Image description: A rainbow bubble against a black background. Possibilities Youth: Creating a bubble of community. six-week, trans-inclusive facilitated group for bi/pan/ace/2s youth. Contact Tiffany Sostar email@example.com. Noon-2 pm, Nov 10 – Dec 15, 2018.
On November 10, Possibilities Youth will officially launch. There will be fanfare. There will be snacks. There will be awkward silences and also possibly some references to Steven Universe.
Does that sound amazing? If so, register!
This group is open to registered attendees only, and is limited to 10 participants. There is no cost* to attend. We will be meeting on Saturdays from noon-2 in the East Village.
We will be meeting once a week for six weeks, and during the course of those six weeks we will talk about a whole bunch of things! (And we will eat quite a few snacks.)
Some of the topics we’ll touch on, and the kinds of questions we might ask are:
- What does self-care mean to you?
- What is your relationship with self-care?
- Do mainstream ideas about self-care feel right for you?
- How did you develop your own unique self-care skills, values, and ideas?
- What insider knowledges have you developed that might help other bi/pan/ace/2s youth strengthen their self-care skills?
- Who is in your community? (‘Real’ and fictional communities both count!)
- Who do you support?
- Who supports you?
- How have you learned to offer and receive support?
- How have you responded to hard times in your community; times when you felt less supported, or when you felt alone or isolated, or when you saw other members of your community struggling?
- What would you want other bi/pan/ace/2s youth to know about community?
Sexuality and Gender
- What is important to you about your experience of sexuality and gender?
- What do you wish other people knew about people like you?
- What have you learned about your orientation and gender, and which parts of that teaching do you agree with or disagree with?
- How have you resisted negative narratives about bi/pan/ace/2s youth?
There will also be opportunities for you to decide what you want to talk about, and to guide the conversation.
You might have noticed a theme of sharing knowledge in these questions, and that’s because one outcome of this group will be a Possibilities Youth Zine that collects and shares the skills and insider knowledges of the group with other queer youth – including a companion group in Adelaide, Australia, who will be responding to some of our work!
Contributions to the zine will be anonymous, unless you request otherwise. The zine will also only include those stories and insights that participants choose to include: the group discussions themselves will remain confidential, as will attendance in the group.
If you’re interested in participating, fill out the registration form!
* There are costs associated with running this group, and if you’re an adult or ally who wants to support this new initiative, I would love to have you join my Patreon or donate to support this work!
cw: discussion of suicide, suicidality
Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.
I have complicated feelings about how we discuss suicide.
We often talk about suicidality in terms of universals – suicide is always the wrong choice, staying is always the right choice.
We talk about suicide as passing the pain on to someone else. As a failure.
There are exceptions to this, of course, and I’m grateful for them.
This is so hard to talk about, to write about, to engage in meaningful conversation about. It is so hard to say, “I am passively suicidal a lot of the time,” because there is not often space for those conversations. This is something I hear from community members regularly. This is something I have experienced myself.
It’s hard to say, “I am actively suicidal but I don’t want to follow through on it, help me stay here,” because even though that is exactly what lots of folks want to say, we have not done a good job, as a culture, of setting up robust supports for people in that situation *or* for their supporters. We don’t talk about how to put a safety plan in place. We don’t have the supports in place to make those plans effective, a lot of the time! We don’t have support for the supporters, we don’t have support for people who have been down that hole and clawed their way back up. This is a common topic of discussion, but it’s worth saying again – we provide support only to those people who are exactly the right amount of suffering or vulnerable. Not before, not after, and often, not during. That’s bullshit.
And it is nearly impossible to say, “I am actively suicidal and I am ready to go, but I want to say goodbye and leave on my own terms,” because we have absolutely no available scripts for this. And because we do not hold any space for that to be a valid choice.
If you are suicidal and you want to stay, I want you to stay. And there are so many other folks who also want you to stay. There are distress lines, including text-based distress lines, and there is sliding scale counselling available, and even though our system is entirely lacking, you’re not completely alone. If you want to figure out how to make a safety plan, my own personal experience is that having someone to talk it through with is helpful. What are the signs that tell you it’s time to go to the hospital? When will you know it’s time to put the plan into action? Who is on your safety team, and what strategies are in place to make sure the whole team is supported? These are tough questions to answer in isolation.
