See the Cripple Dance | Leaving things unfinished while wandering & recalibrating with the Seven of Pentacles

When the Sick Role the World, by Dodie Bellamy

The Greyhound from Toronto to London is a three-hour ride.

It sounds small, especially compared to the seventeen- and twenty-four- and thirty-hour bus rides I’ve taken in the past, and maybe it is, but this was among the longer rides I’ve taken recently, after years of being too sick to travel. I packed light, my backpack and a small floral duffel bag, woke early, and walked to the Greyhound terminal. I’d visited my friend in London a handful of times, but nearly seven or eight years had passed since the last of those trips. We met on LiveJournal as teenagers, and our friendship has continued through our early-30’s. I chose a windowseat and, to my relief, nobody sat beside me. I brought a book to read, but gazing out the windows at the passing landscapes turned out to be enough. Enough to pass the time (well, experience the time), to feel content, and to reflect. Self-heal and goldenrod grew along the highway in bright clusters among the green, and cedars and pines were planted to create barriers between farmlands and the road. What grew in the unattended ditches was (is) the most beautiful and fascinating to me.

Like the windowseat with an empty seat beside me, the city of London itself came as a relief. Toronto is my home and my love, but after the disappointments and losses of Summer, as the weather finally began to hint at cooling down, I found myself in need of a respite from the sidewalks and neighbourhoods that contain too many reminders and memories for me to hold onto right now. Arriving in London – even just being on a bus traveling a direction, a route, I hadn’t been on for so long – was rejuvenating. Nobody ever bruised my heart in that town or cast me aside. Knowing only one person in London, there was no risk of encountering former lovers as Erin and I traipsed about in our unintentionally coordinated outfits, doing the same thing we’d be doing otherwise, but now with the rare company of another: perusing thrift stores, gathering used books and vintage stationery sets, eating ice cream, and talking to neighbourhood squirrels, dogs, and birds. I’d been ruminating after the “Maranda-ectomy” discussed in my previous column on The Tower much more than is good for me (where is the line between unhealthy rumination and allowing oneself to remember, to feel?), and I needed the classic standby for heartache and depression: a change of scenery.

The day after returning from the weekend trip, I was feeling introspective and tired.

I turned off my alarm and allowed myself to sleep in, feeling lulled by Lily, one of my cats, sleeping with his fluffy, purring body pressed against mine, curled up against my stomach and chest, his chin burrowed in my armpit, paws in my hand, snoring slightly. My morning rituals were performed a few hours later than I’d like them to be, but still. At least I was able to get out of bed, able to wake up and go on with my little life.

In the Seven of Pentacles in the Universal Rider-Waite Tarot, we see a figure holding onto a garden trowel, resting their hands and chin upon the wooden handle. With one foot in the garden and the other on untilled ground, they take a look at what’s growing, wondering what else might come to be. Their facial expression could be read as solemn, tranquil, or introspective. Maybe a little bit tired or uncertain.

It’s a card of waiting, of re-assessing. Where am I? What have I done? Do I wish to continue?

When I imagine myself entering the card, I want to approach the figure, gently ruffle their hair, and carry their trowel from them. Release them from their work, offer them somewhere to sit down and rest. Their shoulders and their feet must be sore.

Reversing positions, seeing myself in the garden, I wonder: Is that the kind of company I’m looking for, the kind of support I need, the permission I want to be given? If I can’t find it in another, how can I offer it to myself? How can I be my own best version of the companionship and support I desire? Is this who Erin and I were to one another during our short weekend together?

After reading over a couple cups of coffee, I felt like writing. Since surgery and the break-up (much of my conceptualization of my life these days takes place in a pre- & post-surgery timeline, a pre- & post-break-up timeline), I’ve been neglecting writing deadlines and correspondence (email and snail mail alike) more than usual. I haven’t been able to look at my inboxes without panic attacks bubbling up, and I’ve kept my letters to be responded to out of sight, feeling ashamed of not being able to write back. Some mail remains unopened.

Instead of worrying how I’ll complete everything, all these tasks, all these words, I’ve begun to ask myself: What feels manageable today?

Spolia Tarot, Next World Tarot, Universal Rider Waite Tarot

With that question in mind, I flipped through a Tarot deck to see which card stood out, which images resonated best with my concerns. Not as a way of answering my question, but as another way of forming the question, of allowing myself to embrace a day (at the very least) of feeling small and quiet, and to allow myself to let some tasks remain undone.

