humility · softness · strength

“Even smile in your liver.” ~ Ketut Liyer

9.15.18.pngIn conversation with my friend last week about work and how I was running into personality and style clashes more than I had been, I mentioned the Tarot.  In the tarot, you have 2 major arcana cards dealing with control: The Chariot and Strength.

Their numbers come one after the other, the Chariot first, with its image of a military man atop a sphinx-drawn chariot, scepter, gauntlets, determination, coat of arms.  According to my Tarot-for-Beginners book;) this card represents Victory, Will, Self-Assertion, and Hard Control.

The card of Strength depicts a soft-faced woman in a flowing dress and laurel headdress gently, but firmly closing the gaping jaws of a lion beneath her.  This card carries the qualities of Strength, Patience, Compassion, and Soft Control.

Which is better?  Which works most effectively?  Which is the one to use?

I told my friend that I felt like the Chariot, barreling through others’ softer manners with impatience and certainty of the way forward.  That I’d contemplated that perhaps I needed to use the softer control of Strength, gently but firmly guiding others to my will.

I did have enough insight to next say: But what if control is just not needed here at all?

I was holding up these two archetypes as if they were the only options for how to proceed at work—and in life.  But, what if there was “a third way,” as there always always is.

The third way is the Hanged Man.

I told my friend that this week at work I was going to “step back,” that I needed to stop attempting to control anything and just see what on earth was going on.  That my agida was actually causing pain in my liver, as happens when I’m repeatedly brimful with crackly emotions.

Who were my coworkers?  How were meetings being led?  What results were happening?  What was an objective manner of seeing the situation?

So, this week, I did.  I sat in several faculty meetings, with the letters “SB” inked on my hand and wrist (“Step Back.  Step Back.  For chrissake, remember to STEP BACK!!”).

So, what happened?  Well, at two of three meetings, I simply observed, watched.  What was necessary, what were the dynamics, how were others behaving?  I was able to take that step back and, wouldn’t you know, the meetings came off well enough.  Sure there were places where my voice could have been added, but mostly what I saw was a clear division between the stepping backs and the stepping forwards, and logged my opinions about all their behaviors (judgement being the next character defect I’ll address!).

At the third and smallest meeting, I took the step-back role allowing the person whose meeting it was to set the tone and pace.  Internally, I was screaming to jump in, and then not screaming, as I clicked back in to simply observing.

However, in this situation, it was actually needed that I “step in.”  While there were several ways the meeting wasn’t at all going how I would have wanted it to (and there was behavior I deemed atrocious for adult communication) that is not what I addressed as I stepped forward.

I addressed what we were there to do: plan a shared lesson.

I put forth my ideas—didn’t barrel them through—and a plan was written, enacted, and completed.  And the students had a positive experience.

I have so many opinions about how that meeting could have gone differently (ahem, better!), but in the end none of those opinions were relevant, necessary, or useful.  My experience and ideas as a teacher were what was needed, so that’s what I brought to the table.

The Hanged Man is a place of strength of itself.  It is the card of pausing, of stepping back, of “surrendering to win” — by suspending our (er, my) ideas, I can move forward in the world more easily.  And not least of all, I discovered that my liver hurts less when I’m not trying to steer the chariot or the lion or anything at all.


adulthood · family · forgiveness · grief · love · softness

major malfunction




The quote from Full Metal Jacket came to me this morning as I was putting away my
(clean) dishes (thank you, Homejoy, for your Facebook coupon!): What is my major
malfunction? Why have I gone so far off the reservation with this dating situation?
What is my primary malfunction?
That’s when the trap door opened, I fell through my crazy, into the heart of truth. And I began to cry. From realization and long
Some of you may know by now that my mother suffered from
manic depression as I was growing up—still does, but went on medication about 8
years ago, around the time I got sober, in fact. She told me a few years back
that she was terrified of loving me fully because she was scared of the depths of her feelings, that they would overwhelm her. She told me that when I was growing up, she would spend
30 minutes locked in her bathroom crying every morning before emerging into the
day. This, I remember. Staring at the closed bathroom door every morning, listening to her
cry, and having no idea why, if she would stop, if she would come out, what I
could do. She said that she just thought this was normal—this was her normal at least, and it was the only way of being
she knew.
The way this manifested in our relationship was that I never
knew when she would turn. When she would be the mom who was there for me, and
when she would click into mania and be unreachable in her heights, or click
into depression and be unreachable in her depths.
This, was not a recipe for trust.
My father, as we all know, was a volatile man, doing nothing
to help the bonds of trust and love cement into something benevolent,
supportive, and foundational.
What I saw this morning is that the ambiguity of
dating targets right into that major malfunction with laser precision.
I don’t blame her, and have long since forgiven her. But
apparently, I still haven’t really healed what it meant to attempt to establish
bonds of love on a fault line. Not knowing what your feelings are about me… I
get as crazy as you’ve seen me this week. Perspective, reality, confidence,
hobbies, work, all get ousted as I try to figure out what it means, because if I can figure out if the
fault line is about to crack, then I can get out of dodge. I can shut down, run
away, shove you away.
That was my previous M.O. for sure. I will shove you away
before you get close, before I have to “figure out” if you’re trustworthy. It
was not worth the pain of waiting to see if I could. Better to bomb the whole
base, just in case there was a sniper in there aimed at me.
So, shove you away. That meant any number of things,
including not dating, only have casual relationships, going after taken men.
My other way of being was to fall quickly into a
relationship, which is how my two long-term (read: 6 months) relationships
began. Express interest, have sex nearly immediately, you’re now in a
There wasn’t ambiguity in that.
I didn’t have to figure out (then) if you liked me, if you
were gonna hurt me—we were “boyfriend/girlfriend,” and had
great sex. It only came later (read: by month 4, and certainly by 6) that I had
to question something different: if I
So, it is believable, understandable, and more than a little
compassionable that an ambiguous dating situation would set off an atom bomb in
my head. Though, ultimately, it’s stemming from my heart, but more ultimately,
it’s stemming from my head, and the recreation of an old story and an old way
of coping with the uncertainty of human relationships.
I have very little dating experience past the first date. It
has always either gone: “Ciao, buddy, thanks for the latte,” or “Which side of
the bed is yours?”
People I know talk ALL THE TIME about “living the in the grey,” “not figuring things
out,” “relaxing into the experience,” and I want to spit a poisoned dart into
their over-eager eye. Fuck you people. The grey was a place, growing up, that
was riddled with landmines and Blitzkreigs. The grey place was one where you
never knew if you would be okay,
And now, of course, how fitting, I’m being asked to once
again live in the grey—or at least get a rental application—but to live there differently. To live there, visit there, try it out there in the
grey, because that’s where most of life is lived, and I want to live in life.
To be in the grey differently, means to call upon my own foundations of trust
that I have established with myself and with the people I have chosen to love
as friends in my life—Not all of these friendships went the distance, but they
were worth pursuing. And didn’t cause
any agida. So, it’s a deeper love and a deeper trust we’re working on.
And it’s probably not even with a person, unless that person
is me. It’s probably about developing, deepening, cementing trust with a
benevolence. And from the foundation of that relationship, will I be able to withstand whatever the Richter scale
throws at me. Especially if it’s reading 0, and telling me it’s safe to stay put.