuals, and the colours. They felt like portals, shifting and responding once the Dark Goddess cards were placed next to them, allowing me to see different things. The mantra for the Priestess card, The Pythia, is “From dissolution comes awareness.” It felt so in dialogue with the image of the High Priestess card in Apparition - a hand (below a soaring bird with big wings and above a lit candle in a pink dish) reaching through a circle into a dark space, towards a mirror floating alongside a half-filled/empty cup of water and a fish. To summarise the narratives of the read, what I interpreted is that 2020 will be for me a year of deeper and stronger self knowledge, holding steadfastly to my heart and my guts, confronting fears, insecurities, and my shadow self, and developing a more tender and productive relationship with those parts of me. It’s about making art for real and building things.

Because I have so many bleepin’ decks, I also pulled corresponding cards from the Herbcrafters Tarot and put it to the side. I liked the idea of working with a different plant element every month as another way to engage with both this year ahead spread in a more active way, and also my gardening plans. Not every plant will be indigenous and easily acquired, but I’m excited to learn more about these 13 plants and maybe even their local equivalents over the next year. All in all, a very energising and powerful read for 2020, where last year there was more resistance as I did this spread for 2019, and a more clear throughline of challenges and hardship. It’s not to say 2020 will be “easier”, just that I will (hopefully) be more ready in different ways.

Setting Horizons

Again since 2017, I’d been making a little poster of aspirations every year (in Canva!) in lieu of resolutions. I mean, they were essentially resolutions but I tried to be looser about them. It was stuff I aspired to, like read X amount of books, save Y amount of money, do Z thing, learn whatever. I’d get to about half, and the rest would either be reabsorbed into ongoing attempts to grow and learn or discarded. This year I didn’t feel like I had that list as clearly inside me. I wrote to myself “There's a blank space where next year will be and it excites me more than it scares me (although anxiety brain keeps trying) and there's a sacredness to that empty space and potential that I don't want to impose on yet.”

So instead I noted some “horizons” for myself, broad markers for where I wanted to head to to explore. Learning to sew, gardening, learning more about all my new bleepin’ decks since I’m buying them faster than I can use them (2020 I will try not to buy anymore decks 🤞🏽), working on a project I won’t get into yet, continuing to write this newsletter consistently. If I “complete” these things, great. But where I want to be at the end of next year is having made the effort to move towards and explore these things, and to discover new horizons entirely as I do so.


What are your year end rituals? Or what are your favourite ways to spend time in the last week of the year? If you wanna share, just click reply to this email. May 2020 be kind, hope you have a happy new year my friends! And see you on the other side.

Previously, I wrote about the things I liked reading in 2019. I am excited to keep writing and growing this newsletter, with tarot related content and other things. If you'd like to subscribe, click here. If you’ve been enjoying the newsletter and would like to support the work, here’s my tip jar. Thanks so much, always, for reading. It expands my heart every time I get replies or comments from those of you that do 💘

Things I Liked Reading in 2019

a yearly review

Gif by Lobster Studio

Every year, I do an end of year review and one of the questions I answer is “What were the best things I read?” Books are easy enough to track considering I read so few (very proud I did 14 this year!!) but at the end of 2018, I wanted to be more mindful about keeping track of the things I read online, and used the recommendations feature on Pocket as a way to file away things I read that stuck with me, felt important to amplify, that altered some measure of my thoughts and feelings, that delighted me and reminded me of the potential of words. Even with all that, I still had to go back a bit over my Twitter account to see what stuff I shared that I forgot to recommend on Pocket. Anyway, this newsletter is its own library. Reading, it’s great!


  • Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown. The first book I read in 2019 and one of the best, as a facilitator and community member interested in learning how to better hold space for difficult, transformative processes

  • amb's sabbatical boundaries blog post was also boundary articulation goals

  • The Queen of Jasmine Country by Sharanya Manivannan. Sumptuous

  • Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood. HILARIOUS and brilliant

  • Speaking of Patricia Lockwood, her review of John Updike's works, Malfunctioning Sex Robot, was just a rollicking good time despite me never having read the author, with one rewarding sentence after the next

  • How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. Just encapsulated a very deep undercurrent for me (and that of so many friends) that I know is following me into 2020. 