In The Next World Tarot, an elder is invoked, wearing bright pink flowers in her curly grey hair, and sitting on a bench surrounded by her own creations: jewelry and talismans, sparkling baubles, dangling earings and necklaces to adorn those who’ll seek her out or stumble into her. She holds a long string of pink beads and pets her white puppy, in the midst of creation and comfort at once, without concern for end goals or profit. A lightning bolt shines on her handmade necklace, and her puppy wags its tail in delight.

She’s in her own element, creating through love and desire, making things just for the fun of it. She’s outside, in public space, embracing her own slow, creative process, and committing to DIY-art into older age.

Before sitting at my desk to write, I found myself tidying my apartment.

Not as a means of writerly procrastination, but as quiet yet active contemplation, considering what it might look like to feel more consistently content with my little life (little said with kindness, not disdain), my private inner world, my day-to-day existence. This came to me as feeling separate from my work, my writing, even though they’re also connected. I’m a dreamer and I write compulsively – I’ve been wondering what it might look like to feel content even when I’m not dreaming, when I’m not writing. When I’m alone, on my own. Just breathing. Just tidying. Just keeping a home and being inside my body and taking care of my cats. Not thinking about the meaning of any of those things, or what I will write about them.

After a while, I was ready to write. And I left some tasks unfinished, sitting down within the mess. Shortly before leaving the city, I’d survived another migraine; the kind that causes a collapse of body, meaning, and will to live. I’ve written about migraines multiple times, including in See the Cripple Dance, where I connected it to the Nine of Wands and creativity. This one, too, led to suicidal dissociation, and a desperation not only to have someone to care for me, but to have an end to migraines, to everything that causes migraines, altogether. There were multiple factors contributing to this one: being near severe allergens more than usual within recent days, staying up too late writing, eating too many sugary treats from a nearby dumpster, and then coping with a rebellion of the plumbing system in the almost 100-year building where I live.

As my belated-thanks-to-being-absorbed-in-writing-fiction bedtime approached, I heard the sound of spilling water nearby, and went into the kitchen to investigate. The pipes had become clogged and now they rebelled, overflowing each kitchen sink with used water from neighbouring apartments, which was now spilling all over the countertop and kitchen floor, pooling under the fridge. Afraid of water reaching electrical cords, I unplugged the fridge and gathered towels on the floor to soak up the mess. The water smelled like vomit and rot, a sludge and stench that soon overtook my home. I left a message with the landlord, but the stress and the toxicity of the apartment left me unable to sleep and barely able to breathe. Of course I got sick. The landlord and his assistant spent a few hours repairing everything in the morning, but in the meantime, I stayed in bed getting sicker, and most of the food in my fridge was ruined. Shortly after they left, I was vomitting repeatedly and calling a friend for help, too weak to move, and then becoming dissociative. Despairing, hoping illness wouldn’t once again interfere with my travel plans.

In 12-step parlance, I’d reached another juncture where my life had become unmanageable. A break was necessary. Recalibration.

Slowly, I recovered, but the migraine had stolen a few days from me, so when I left the city, I left my home a mess, and I returned to a mess.

Dishes unwashed, chores undone. Litterbox uncleaned. Messages unresponded to. Writing unfinished.

I didn’t feel ready to return home yet, to wander the streets of Toronto again. But as I walked from the Greyhound station to my apartment, bruising my right hip with the corners of the used books I’d collected nudging me from within the floral duffel bag, I noticed the way my moods shifted, flucuating between inspiration, anxiety, contentment, curiosity, tiredness, heartache, etc., changing so much within such a short period, forty-five minutes or so, and I chose to hold onto the memory of that small timeframe as a reminder of changeability, the inevitability of discomfort, yes, and respite from discomfort, too. As I turned down my own street, now almost-dusk, I found a jumble of free stuff left out on somebody’s yard. Sorting through what they’d chosen to rid themselves of, I picked up tiny pieces of art, photographs of my neighbourhood printed on scrap wood, and took them home with me. A sweet way of being welcomed back.

These things are allowed. The unfinishedness of it all. The silence and sadness solitude of it all. It’s good. Unremarkable, even.

If only for a while, what can you accept leaving undone? What would it look like to imagine these things as not ready to be completed? As patiently waiting for when you’re ready?

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One comment

  1. Amerasuu says:

    Maranda, I love your column so much. I have a surgery pre admission day at the hospital tomorrow, this was exactly what I needed to read right now. Thank you

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