Friday, January 8, 2016

The Locked Gate

Yesterday I did a reading for myself and the card I puzzled over the most was #51, which I think of as "The Locked Gate." I wasn't sure exactly how it fit into my reading. I usually think of this card as one of "not being ready," or "closed opportunities." But it didn't seem to match what the other cards said.

My question was "Will it be beneficial for me to take a Memoir Writing class that starts next week?" One of my goals for 2016 is to write more, and taking writing classes helps me to keep up the practice. Yet some small part of me hesitated to sign up. I wondered if it was because I needed to have some space to myself at the beginning of the new year before filling my schedule with too many activities. Here is the full spread (click on the picture to get a larger view):

I wasn't quite sure what the "Past" card meant, but I interpreted it as "trust." In the past, I have taken other writing classes with playwright and teacher Douglas Jones at The Visual Arts Center of Richmond (click here to find writing classes that VisArts offers). He always sets a mood of trust and openness among his students. I started with "The Creative Spark" and finally felt brave enough to take "Writing the Shadow" in 2014. The Shadow class opened me up to looking at the darker side of myself - the parts I'm afraid to share or that I hide away. I didn't write about everything that scared me, but it helped me to understand and integrate that side of myself a little more, and to recognize the value of looking at and using the shadow in my writing, art, and life.

The "Present" card showed an open gate leading into a peaceful-looking park. I took that to mean openness and being ready to take the class. The "Challenge or Goal" was hands releasing dust (at least, that is what it looked like to me.) Perhaps this meant letting go - of control? Maybe stepping into the class not quite knowing what I will write or how it will come out? The Memoir course description said it would help writers to explore a focused part of their life, and I wasn't sure which part I would want to write about.

My "Internal" and "External Influences" were funny because they mirrored each other. In my inner world, I saw the process of writing memoir as a series of humongous mountains. In the external world, it showed a snake climbing over a small hill. This is so me. I always see projects as being huge and daunting, when in actuality they can only be carried out through a process of small steps, much like the snake going over the hill.

The "Release" card showed a guy sailing the seas on the back of a whale. I think of this card as one of adventure and searching. But because it was in the release position, I thought it meant I shouldn't go looking around everywhere or feel like I have to reach far, that maybe the stories I need to write are closer to me than I think. My "Accept" card showed the locked gate, which I'll get back to in a moment. My "Possibilities" cards showed a hand writing and sprouting lots of new ideas, and also a hand holding a key to a locked box which seemed to mean unlocking my writing spirit. So why the locked gate? That seemed contradictory to those two cards. I think there was a clue in my "Direction" card. It showed a hand with a cut on it - my writing might reveal some pain or make me feel vulnerable.

I pondered the locked gate. I even looked up the interpretations in the handbook that I myself wrote! It said: "Restrictions, not being ready, opportunity is unavailable, being denied - 'having the door closed in your face.'" 


Everything else in the reading seemed to point to the fact that taking the Memoir class would be a beneficial experience that would open up my writing self. So why did I have to accept this locked gate? 

This morning I woke up and understood. I also had clarity on other parts of the reading. I think the gate does mean something restricted. I think it's the part of myself I had restricted to others, the part that I am ashamed to show anyone but those closest to me who won't push me away. It's my anger. Most people are surprised to learn that I have an angry side. It's something I've wanted to write about but wasn't sure how to share. I think the card is telling me that it's time to accept this locked-up part of myself. It's time to write about it and own it, and thereby release it (I hope). 

Last month I was talking to a friend about fairy tales and horror movies. I told him how sometimes I want to watch horror movies but they scare me so much I can't go to sleep and they make me feel like the world is a horrible place.* My friend, who loves horror movies, said "The world can be a horrible place." I told him that even though fairy tales could also be horrific, I have been drawn to them since I was a kid. I said, "There's something about fairy tales that's not as bad as horror movies. Maybe because in the end there is comfort." I realized that fairy tales would not have the impact they do without that fear and the subsequent promise of comfort. The fear is an important element of the story. In fact, it is crucial. I told him I wanted to integrate more of my darker self into my art and writing, even in my work for children. He said he wanted to integrate more of the lighter side of himself into his already dark art and writing. 

Going back to the reading, I looked at the "Past," "Challenge," and "Direction" cards again and saw that they they have further dimension by alluding to a specific period of my life when my anger was uncontrollable, when I thought it might destroy myself and a relationship that I had. Looking back, that experience was a gift because it revealed the worst part of myself, and showed that I can still be loved and loving in spite of it. That part of me will never go away because it is me, though just an aspect. Just like my "good" side is just another aspect of myself. 

Now I'm not sure if I will ever share those experiences with anyone but my writing class and a few loved ones, and if I'm brave enough to write about it at all whether I will choose to share it out loud. But the cards don't lie about what is needed in my life.

I signed up for the writing class.

* If you're looking for a really good "horror" movie, watch "The Babadook." I'd heard it was extremely scary but extremely good, and I waffled over watching it for a month. When I finally did watch it, I was not scared. I was actually moved enough to shed tears. It was the first time I saw my own dark side externalized (though of course exaggerated in the movie). I empathized with both the protagonist and the monster, seeing it as a metaphor for the horror within. My boyfriend totally didn't get the metaphor, though, so I had to explain it to him.


  1. The Babadook is the best horror film I've seen in years. Like the shadow, once you've recognized it you can never get rid of it; instead, you have to accept it and develop a relationship with it. It's all about balance: I am this and also this, and neither will destroy me. I enjoyed your blog, Aijung, and I look forward to having you in class again.

    1. Thank you, Doug. I like the sentiment of "I am this and also this." Your classes have been helping me to make peace with that.

  2. Funny I read those cards and thought...You need to write. You need to share your stories. The writing of your memoir is an important step on your journey...BUT you don't need the class to do it. You are ready to do it without the closed gate structure of some class. You already have the tools and experiences you need to conquer your get on the whale and just do it. My intuition around the hand card is you need to make a pact. If not with someone else then at least with yourself out of what values are important to remain intact as you embark on this journey. Elizabeth Gilbert made a personal pact with "writing" of which she describes in her book Big Magic. You are already signed up for the class there's no need to change that but make sure you have some type of personal position with what you're trying to achieve and don't let influences outside of that agreement (the class) derail YOUR process.

    I hope I'm not sounding preachy that's just 100% my intuition flowing from what I saw in the cards.

    Your post reminds me of my personal desire to create a lecture or class around telling your story through Astrology and Tarot/Oracles Cards.

    Have fun in your class!


    1. Hi Nicholas! Thank you for this insight. It's really interesting to read your take on the same cards. I like the idea of "making a pact" with myself. I think you're right about that. I think that I need to write about my difficult experience, but perhaps there will be some things I don't share with others within or outside of the class. I think the reading helped me to realize that the writing and remembering is the most important part (and perhaps in the class, the "witnessing" by others is a part of the cathartic process), not the end-product. I have a feeling in terms of sharing my experiences with the wider world, I may transmute those difficult experiences into fiction or metaphor rather than publish them directly. But since I've taken Doug's classes before, I know that he is respectful of our own processes and is not confining. I hope that I will not always need the structure of a class to help me to write, but at this point it really does force me to do the actual writing rather than just making lists of what I want to write about and sitting there thinking about it.

      Thanks also for mentioning "Big Magic." I will check it out.

      Also, your idea for creating a class about telling your story through cards sounds really interesting! I think of the cards as a wonderful storytelling device.