Friday, January 16, 2004

Shuffle and deal

I firmly believe in geek-pride, since it’s the only kind of cool I’ll ever muster. Still geeky-cool will get you by in graduate study, indeed, you’ll find a greater depth of geeky per square metre in a graduate community than almost anywhere else on the planet.

That said, once you’ve found all the closet bloggers, thesps, graphic novel readers, yoga-freaks and literary obsessive it’s still nice to have an aspect of your personality that weirds people out.

“You read Tarot cards?”

It’s a hobby some find hard to reconcile with the image of a calm, rational lawyer. I’ve yet to meet anyone who equates it with devil-worship, but there’s still a predictable barrage of responses (do you believe in that stuff? does it work? do you let it run your life?), all of which miss the point from my perspective.

I’ve been interested in Tarot as long as I can remember. When we lived in Broken Hill (I must have been seven) I borrowed a big, illustrated book on Tarot from one of the school cleaners. (Mum was the school principal and all the staff knew me pretty well.) Later, for a primary-school fete, I made up my own deck of imaginary cards and ran a gypsy fortune-telling stall.

The interest then slept for a long time, until a slightly new-age uni girlfriend encouraged me to explore it again. I bought a modern deck at a sale and began reading up on it. She and I broke up over the summer I was clerking for the Sydney firm and during that period I bought my Rider-Waite deck and began making a more earnest effort to learn the symbolism, running through the cards in my head while waiting all sweat-tickled in my impractical winter-weight wool suits on the sunny Newtown city-bound train platform.

Anyway, the cards for me are not predictive, they are a diagnostic tool. That is, they don’t tell the future, they provide a perspective on the present. The cards are a set of open-textured symbols: you bring your own meaning to them - you have to be intuitive, creative, irrational. They’re a break from the left-brain (rational, logical) world of law.

The cards have no more power to predict the future than a Rorschach blot. They present a problem: how do I resolve these randomly chosen symbols into a story? If that story conflicts with your present view of your life, that’s valuable: there may be an insight, an unconsidered possibility, a fresh perspective.

Do I believe in them? They’re about story-telling. Do I “believe” in the films I see, the novels I read, the plays I go to? No, but I do suspend disbelief and agree to approach the medium on its own terms.

Have they ever been weirdly accurate? Maybe. I once read for a friend of a friend in a Canberra pub - a total stranger. Several cards strongly indicated travel, especially by air and over water (eight of wands, page of swords) and in the position of her immediate future she turned up, rather dramatically, the blank card (something that one is not meant to know now). I explained this to her a little apologetically (people usually expect more concrete answers).

“Right,” she said, “Interesting. The thing is, I get on a plane to London tomorrow and I have nothing at all lined up at the other end.”

Accurate or not, they’ve sometimes made a great party trick, or conversation-starter. And if the law thing doesn’t work out, at least I have one other marketable skill.

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