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In 2019, I thought more deeply about the prison abolition movement, and understanding and practicing transformative justice in our own lives, circles, pods, communities. The first article here really resonated with my own struggles and navigations when it came to my ideas of justice, punishment, mercy, and being in a society with one another.

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If you’re not Southeast Asian like me (I’m sorry for your loss), here’s some cool stuff I think you should read by people from and about this part of the world.

  • Sharon Chin’s poem for her work In The Mouth of a Tiger: Monument to What We Want (Tugu Kita). An English translation by Zedeck Siew, and Sharon’s own translation (as elucidated by Zedeck)

  • My Cousin Ju by Nadia Rasidi. “That afternoon my aunt considered me with something approaching fear, as though she was only then confronting the repercussions of constantly telling me that my body was fucked up and wrong. Not because of what it might do to me — or might have done to me as an 11-, 15-, 22-year-old — but what she thought it had done to her daughter, and by extension, her. She was now the mother of a fat person.” That’s my best friend, go best friend!!

  • What Makes Our Makan by Max Loh. “In a world shaped by globalisation with increasing intensity, our definition of what is and isn’t authentic and how best to preserve it, requires active engagement. Overzealous attempts to preserve heritage without nuance can just as effectively kill them.”

  • Not Gonna Get Us by Amanda Lee Koe. A queer coming of age story set in Southeast Asia???????????? The power that that has, the impact that that has, the implications that that has

  • One Day Out by Ina Bestari. “You are valid. You are seen. You are loved.”

  • A Bug's Life by Deborah Augustin. A great essay on Anida Yoeu Ali's performance at her exhibition The Buddhist Bug: A Creation Mythology that happened in KL in August

  • What We Decide Will Be All That Remains by Charis Loke. A beautiful comic on the yearly haze across Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and other surrounding countries in SEA

  • My Name Is… by Iskandar Salim. The story of names as told by a Chinese Indonesian

  • More on names! Sans Surname by Khairani Barokka. “Think about all the areas of life in Western countries affected by this patriarchal first name-surname primacy: visas and immigration, property deeds, medical records, death records, other areas of law, schooling, academic citations—every area of public life I can think of. The forms that require “First Name,” “Surname” are not as blatantly patriarchal as the medical forms I refused to sign as an adult woman in a Jakarta clinic, requesting my father’s or husband’s name and contact details—but they are still patriarchal, I argue, in origin, and are certainly colonial vestiges.”

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Not to be all like, here are some READS about ISSUES, but these felt urgent for the issues and themes and big life matters that we are all contending with in this current, immediate time.

  • Environmental education not a substitute for real action by Wong Ee Lyn. “Malaysia has been stuck in the “awareness” and “education” phase for over two decades. As someone who has been active in the environmental movement for that length of time, I regret to report that most governmental environmental education initiatives fall into the category of Arts and Crafts activities such as poster contests, stage plays, recycling competitions, and cute public service announcements that do not constitute actual solutions.”

  • How Can I Say This So We Can Stay in This Car Together? Claudia Rankine on On Being with Krista Tippet. “Can you tell me some ordinary thing that you were doing, and then somebody in your life said or did something to make you realize, in their eyes, you are no one?”

  • The Crisis in Kashmir Has Started a Conversation I Don’t Know How to Have by Scaachi Koul. "There has to be a way to maintain and understand the historical context of your own people’s suffering while also refusing to pass that legacy down to other disenfranchised groups."

  • Do Things Matter? by Sarah Miller. Nope! Helpful to say even if not always true

  • Brendan Fraser’s #MeToo Story Is Why More Male Victims Don’t Speak Out by Miles Klee. "This is how we victim-blame men: not for drinking too much or wearing the wrong clothes or seeking salacious fame, but for not playing along when another guy crosses a line. [To not do so] reinforces the toxic assumption that men are invulnerable to these attacks — that to be a victim is, essentially, to be a woman."

  • Rebecca Solnit: How Change Happens. "I wanted to yell at some of the people I run into, “If you think you’re woke, it’s because someone woke you up, so thank the human alarm clocks.” It’s easy now to assume that one’s perspectives on race, gender, orientation, and the rest are signs of inherent virtue, but a lot of ideas currently in circulation are gifts that arrived recently, through the labors of others."