If you are suicidal and it’s no big deal because it’s been that way for a long time, I see you and I see what you’re going through. You are getting through these days despite that little whisper in your ear, and that is amazing. If you want to talk about what that’s like, and strengthen your connection to the skills that are keeping you going despite it, I’m here.
I trust your judgement.
You know what you need, you know what you can handle. You know what you’ve been through, and what you want for yourself.
I trust you.
If you have friends or family who are suicidal, that can be so hard. If you’ve been asked to be part of someone’s safety plan, it can be difficult to know what that means, or how to act. If you want help figuring that out, let me know.
If you’ve lost someone to suicide, or if you’ve survived an attempt, that pain is so real. I’m sorry.
It’s World Suicide Prevention Day, and I wish we had more language to talk about this. I wish we had more space for people to talk about this. I wish we had better ways to engage with the topic, ways that are less blaming, less judging, less pathologizing, less silencing.
Until we have that, all we have is each other.
We can be gentle with each other.
We can be compassionate with each other.
We can hold space for each other.
We can trust each other.
(If you want to read more of my thoughts on this topic, this earlier post is available.)
A note on suicidality
Image description: A single sunflower growing against a concrete wall.
Editor’s note: As the co-curator of this series, one thing I’ve realized over the last seven months is that when space is held for the anger that marginalized folks feel towards mainstream white feminism, that anger flows and along with it comes critical, valuable insight into how to do better. Before this project, I knew that tone policing the anger of marginalized communities was a problem because of how it harmed those communities – being silenced is further violence. SINCE this project, I am realizing how tone policing that anger also harms privileged communities because it cuts us off from the wisdom that folks have to share. This post is angry, and the author worked for months to get it written because she has experienced so much harm when she’s tried to bring up these topics before. I am incredibly honoured to host this piece, despite – no, because! – I have been guilty of so many of the racist behaviours she calls out. If you’re a white feminist and you end up reading this and needing to process it, reach out to other white folks for that emotional labour. I’m available, and so are lots of other folks.
This is a guest post by an anonymous Black woman. She is writing anonymously because she has lived experience of the backlash that can result from speaking openly about these issues.
This post is part of the Feminism from the Margins series.
Did you know Black women have superhuman strength? We feel neither fear nor pain and do not suffer (at least not to the same degree as you do), so we cannot be harmed as much as you. This makes us perfect warriors for causes that primarily benefit you. We are eager to give our labour to you without expecting or needing reciprocity. In fact, it’s an honour to do all the things for you. Our needs are always negotiable because we don’t really need things as much as you and it would be unfair to expect you to accommodate our needs or fight for our rights, especially if that interferes with your comfort because dammit, you’re marginalized too.
We don’t expect or need fairness from you because it’s not like we need that to the same extent you do. Your whiteness does not bestow any power or privilege on you that our being strong and sassy doesn’t more than make up for. We are totally okay with being your Black friend, to be trotted out as evidence that you are not racist. It’s not like we even notice you doing this and it has no effect on our ability to trust you. In fact, we don’t need you to be loyal or trustworthy because that would be demanding too much labour from you and dammit, you’re marginalized too.
It’s okay for our interactions and the division of labour between us to be decided by you or on your terms because you’re a natural leader, objective and fair. We don’t need the same rights you do – they can be substituted for nice gestures and we won’t even notice. We need you to teach us and rescue us from things, because you know better than we do, even when it is about our experiences and not yours. When you benefit, we all benefit. Your needs are representative of all women’s, because you’re marginalized too.
We will always be available when you need attention and validation. We conveniently don’t have needs that we should not be willing to sacrifice for your comfort, because solidarity. You are fragile and innocent, so it’s okay for your learning to cost us our safety and wellbeing. We have no problem with you taking out your petty jealousies and insecurities on us, because that’s not really what you’re doing. We are responsible for managing our emotions as well as yours. It’s okay for you to centre yourself and your needs in every space and situation at the expense of WOC because you can’t help it and anyway, you’re marginalized too.
It’s okay to want to smash the patriarchy and dismantle White Supremacy until those powerful White men act in ways that benefit you. It’s okay to throw the rest of us under the bus because we are too demanding anyway. We don’t mind when you point at us and cry because you’re just trying to be heard. You don’t intend for us to be brutalized or killed as a result. You’re not like those other White women who weaponize their tears because dammit, you’re marginalized too.
