Friday is the official start of Readers Studio and every year it opens with a ritual, interviews of the master class instructors and the famous Foundation Reading. The Foundation Reading is what it sounds like: the first reading of the weekend. It is a baseline. You partner up with someone, read for each other and make a record of the reading. Then on Sunday, after you’ve taken all the classes, you meet back up with this same partner, lay out the same reading and reinterpret it using your newly learned skills.
Rhonda was my partner. She’s an amazing person. She did a reading for me and as soon as I saw the cards I got emotional. The 6 of cups reversed, The World reversed, 9 of swords, 2 of cups reversed it was all about losing my dad and the emotional waves and ripples that has sent through my life. Rhonda didn’t know about Dad and was trying to find a way to gently ask some questions. I let her off the hook and gave her a synopsis. We were both weepy and agreed that this loss is coloring everything I’ve been doing for the last few months and will be an influence for months to come. We also agreed that any readings I received all weekend would probably touch this subject. I decided right there to just stick with my few close friends instead of table hopping just to keep from having to share this over and over with new people. I had no trouble reading for other people, which is good or I don’ t know how much I would have gotten out of the seminar.
After a lunch buffet on Friday, the lovely and talented Nancy Antenucci took the stage. As you may remember, I love her book, so I was really looking forward to her class. She did not disappoint. We did several exercises to get out of our heads and into the moment. The most interesting for me was when she had us all mill about the ballroom and interact with each other wordlessly. We were to walk around as if everyone was our friend, as if no one was our friend, as if one of these people was the chosen one, as if one of these people had a special message just for us. It was remarkable how differently we responded to each other because of the underlying thinking we were doing.
The quote from Nancy that stuck with me is “Honor the human in you and let it go … for now, so you can go deeper.”
Saturday is the busiest day of Readers Studio. There is an optional breakfast class, two master classes, a costume banquet, several evening classes to choose from and the socializing that gets tucked in and around those classes. You could be going from 7am to 11pm before spending hours in the lobby or the bar with your friends.
Major Tom Schick taught the first master class on Saturday. He is a very nice guy, the creator of Major Tom’s Tarot of Marseilles, and he knows his stuff. After half an hour in his class I was getting nothing but agitated. Sorry, Tom. I actually packed up my bag and made as quiet and inconspicuous an exit as I could. Other people stayed for the whole class and you can read James Wells’ blog about it here. I met up with a few other people and we spent an hour in the readers’ lounge doing a Mary K. Greer tarot circle.
After lunch Ferol Humphrey took hold of that ballroom/classroom and didn’t let go. Her class was fast paced and kept us on our toes and moving through the cards. We went around the table as quickly as possible finishing sentences like “I accept…/I reject…” We worked at speed and then we went deeper into the cards. I’ve been a member of her Living Tarot group on Facebook for quite a while and her posts always get me thinking and doing. To do those Living Tarot exercises in person is a much different experience. It’s not better or worse; it’s a different level.
The banquet was fun, as it always is. There was entertainment provided by the more theatrical and musical members of our group which included some truly funny moments. Then there was Ciro Marchetti’s farewell. He is retiring from tarot work after ten years as a deck designer and moving on to other kinds of artwork. He showed a video of his new career in Las Vegas, which was, of course, a joke. He then followed it with this stunning computer generated compilation of his tarot work. I am sorry to see him go. No one tells a bad joke quite the way Ciro does. I wish him and his lovely and patient wife, Maria, all the best.
After the banquet I took a class lead by the amazing James Wells. He had us really get into the cards in a meditative way and we practiced with one card. I chose the Knight of Swords because it had been coming up in readings all weekend. I’ve been reading tarot on and off for almost thirty years and his class and this practice shifted my perception of the Knight of Swords and the knights in general. It was powerful.
Sunday, the final day of the conference, started with another Breakfast Roundtable discussion. We then met up with our original foundation reading partners and re-read that spread using the new skills we had learned. There was one last round of classes and I chose to learn from Carrie Paris. I’ve long felt that the online reading experience is lacking something and her class not only addressed this issue and identified exactly what was missing but gave me a bag full of tools and ideas to round out the enterprise and make it more satisfying for both myself and my clients.
There were warm good-byes throughout the day as people left to catch flights home. We were given our certificates and had some great conversations over lunch and during the more unstructured afternoon. At one point we were talking to Barbara Moore and she handed me a copy of her soon to be release Book of Shadows: So Below tarot deck as a gift. It’s a very nice companion to the first volume Book of Shadows: As Above. After I have played with it a bit I’ll post a full review here.