  • The 2010s Broke Our Sense Of Time by Katherine Miller. "The internet is no longer a place you go. Who we are on the phone and in the walking world have merged. This is why algorithmic time is so disorienting and why it bends your mind. Everything good, bad, and complicated flows through our phones, and for those not living some hippie Walden trip, we operate inside a technological experience that moves forward and back, and pulls you with it."

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How are we / how have we been queering all the different parts of our existence? And how do we need to keep queering it?

  • How Our Generation Is Changing the Definition of 'Femme' by Jenna Wortham. "For DeVeaux — and me — masc and femme coexist as collaborators, not competitors."

  • Jonathan Van Ness’ sponsored coming-out is not activism by Alex Verman. "Visibility is a handy buzzword, and representation is valuable. Yet there is something troubling about the way these transactional relationships between brands and individual LGBTQ2 people are accepted as a form of activism without any accompanying commitment to the causes that directly affect the most vulnerable members of our communities. These include transgender people of colour, sex workers, those living in poverty and those living with HIV."

  • The Problem with Pronoun Practices by Kirby Conrod. "Have you ever had the problem of wanting to get your (students, co-workers, etc) to share pronouns, but didn't want to pressure people to potentially out themselves? I have some ideas on what you can do!"

  • Words for Every Body by Ray Briggs and BR George "But in opposing all uses of gender-neutral language, Broustra and other critics aren’t just demanding that cis women’s needs and experiences be seen as valid; they are demanding that they be seen as universal."

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Along with prison abolition, I am also trying to learn more about the disability justice movement, and to unlearn my own internalised ableism by listening to more stories and experiences from disabled people.

  • Such Perfection by Chloé Cooper Jones. A really sharp read on the concept of beauty and disability, and sometimes the deep cruelty of where they meet

  • Stammer Time by Barry Yeoman. “There’s something interesting about stuttering in a world that moves at increasingly breakneck speed,” says St. Pierre, the Alberta professor. For most of human history, we measured time in lunar cycles, menstrual cycles, agricultural cycles. Today we rely on “clock time,” standardized and designed for industrial production. Clock time values efficiency; it has no patience for silences and repeated syllables. “Stuttering highlights that fact: that clock time runs roughshod over all these other ways of creating time, but that they still persist and are still important,” he says. “Stuttering interrupts this hegemonic order of time.”

  • Access Intimacy, Interdependence and Disability Justice by Mia Mingus.   So much food for thought here. I see so much ingrained ableism in my loved ones coming from a place of fear at the thought of the inconvenience, disruption and violence disability would bring in their lives and the lives of their loved ones. What if that were turned on its head, what if we faced that fear and transformed it? More and more I'm learning that it’s beyond crucial and urgent, and that it is what we all must do

+++

What does labour and work mean for us now?

  • The Cost of Misusing the Term 'Emotional Labour' by Madeleine Holden. "“There seems an alienation or a disenchantment of acts that normally we associate with the expression of connection, love and commitment, like, ‘Oh, what a burden it is to pick out gifts for the holiday for my children,’” Hochschild says. “I feel a strong need to point out that this isn’t inherently an alienating act, and something’s gone haywire when it is.”

  • what great inconvenience by Anne Helen Petersen. "Think deeply and consistently about how your own actions, and standards, and practices create burnout in others. [..] Just because something’s cheap and efficient doesn’t mean that it should be that way — or that your ability to access it doesn’t have significant human cost."

  • There is No Cure for Burnout by Ella Dawson. "For me, burnout also looked like rage. It looked like a boiling resentment of everything that asked for my energy: my job, my friends, my relationship, even my own body. My constant emotional state was annoyance, and my ability to compartmentalize that annoyance eroded until it seeped into my personality at work. I had no patience for anyone, becoming furious over the smallest slights and misunderstandings. While I’m no doubt being hard on myself, I know that it didn’t make me a perfect leader or manager."

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I loved these two reads for how it allowed me to learn about the specificities of fractured communities, and the efforts they put in to stay connected to their culture.

  • Dial up! by Mia Sato. This was such an interesting story about how the Hmong diaspora stay in dialogue with their native tongue and community, using conference call technology!