We will feel immediate kinship with you and trust you because you follow and repost Black people/pages on social media, are currently fucking a Black person, have Black children or just think Black people are cool and want one of your own. All of these things exempt any of your behaviour from being perceived as racist, because you’re woke as fuck and besides, you’re marginalized too.
We are not trying desperately to survive our marginalization; we also have the privilege of using the color of our skin to claim victimhood for the singular purpose of getting unfair advantages over you. We don’t mind your assumption that everyone has the luxury of doing that. The absence of Whiteness is just some minor inconvenience to us that doesn’t get us brutalized or killed. Don’t worry, we won’t upset, annoy or oppress you by calling you on your shitty, racist, exploitative, unjust behaviour because dammit, you’re marginalized too.
Hopefully by now you’ve caught the sarcasm and implication of bullshit-ery. Good.
So, you want to know how not to be a shitty, racist, fake-woke White person?
Well, brace yourself because here it comes. STOP. Do not pursue any kind of relationship with a POC until you are prepared to face some hard truths, and DO THE WORK to be less harmful and maybe even eventually truly inclusive. If you look around the room at any gathering of humans you’re enjoying yourself at and there are either no POC or only one, your group has a problem. No exceptions. I know your brain is starting to protest loudly along the lines of “But sometimes that happens without us planning it.” No, it doesn’t. Every racially homogenous group is the result of active or passive exclusion of others. If you were as uncomfortable in rooms with no POC in them as POC are, you would avoid being in them as studiously as we do.
Do not bombard a POC you’ve just met or barely know with your anti-racist/anti-oppression resume.
This includes plying us with ‘Gifts From A Woke White Person’ in exchange for being your ‘’POC friend, or worse, accommodating racist behaviour from you and your White friends and family, because gross. Gift those books written by POC to your White peeps. Better yet, read them yourself. We will figure out how to teach our children to love and value themselves. You go and teach yours how not to hate and devalue them. Deal? Gifts are not a substitute for rights or equity, and they never will be, so spare us the labour of having to smile and be polite about your patronizing, colonizing, benevolent racism. If the thought ever pops into your head to mention your POC friends, lover, children, etc. during a conversation with a POC you’ve just met, please just arrest that shit and do not allow it to escape through your mouth. We may react by smiling politely if you do any of the aforementioned, but we’re really imagining your head on a spike outside the tower of STOP YOUR NONSENSE. Not really, but my point is, it’s incredibly offensive.
If a POC can tolerate your presence long enough or trust you enough to risk calling you on any kind of shitty behaviour, understand that they are taking an enormous risk and have decided your clueless ass might actually be worth it. Don’t make them regret it by getting all ‘in your feels’ and defensive, and accusing them of not liking, or worse, oppressing you. Do not try to be in any POC’s space if you aren’t prepared to respect their boundaries or be called on your shitty, racist behaviour. If what you want is to be fed ally cookies and reassured that you’re not racist, that is racist AF. Smile, wave, and keep your oppressive ass moving in the direction of books, documentaries, artwork, etc. by POC or White Nonsense Roundup.
Never, ever use having challenges (disability, mental health, etc.) as an excuse for not being willing to do the work of confronting and addressing your racism. There are POC folks with visible and invisible disabilities dealing with the same shit PLUS racism. There are way too many POC folks living with serious mental health issues, many of which are exacerbated by our experience of racism, and with fewer resources because of systemic racism. Everything you are dealing with, valid as it is, we also deal with. And we deal with racism too.
If you ever find yourself throwing out a counter-accusation of harm when a POC is calling you on harmful behaviour towards them, just STOP. There are serious consequences for POC who dare to point out racist behaviour (right up to losing our lives) ESPECIALLY when we call out ‘progressive’ White people who consider themselves ‘woke’. Really, y’all are THE FUCKING WORST when it comes to dishing out counter-accusations and punishment in epic fits of fragility and saltiness. POC have highly developed bullshit-o-meters when it comes to detecting White nonsense. It’s how we survive living among you (those of us who manage to survive, anyway).