All in all it was great. I have yet to come away from Readers Studio feeling like I wasted my time and money. Quite the contrary. It’s wonderful energy to soak in all weekend and now, a week and half later, I’m still processing it all. And yes, I’ll be going back next year.
I’m home now and reflecting back on this weekend. It is absolutely amazing how much gets crammed into those few days. This is why I keep coming back year after year.
Readers Studio is much more than just the three master classes. It is a tribal gathering, a family reunion, an immersive education experience, and most of all a validation. To be in a room with nearly 200 people who share your passion and drive is to find your place in the world. We all come to tarot from different perspectives but that doesn’t matter. There is an acceptance of your experience and viewpoint as valid just because it is yours. There is nothing to compare to that energy. Everyone is open to learning from everyone else. You may have the most intense moments of the weekend while on line for the lunch buffet. Every year there are insights shared and perspective shifts occurring at the most random moments. It is absolutely wonderful!
I arrived on Wednesday shortly before lunchtime, checked into my room and promptly took a nap. I had a mild headache for no good reason I could find and the nap should have made it go away. It mostly did. I met a friend for dinner in the bar and slowly the evening took shape. Another friend joined us and we met another in the lobby. All four of us had headaches of varying degrees and decided a tea party in my room was a good idea. Tea, chocolate and conversation with good friends: a great way to start the conference.
Four tarot readers walk into a hotel room…sounds like the beginning of a joke doesn’t it. We did eventually pull out a deck and start throwing cards for various things. What is up with the world right now? What is our place in it? What is the theme for this year’s conference for us? The Wildwood Tarot had some interesting things to say.
We had a lot of fun discussing this. It’s a bit rattling to see The Blasted Oak which in this deck is a combination of The Tower and The Hanged Man. To us it said that the world is being forced to change and many folks are having to look at things from a new point of view. The Shaman represented our part in it. We are supposed to hold space for the change without getting caught up in it.* Our purpose is to help people navigate the shifts in their lives. Nine of Stones is the eventual coming to peace with it all. Getting back to what is really important.
Nancy asked what we could expect from the Readers Studio this year and we pulled The Great Bear
This is Judgment in the Wildwood Tarot but the first reaction we had was protection, bravery, and a fierce guardian energy. Again it signified to us the holding space for the change and guiding and protecting as we navigate the shifts. There is also something sacred and exclusive about that doorway and not everyone gets to go in there. We were entering sacred space for us and we’d be protected and guarded while we were there.
We drank tea, ate chocolate, talked, laughed and gently eased ourselves into Readers Studio.
*(After Saturday’s class Ferol Humphrey posted a status on Facebook and referred to the people who took her class at Readers Studio as those who “hold the edges of the world for us.” My first thought on seeing that was this impromptu reading.)
This is the eleventh year for Readers Studio. I’ve been coming for the last five. This year, for the first time, a full additional day was added. This day is the first Tarot and Psychology Conference and the brainchild of Dr. Arthur Rosengarten, the author of Tarot and Psychology. Dr. Rosengarten was to be one of the instructors but fell ill and was unable to attend. With just two days notice Mary K. Greer stepped up and taught a class in his place. Dr. David Van Nuys, Emeritus Professor of Psychology from Sonoma State University and Dr. Elinor Greenberg, a private practice psychologist in New York City were the other two presenters.
One thing I frequently caution my clients about is managing expectations. It’s nearly impossible to enter a situation without having some expectations about the experience and/or the outcome. It’s fine to have an idea of how the day is going to go but we set ourselves up for disappointment when we are attached to what we think things are supposed to be. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a Tarot and Psychology conference but based on past experience at Readers Studio I expected to be introduced to a concept, be educated about the concept and then have some training in the practical application of the concept. That is not exactly how this day went.
The first speaker, Dr. Van Nuys is a psychologist first and so his presentation was not what I expected from a tarot conference but what I would expect at a psychology conference and that is not what I wanted. His talk, “Hypnotic Dream Induction and Tarot for Powerful Insights”, was interesting in parts but not compelling enough to keep my mind from wandering. Because his primary focus is psychology it seemed like the practical application of his technique didn’t really require tarot and the tarot portion felt as if it were patched onto an already existing practice. For personal use this may be handy but I don’t see it translating into a service I can offer clients. I may change my mind after I’ve played with this a while.