  • How to eat well while living under siege by Laila Elhaddad. "Gaza’s cuisine is part of the culinary continuum of the Levant. It has much in common with nearby Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, but it now exists in a gastronomical bubble, cut off from all its neighbours."

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Women talking to each other. Women being friends with other women, making connections. Women talking to each other about art, which is to say, about life.

  • The Visitor by Jessica Francis Kane. I'm only just NOW getting into Jessica's book, Rules for Visiting. When I first shared this my only comment was "A pleasant read about friendships between women" which is embarassingly on-brand

  • Swipe White by Jennifer Chong Schneider. This piece is so layered and intense. As ever, I am drawn to the bits that describe friendship between women and the space those relationships make for women's relationships with men. "My friend Danielle writes me from her new home outside of America, “I’m happy you’re still seeing him, and I hope you’re enjoying yourself. He’s letting you know he will leave you. Are you ok with that?” She softens the blow, even in email, because she really cares for me."

  • Björk Guest-Edit: In Conversation with Maggie Nelson. Always gonna be a sucker for correspondences between women about life and art

  • So Many Secrets by Crystal Stella Becerril, Kaitlyn Chandler, Dana Kopel, Charlie Markbreiter, Haley Mlotek and Art and Labor. A roundtable on cultural organizing in New York City - fascinating conversation

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I menstruate and I am gonna experience menopause one day, and these reads on those two things (to grossly simplify) were great!

  • Data bleeding everywhere: a story of period trackers by Sadaf Khan. This essay covers the way data and surveillance intersects with health, sex, reproduction, and the intimacy of disclosure when it comes to bodies that menstruate, get pregnant, miscarry, have sex (with or without blood involved). 

  • Night on Fire by Darcey Steinke. I am excited to read Darcey's Flash Count Diary and I want a million more things on the experience of menopause. "Though no one wants to say it out loud, menopause is about loss; it’s about departure – each flash reminds me of my corporeality, my mortality. With every flash, my psyche is pushed to grasp what it does not want to let itself know: that it is not immortal. This is terrifying. It’s also a rare opportunity, if faced directly, to come to terms with the limitations of the self."

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Reading about money and what people do with it, how it affects their emotional lives and relationships, how it changes the way they see life, risk, reward, etc - I lap all that up.


I’m publishing my end of year review next week (either here or on my website). Previously, I wrote about voice, silence and violence. “There are some story lands I can never traverse ever again, ever ever ever ever, and that itself is a story mute in my mouth. Grief is so violent, so tender.” If you'd like to subscribe, click here. Feel free to share this newsletter with a friend. And if you like what I write and share and want to support that, here’s my tip jar. Thanks so much for reading 💌

Eight of Swords / Eight of Cups / Ace of Pentacles

voice, silence, violence

Every time I've not been able to tell a part of my story in its fullest, truest form, I've felt violent. Violently ill, anxious, angry, sorrowful, quieted. Like I'm muzzled, and thrashing against my bindings. Grief is / can be a violent thing. This grief, which I've often doused in spite, gets me to work harder. I start working on experiments. Cloaking the words, shifting them, changing an aspect, obscuring the story with fog, with glitz, with a different tenor, burying it, never forgetting it, swallowing it, vomiting it up, swallowing it again, choking on it when I say other things. I perform ventriloquism, I whisper it in the dark, into the shells of trusted ears, in places where people don't know my language or who I am, I tell it in missing bits squirrelled away out of larger view, in reverse, in atoms, in blurry Monet water lilies. 

I'm doing that work now, in this newsletter, in this paragraph - stalling. When more than anything I burn and yearn with the desire to say, loud and clear and plain: 

I am ___________. I am a _____________. I love _______________. We ____________ together. ___________ causes me pain. _____________ has broken my heart. I can't talk to _____________ any more. If I _____________ I'll get in real trouble. ____________ makes me so sad. _____________ makes me feel like a different person. My grief lives __________, _______________, _____________, ____________. 

In a short story writing class in my second year of uni, a lecturer I idolised (a smudged and messy smokily glamorous white woman who told us about her abortions and her husband and children and her sex life and pushed us to write beautiful messy things) called a story I had just written obtuse and opaque. And maybe she called me that too, directly or otherwise. I had been smug, thinking the story clever. But she was right. I wanted to write about the crush I had on a boy who never showed me any romantic interest, and even deeper than that, unknown to me at the time, I wanted to look at how I spent so much time safely ensconced in my own fantasies and daydreams that it paralysed my actual living breathing life. And how I was so full (too full) of fear and of desire, always yearning to be another kind of person who lived another kind of life. What I wrote was a fairy tale, a cloak. 