Expect us to call bullshit and shut all the way down if you frame resistance to harm as an attempt to harm you. Using accusations of ableism in a discussion about racism is racist as fuck. Just…NO. These may be important conversations, but when they are presented as: “I can’t do better because of X, Y, Z challenge and you expecting me to is ableist” we know you are refusing to acknowledge your own harmful behaviour and turning us into the aggressor. You’re asking us to make your challenge/s the most important one/s so that everyone else must prioritize accommodating it/them, even if that is harmful to someone else. Don’t bring your bullshit Oppression Olympics into a conversation about racism. White women are hands down the fucking worst for doing this, owing to the infusion of White womanhood with the expectation of automatic victimhood. If you are expecting any POC to accommodate your challenge/s at the expense of their safety or wellbeing, you are being racist AF. Stop it.
I hate to be the one to break it to you, but it is rarely the case that a POC in your life has fewer challenges than you do or that they struggle any less with their challenges than you do with yours. Not being whiny and entitled is not the same as not struggling or feeling intense pain. We manifest pain differently because society has taught us that our pain doesn’t matter. And being noisy about it results in reprimand because having to acknowledge our pain, and ultimately our equal humanity, makes White people uncomfortable. Learn to recognize those differences. It will help you be less harmful and maybe even earn the trust of a POC.
It is not my responsibility to accommodate harmful behaviour at the expense of my wellbeing. We just don’t care for measuring who is the biggest victim, or who gets to use their struggle as a shield against having to work on their shit. That is YOUR preoccupation. Stop projecting your shit on to us. There is no benefit to POC from engaging in Oppression Olympics. Our communities are extremely internally diverse in terms of needs and ability, and we mostly manage to figure it out without there needing to be any competition. Try to remember that being the biggest victim has no appeal to people who do not expect to be accommodated or have their needs considered, let alone prioritized. Trying to force a POC to justify their need for you to be less harmful by pointing out your challenges in an attempt to guilt them into silence and acceptance of that behaviour is entitled and abusive.
So, what can you say instead? Try: “Because of X, Y, Z, challenge/s it will be harder for me to make the changes necessary to be less harmful. But I am committed to making these changes and would appreciate an explanation of how my behaviour is harmful or guidance with developing and implementing a strategy for addressing it, would you be able to do that or recommend some resources?” We are fucking exhausted all the time but we will dig deep and find the energy to point you in the direction of ‘less harmful’ if that’s what you genuinely want to be. Being able to breathe a bit more freely around you is worth that to us. That being said, do not ever demand our labour or accommodation. You are not entitled to either. They may be freely given and received in reciprocal relationships – the kind you have been socialized not to have with POC but can happen if you are genuinely interested.
White women, do not call yourself an intersectional feminist if you expect WOC to devote an iota of our energy to doing anything that benefits you without first being prepared to address your racism. I, for one, am DONE listening to any White woman complain about how much you are struggling or what I can do to accommodate you without your active demonstration of willingness to address your racism, and White Supremacy’s thirst for hierarchy and dominance over POC bodies. I am tired of your lies and duplicity. I am uninterested in your empty promises that you will focus on addressing your racism just as soon I do what is necessary to make you more comfortable. You cannot be trusted to hold up your end of the bargain. I make that statement with the weight of a history behind it that names you a damned liar.
Own your white feminism, and be prepared to do the work to be truly intersectional in your practice, or stay the hell away from me. You are not my sister or my friend until you do what is necessary to earn my trust.
- Robin DiAngelo, a white woman, interviewed on NPR about white fragility.
- Robin DiAngelo’s original article on the topic (link opens a PDF).
- The 3-part series on Sister Outrider on racism in the feminist movement. Part one, part two, part three.
- White People: This Is How To Check Your Privilege When Asking People of Color For Their Labor at Everyday Feminism.
- At the Intersection of White Privilege and Disability at The Body is Not An Apology. (This is an important link, because this intersection is brought up in the guest post, and this article unpacks it from the perspective of a disabled person who has white privilege – for those of us being called out in this guest post, this article offers an invitation, and a road map, to do better. This post also includes links to disabled activists of colour, which is critical to understanding the other point in this guest post – that not all disabled folks are white.)
- Weaponized Sensitivity And The Art Of White Women’s Fragility at Blavity.
This post is part of the year-long Feminism from the Margins series that Dulcinea Lapis and Tiffany Sostar will be curating, in challenge to and dissatisfaction with International Women’s Day. To quote Dulcinea, “Fuck this grim caterwauling celebration of mediocre white femininity.” Every month, on (approximately) the 8th, we’ll post something. If you are trans, Black or Indigenous, a person of colour, disabled, fat, poor, a sex worker, or any of the other host of identities excluded from International Women’s Day, and you would like to contribute to this project, let us know!
Also check out the other posts in the series:
Tiffany Sostar is a narrative therapist and workshop facilitator in Calgary, Alberta. You can work with them in person or via Skype. They specialize in supporting queer, trans, polyamorous, disabled, and trauma-enhanced communities and individuals, and they are also available for businesses and organizations who want to become more inclusive. Email to get in touch!
Image description: A swirl of colour. Text reads: “Relationship therapy for the polyamorous community. Access sliding scale narrative therapy and participate in a practice innovation project. Contact Tiffany Sostar firstname.lastname@example.org.”
I’ve spent the last few months talking with folks about what they wish their therapists knew about working with polyamorous individuals and relationships.
I’ve learned that a lot of folks don’t talk about polyamory with their therapists, even when they’re doing relationship therapy!, because of fear of judgement. And I’ve also learned that those fears are sometimes valid, and folks have been met with a lack of awareness, sometimes even judgement, and often a lack of understanding of how intersectional issues like racism, ableism, classism, and sexism can show up in polyamorous relationships.
I’m hoping to change that!
I am hoping to work with polyamorous folks who are either dealing with hard times in their relationships, or have dealt with hard times in the past and want help processing that, or who are opening up their relationship and want support in that process. These narrative therapy sessions will be part of an ongoing “practice innovation project” – a project designed to create a resource that other therapists can learn from and use. I’ll be documenting what works and what doesn’t work in responding to the specific challenges faced by polyamorous folks (including solo poly folks), both within relationships and from outside the relationship in our mono-normative culture.
This process will include the invitation to engage in collaborative work, and any writing that I generate about the process will be shared back with the people who have attended therapy and been part of the process. Your feedback, insight, and critiques are welcome, though not expected, and will be included (with credit) in the final project(s).
You will have access to narrative therapy to help in your polyamorous relationship, and you will also have the opportunity to participate in creating a resource that can help other people.
My office is located in central SW Calgary, Alberta, but I also work remotely via Skype (or other video chat).
To set up an initial chat, send me an email or message, or call/text me at 403-701-1489.
So, what am I hoping to accomplish in this project?
Most importantly, I want to offer some help with the gap in services that polyamorous folks are facing in the city, particularly BIPOC, disabled, trans, and neurodivergent polyamorous folks.
But then, I also want to answer these questions:
How can narrative therapists better serve polyamorous communities?
What narrative practices can help make a difference for polyamorous individuals, groups, and communities?
How can narrative therapy, which already positions people as the experts in their own experience, help strengthen and support polyamorous folks’ existing insider knowledges as they navigate challenges?
I’m interested in this practice innovation project personally, because I am both a narrative therapist and also polyamorous. I’ve been practicing polyamory for ten years in my personal life, and I have made a lot of mistakes along the way. I’ve benefited from the knowledge shared by the wider polyamorous community, and I’m also concerned about some of the narratives that have become the norm within polyamorous “common sense”. I am interested in this project because I want to expand the base of community-generated knowledge that other folks can access and benefit from.
But I’m also interested in it because of the number of folks I’ve worked with who have had poor experiences with relationship therapy because their therapist was either uninformed about polyamory, or had internalized ideas about polyamory that may be inaccurate or harmful.
Some of these ideas might include:
- Monogamous narratives about polyamorous folks’ “lack of commitment” or “attachment issues”
- Hostile beliefs about queer or bisexual/pansexual identities, such as the idea that non-monosexuality means folks are sexually deviant, the idea that all bisexual/pansexual/polysexual/two spirit folks are non-monogamous, or the idea that queerness and polyamory mean folks are interested in anyone or predatory in their sexual interests
- Hostile beliefs about asexual identities, such as the idea that asexuality means folks can’t be polyamorous
- Deeply individualizing narratives of polyamory that suggest folks have to “own your own feelings” in ways that erase or make invisible the relational context within which those feelings happen
- A lack of awareness of intersectionality and how it can show up in polyamory; racism, transantagonism, ableism are all issues that can show up in polyamorous relationships
- Perhaps most commonly within poly-friendly therapists, uncritical acceptance of relationship hierarchies even when these hierarchies are contributing to the poor treatment of ‘secondary’ partners
My goal is to generate a small resource that can help narrative therapists work with polyamorous folks. This is part of my Master of Narrative Therapy and Community Work program, and after this smaller project, I am hoping to develop this work into a book. There is very little writing directed at narrative therapists to help us learn how to work most ethically and effectively with polyamorous folks, and I would like to change that.