This all came to me in a 3-day convening of activists (often some of my safest and most experimental spaces, places ripe for the stories I can't tell in my regular life). I was half listening to a presentation and discussion on movement building. I had an eye on my email and Twitter, and also pulled to this current case in India of a defamation suit being used to silence allegations of sexual harassment online, being used to strip away the anonymity of those speaking out and naming harassers, to use their voices against them. The violence of the story struck me like a stick beating a drum, my senses rang like a bell.

I'm burning with the stories I cannot tell, do not know how to tell. Many don't just involve me. They involve the voices, stories, and pain of other people. People I don't quite know, people I love fiercely, people I want to protect, people who are risked when stories are co-opted, warped, weaponised. People who deserve to be seen the way they need to be seen. A part of my story is actually the puzzle pieces of a communal story, a community story, a love story, a family story, a shared tragedy. The lines and borders are jagged and fragile and bitter, hard as steel soft as mush. There are some story lands I can never traverse ever again, ever ever ever ever, and that itself is a story mute in my mouth. Grief is so violent, so tender. 

If you're like oh my god Syar, what are you talking about, spill that tea, whisper in the shell of my trusted ear. Friends, I wish. Sometimes being able to say a thing clear and plain is such a gift. Every so often, I get to do that. In the close embrace of my partner, in a darkened Bangkok hotel room with a friend I haven't spoken to in a while, through text messages with my best friend of 13 something years, who knows me better than I know myself, in therapy. I give voice to the loss of friends, the former intimates and what they think about me now, if they still think about me, what they think of what petered out, what was what is what now, how I am not brave enough to find out, how it feels like I can't find out without intrusion, without some form of violence. The events that shifted the structure of the home I live in, the structure of the relationships I live in, the structure of the people I love, what I know of them, what I no longer get to know, in so many ways, like a mirror shattering. The loss of the shared languages with which to tell each other how we feel now, where we hurt, where to go from here, if we even know where to start. Then, the quiet struggles, the legal, financial, emotional threats faced by the comrades in the communities around me. The violence and violent silence they face for fighting, for trying to live, trying to heal. 

Every so often I get to open the door to these story lands, safely. Here I try my hand at something close. Some form of release, but also. Some form of acceptance.

Now I am listening to an episode of one of my favourite podcasts, Heavyweight. A woman confronts her father who disappeared without explanation for years, resurfacing halfway across the world, all apologies on a fuzzy Skype call but still no answers. You can find the section below from about 27:05 to 28:35:

You have to understand that you disappeared and I had no context. I wanna know what you were thinking when you left and why you left. So like, what happened?

Well. There are a lot of things that I would like to explain to you regarding my leaving.

I'm here, I'm listening. If there's anything you want to say?

Well. There were several, several things that happened, Elyse. It's a long story that I would like to explain to you step by step. (silence) 

Is there any, like, brief overview?

Well yeah, honey! I can answer your questions, I have an explanation for what happened. And I would be more than happy to explain it to you in detail. 

But then. Nothing.  

I am learning about my voices, my silences, and release. All the different shades of these, the different volumes. I have two sacred, sacred weeks at the end of the year where I want and hope to be with what’s been unsaid. To think of all the story lands closed and opened and lost and far and near to me, and the stories I’ve yet to write and make - alone, and with others. My dearest wish after this reflection is to sing a long clear note, and then to feel still. 


For maybe the first time in this newsletter, I am ending with the cards and not beginning with them. I pulled three: something to speak to the past, to the present and to the future. The deck I am using is Apparition Tarot by Mary Elizabeth Evans. 

Speak to the past: Eight of Swords

Image: In the background, a pair of eyes, deeply lined. In the foreground, eight curved white-and-red checkered daggers arranged helter skelter, with an open single eye on each handle.