I would also like to create a companion resource for polyamorous folks who are looking for relationship therapy – something that can help folks feel more confident about what to ask, what to watch for, and how to engage with their therapist. Too often, the therapist is considered the “expert”, but for marginalized communities, there is often a huge amount of educating that happens. I’d like to create something that can help ease that burden.
So, I’m looking for folks who want to join me in this process!
As always, working with me is available on a no-questions-asked sliding scale.
(This post was available a week early to my patrons. My Patreon helps support this work, and I appreciate my patrons more than I can say!)
Tarot is an important part of my life, and has been for quite a few years.
I use tarot as a way to think about what’s happening in my life, with tarot spreads acting as invitations to think about situations in specific and focused ways. I have also used tarot in narrative therapy in a similar way – inviting community members to engage with the cards as a visual way to explore their stories. I also use tarot as part of my slowly developing spiritual practice. I’ve written before about how I use tarot as self-care, in this post that introduced my tarot practice, and in this post about how to use tarot as a self-storying tool.
I participated in parts of the Owl and Bones August tarot challenge on Instagram. There was a prompt for each day, and it was an interesting process to notice was came up, what kept coming up, and how I responded to the cards. (I will admit that my participation was a bit more hit and miss while was away, mostly because I was so sick.)
On August 22nd, the prompt was “Where are things out of balance?”
I drew the Nine of Wands.
Image description: The Nine of Wands from The Wild Unknown tarot deck, against a black background.
This card is about stamina and inner strength – it’s about continuing on the long path.
Carrie Mallon, a tarot blogger who has written posts for each of the cards in the Wild Unknown deck (which I’m using here) writes about the Nine of Wands:
“The Nine of Wands shows that sometimes we need to draw on our inner reserves. We need to protect what is important to us, we need to protect our energy. We need to keep going, even though we may feel a little tired from being so on-guard. This kind of perseverance can be admirable, but can also lead to weariness.”
I thought, of course. Work is out of balance! I’m working too much. I’m always on the edge of burnout. I’m too busy, there’s too much going on, there’s too much pressure and stress. Work. This is about work.
But for some reason, I paused before posting the picture and that little response to it on Instagram. Instead, I sat with it for a few days.
I wondered why it was so easy to come to that interpretation.
I wondered about what the effect of having this story so prominently in my mind might be – how does it impact my days to always be framing myself in terms of “the edge of burnout” and “doing too much”?
I was a little uncomfortable with this line of inquiry, because I am always cautious when I feel myself edging towards “shift the narrative.” So often, this is used as a bludgeon against people who are legitimately struggling with injustice.
“Just shift your narrative!”
“Just focus on the positive!”
How about, just bite me.
However, this idea of shifting my own narrative is a theme that’s been coming up for me in a lot of areas lately. I have noticed that I’ve pushed so hard away from weaponized positivity that I sometimes feel like I’ve lost my connection to any kind of positivity at all. It’s easy, lately, to find myself feeling hopeless, trapped, powerless.
Even though it is unjust to demand that hurting people “focus on the positive,” that doesn’t mean there is never a time to re-frame.
In my narrative therapy training, I’ve been taught to “linger with intent” in the problem story – to invite community members to talk about their problems without shame or judgement, and to look for ways to strengthen their connection to preferred outcomes and preferred selves within those stories.
What this looks like in practice is that I listen to the stories that community members bring into narrative therapy sessions with an ear open to “double-storying” – what’s not being said here, but might be present anyway? In a story of anger, for example, there is sometimes a sense of justice that refuses to be silenced. In a story of hopelessness or exhaustion, there might be a cherished belief that things could be, and should be, different.
This means deepening stories of resistance and response, looking for those moments of choice and asking questions that connect people to their own acts of agency and to the ways in which they’ve responded to the problems in their lives. It also means looking for what people are valuing – what they hold to be precious or cherished, what they want for themselves and the world, what they hope for and dream – and working to strengthen their connections to the histories of those values.
This feels different than telling people to “shift their perspective” or to “think positive.”
It’s hard for me to write about this in clear and confident ways because I’m in the middle of the struggle myself.
What I do in a narrative therapy session is try to help people shift how they are oriented towards their problems and their own stories. I try to shift the narrative!
But outside of narrative therapy sessions and the respectful framing that I’m learning in my narrative therapy training, what I see in so much self-help writing is demands to “change your perspective and change your life,” with a subtext that seems to say that people have invited their own suffering, that they’re experiencing the consequences of their own “low vibrations” or “negative thoughts,” or that they have both the power and the responsibility to single-handedly and through the power of positive thinking change their external context. I hate these demands so much.
But what I’ve noticed in myself is that in rejecting the culture of “manifest your best life” positive thinking, I have also rejected a lot of helpful wisdom (wisdom that shows up in narrative therapy, too, and that I love in that context!) In rejecting the idea that individuals are responsible for changing social contexts that they can’t control, I have found myself also rejecting the hope for any change at all. I have focused so much on the harms of individualizing problems that I sometimes think I have forgotten the hope of collective action. I have focused on resisting narratives of “manifestation” and I think that I have sometimes lost sight of narratives of agency and choice.
I don’t know what to do about this.
But I do know this – when I pulled the Nine of Wands, my mind leapt to a very specific narrative of myself. It is the narrative of overwork. The narrative of “the edge of burnout.” It is a narrative I know very well, and anytime a narrative comes that easily, it’s worth questioning.
Because, even though it is a narrative that comes with my critique of capitalism and my feelings of powerlessness in the face of late stage capitalism, it’s also a thin narrative of myself. (“Thin description allows little space for the complexities and contradictions of life. It allows little space for people to articulate their own particular meanings of their actions and the context within which they occurred.” – from What is Narrative Therapy on the Dulwich Centre’s excellent site.)
I started wondering, what if the thing that’s out of balance isn’t work, but my narrative about work?
(And, since it’s Sunday when I’m writing this, and Sunday in the Tender Year is when I pick a binary and challenge it, what if it isn’t either/or, but rather both?)
I started asking myself what is rendered invisible when I focus only on the part of my working self that is so tired and overwhelmed?
The answers came slowly, especially because I was sick. But they did come eventually.
What gets erased is the joy I take in my work.
What gets erased are the positive effects of my work.
What gets erased is the support I have in my work (including from my patrons!) and the growth that I am inviting into my life by continuing to do this work.
My choices get erased in this narrative, which is a narrative of work being foisted on me – work that I have to do in order to pay the rent, work that I have to do in order to get where I need to be.
But I do feel joy in my work.
There are positive effects that result from my work.
I have so much support for my work, and I do make choices.
After sitting with this idea of work / narratives of work, I laid out another tarot spread for myself.
Image description: A Wild Unknown tarot spread and a muffin on a wooden table. The spread includes the Nine of Wands, the Four of Cups, the Ace of Wands, the Four of Wands, and the Son of Pentacles. The Father of Cups is also visible on top of the deck.
I pulled out the Nine of Wands, and then laid out my favourite spread with that as the focus.
My favourite spread is the elements – a five card spread with a focus card (or a card that represents the situation or the whole), and then cards for air/mental self, water/emotional self, earth/physical or material self, and fire/creative, passionate, or spiritual self.
In the air position, I had the Four of Cups.
The Four of Cups in the Wild Unknown always strikes me as being a card about feelings of scarcity – that rat is trying so hard to keep control of all the cups, to make sure they don’t tip or get stolen. The Four of Cups is often about feeling like there isn’t enough, and in this deck (more than most others) it makes me think of the way scarcity can invite us into desperation and a desire to control our situation more tightly than we need to, more tightly than we actually can. This card says, “I can’t let go of anything, or I will lose everything.”
It landed like a hammer and I almost didn’t even flip the rest of the spread. This card speaks directly to what I had been thinking about over the four days since originally pulling the Nine of Wands.