If every thought is a sharp knife, every memory a wound, I yearn to close my eyes and return to myself and imagine a world where this isn't so. I yearn to release my feelings of not being safe, to welcome the pain as I would any softer part of myself, and hold it to me closer than I hold my fear. I wipe the red off the daggers, and lay them in the clean interior of a drawer, and I push it closed. Let my face, my soul, my truth be seen. Let me face those that do not flinch at the sight. Let me see beyond what I think can hurt me. Notes: Jessica Dore on this very card, just a few days ago. 

Speak to the present: Eight of Cups

Image: In the background, a cityscape of tall buildings, from which a long winding black line moves up like a path to a long haired figure standing in front of a large black hole, their back to the viewer of the card. In the foreground eight upside down cups at varying heights, blue streams of water pouring from them like heavy rain.

If I allow myself the possibility of releasing every emotion I think I am capable of feeling, what else do I make space for? How much farther and deeper can my journey go, how much bigger can I grow? There's dreaming of journeying and leaving behind, then there's doing it. Let me face the unknown, lift me to the portal in the vast wide sky and imagine another land. The thread and core of me is unbroken, no matter how many versions of my feelings I experience, how many versions of myself walk through this world. I am more than how I make others feel, and I am more than how others make me feel. How can I give more to myself? Notes: Yumi Sakugawa - Playing a new role takes practice and time and I too, am the unknown.

Speak to the future: Ace of Pentacles

Image: In the top third of the card, a star within a circle with yellow beams emanating from it. In the bottom two-thirds, a colourful spread of different fruits, leaves, rings, bangles, and a long purple beaded necklace.

What does it mean to prepare a meal for the self. To do the work of sowing, harvesting, preparing, serving, all in service for your own nourishment? And what does it mean to be in service to causes, to worlds larger than you? In conversation with an energy worker and healer friend, they made note of the recurring theme they noticed in my life. How when I served myself (by sharing, by writing, by watering my soil), it rippled out to the world and the message of my care resonated with whoever needed it in the moment. The Pentacles return to me again and again with the same messages of feeding myself, feeding others, the meld of the two, the way they sing to each other. Notes: My friend, Dhiyanah HassanThe lightness of belonging to the heart, to the self, to the Earth and the Heaven within me and Shadow calls to light and the light always gets in, so. Is this the part where we dive deep


Previously, I wrote about the sides and the scraps; “Good things, bad things, nothing and blankness. One after the other after the other.” If you'd like to subscribe, click here. If you like what I write and share and want to support that, here’s my tip jar. Thanks so much for reading 💌

Void

this is what happens when you tweet instead of writing

October 7:

October 30: 

I JINXED IT. I started writing this newsletter twice and I sputtered to a stop halfway through both times. I'm tired and blank! I got nothin'. But I didn't start this thing for it to be hard, I didn't want to miss a month, and if I can't serve the main course, I'll serve you the sides, the scraps. 

October has actually flown by, an unexpected surprise after the extended length of my August and September. I sent in my notice at work. I confirmed my last day. The pile of work remains huge and anxiety inducing but the list of events and tasks grows shorter everyday. My honey and I celebrated their birthday with a fancy tasting menu dinner which put me to delicious sleep by 9.30pm. I killed it on the birthday gift front. I got to go to Bangkok a few days ago for a meeting of amazing, engaged, generous, babely people, I got to spend quality time with dear friends who went with me and I didn't think about my day job even once. It was bliss. I spent time on the plane and during breaks making lists for what happens after this job is over. I did two short tarot reads for some new friends and it felt so good to be able to have that energy and give it to someone else again, something I haven't been able to do since the end of July. 

The hard things remain hard, remain present. I wanted to write about the heaviness of the hard things, about sadness, but in the end I guess I also didn't want to. I thought, isn't that so boring? Good things, bad things, nothing and blankness. One after the other after the other. But that's been the only way to move for me. 

I'll see you in November 😘

Sides 'n' Scraps


Previously, I wrote about The Devil and the Two of Swords; “You wanna lie down thinking about it because that weight is heavy and that responsibility is hard. I don't think it's a devilish thing to want the easy, even knowing that it doesn't absolve us or solve anything. To want to feel good in a way that makes you forget your responsibilities, in the face of the work it all involves. Seems human.” If you'd like to subscribe, click here. If you like what I write and share and want to support that, here’s my tip jar. Please feel free to share this newsletter with a friend 💌

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