Maybe I’m out of balance about this because I am so focused on scarcity. I am so terrified of scarcity. I am terrified of financial insecurity – I have experienced acute financial scarcity in the past, and I am chronically on the edge of it (and have been since my divorce), and those thoughts consume me sometimes. Especially when I think about work, and about throwing myself more fully into my narrative work.
I noticed the moon in both the Four of Cups and the Nine of Wands. That dark crescent in the Four is a rich golden colour in the Nine of Wands – two different narratives of the same moon. Am I working towards that bright sliver of light, or am I clutching what little I can in the shadows? It’s the same thing, but it’s a very different story of that same thing.
So that first position is air, how I’m thinking about the situation.
I moved on to the rest of the spread.
Water – how am I feeling about this situation? Where are my emotions here?
The Ace of Wands. This is a card about new beginnings, and about passion. When I think about work, I do think in terms of scarcity – a lack of time, a lack of money, a lack of resources, a lack of faith in myself. And a lot of that is justified, but it isn’t the whole story. Because when I feel about work, particularly about my narrative work, my community organizing work, my writing work – I feel passionate and excited. I feel like I’m building something! I feel like there’s value here, and the potential to do something new and needed. This card resonated for me, too.
Then across the spread to Fire – where is my passion and creativity here?
The Son of Pentacles. I see the same golden crescent moon as in the Nine of Wands, and notice the pentacle (a symbol of earth and grounding and materiality) centered in it – another narrative of this same story that adds stability to the potential and “enoughness” of that rich crescent.
Carrie Mallon writes about this card:
The Son of Pentacles leans into the card, pressing forward slowly but surely. An orange crescent moon frames a pentacle above him. The background is dark, but lightens where he gazes.
The Son of Pentacles is not one to act with great haste or passion. He is purposeful and careful in all that he does. Once he has decided to move in a given direction, that is simply where he goes. He sticks the course and slugs through the mud to reach his goals. He doesn’t always trust easily, but if someone does earn his trust, he stands by them without fail.
On the positive side, this attention to detail can be essential. The Son of Pentacles is thorough and has unparalleled determination to finish what he starts. On the negative side, he can fall prone to tunnel vision.
…[The] Son of Pentacles is looking down at his chosen path. He is so resolute in his endeavors that he may forget to look up and assess his current surroundings. He may have a difficult time with changes and flexibility.
That also resonates with what I’d been thinking about this whole work/narratives of work thing. I recognize my own determination, but I can also see how sometimes I get focused on a particular idea or narrative and it’s hard for me to deviate from that. I also find this interesting because this card is in the fire position – it’s all about passion. But the Son of Pentacles is not a passionate card. He’s determined, focused, attentive but not passionate. And I am passionate. I am passionate in general but I am especially passionate about my work.
Except, not so much lately.
Lately, I’ve been so tired. I’ve been so fixed on how hard it is, how hard I’m working, how hard I have to keep working, and I haven’t been feeling my fire. I’ve been feeling sad and hopeless lately – climate change, economics, politics. I’ve been doing my work, but I’ve been doing it more like the Son of Pentacles than I would like.
And the lovely thing about that is that I can make choices about whether I continue like this! The cards are not fixed, fatalistic. The cards are a conversation. And I can make choices, make changes. I can invite more fire into this part of my life.
Finally, Earth – where is my physical and material self in this?
The Four of Wands. Where the Four of Cups is about scarcity and lack, the Four of Wands is about celebration and reaching milestones.
I’m interpreting this card as an invitation to notice successes as they happen, rather than constantly watching for upcoming failures or challenges.
The fact is, some things have gone really well in the last while! I have First Class Honours in my first course of the Masters program. My birthday offer of $37 narrative therapy sessions has been popular, and I only have 25 of these sessions left. (If you’d like to take advantage of this offer, get in touch! I’d love to work with you.) I have a lot of ideas for posts and projects, and lots of people are interested in participating in these projects. The next zine is almost ready to be printed!
I’m going to try to notice those things when they happen, and to let myself linger in those stories of success and hope.
It’s really difficult looking at our narratives and allowing them to shift (or even acknowledging that a shift might be possible or desirable).
I appreciate the way that tarot invites me into these difficult and rich conversations with myself and with my stories.