Dr. Greenberg’s presentation was “Tarot as a Therapeutic Tool” and she walked us through the process and rationale for having clients create their own oracles. We did this by doing it ourselves. The concept is to find your theme for a deck based on your particular need for guidance, assign meaning to images and put them on the cards. Later on the cards are drawn at random to provide guidance by reminding the clients/ourselves what we already know. There is more to it than just this. Working with a client to create a small stack of focused reminders would be very useful for dealing with ongoing issues they are experiencing. When situations arise in line with the theme, the cards act as touchstones grounding the person using them and reminding them of what they know and in some cases advising them of actions to take. Plus, we got to play with markers and stickers; always a crowd pleaser.
Then came Mary K. Greer. She did a presentation on “Intuition and Transference” that was impressive considering she had only about two days to put it all together. Mary understands the audience she was teaching to and explained psychological terms and theories that could be pertinent to a tarot practice. She took it a bit further and dissected Intuition in a way that I don’t entirely agree with. It surprised me. She came at it from a clinical point of view and gave a definition that belongs in a psych textbook written by someone who has never experienced a flash of intuition and that is not something I expected from Mary Greer. In fact the whole presentation was so very different from the last class I took with Mary that it rattled me a bit. She discussed tarot, intuition, psychic flashes and other phenomenon that her audience takes for granted but she did so in a rather detached and analytical way that most of us weren’t ready for. There was some fascinating information included like the existence of mirror neurons and the function they are believed to perform but there was also some concepts that seemed to dismiss the spiritual aspect of tarot reading. That right there is where my resistance to this marriage of psychology and tarot lies.
I wasn’t disappointed exactly nor do I think I wasted time and money on this conference. Not at all. I didn’t know precisely what I was getting myself into but I took a chance. This was the first year for this conference and I expect that next year’s will be better. There is an argument to made that tarot is a form of therapy and Carl Jung himself was a fan. His concepts of archetypes, synchronicity and the collective unconscious all intertwine with the tarot. It’s the need of science to strip away the spiritual that I find most offensive. It’s particularly hard to take from psychology: the study of the psyche, a part of us and our experience that cannot really be measured and dissected. In its zeal to be taken seriously like the harder sciences of physics and chemistry, psychology is selling its soul. I just don’t want it to take tarot with it.
It’s supposed to be spring here in New York but winter didn’t get the memo. There’s been a weird tug-o-war going on between the snow and the sun. On March 8th my trees looked like this:
Snow covering everything is lovely to look at. The world gets quiet and almost cozy while it’s falling even though it’s cold. This time of year some of the charm has worn off and this lovely sight wasn’t very welcome. Within two days almost all of the twelve inches that fell were melted away. Then it snowed again. Then that melted. Then it snowed but only on the grass because the pavement was too warm. That snow is gone now too. As I write this it’s sunny, breezy and warm but the forecast is for snow flurries in the morning. :::sigh:::
But the motherwort is poking her head up and growing in small clumps all over my garden. The magnolia has buds and patches of the grass are greening. I heard birds singing this morning. These are the landmark things I look for each year. They are the signs of life among the gray, muddy, end-of-winter landscape that let me know the sun is coming back. The heavy coats can go back into the closet and I can open the windows. It’s reassuring and in a way there is a relieved feeling. I suspect it’s some primal part of us that feels like we have survived another winter.
Last year, the night before Mom’s birthday, her best friend, Joanne, died. Mom was devastated. They met when they were fourteen and had been best friends ever since. For nearly sixty years they were there for each other. She was part of my life from the first day and it was like losing a beloved aunt. For Mom it was like losing a sister. Eight months later my dad died. We all kind of went into hermit mode. That’s easy to do in winter. It’s too cold out so you stay in, bundle up, drink tea, eat cookies, sleep, cry and watch old movies. Somewhere along the way Mom’s birthday this year became one of those landmark things. It was bittersweet as you can imagine.
My sister and I took her out for afternoon tea the day before her birthday. We made it through lunch without a single tear. I was surprised by that. Joanne would have enjoyed this tea room and that thought was on all our minds. We actually laughed a few times and talked about things that would have been too hard just a few months ago. Mom spent the night with me so she wouldn’t have to wake up alone on her birthday. I made her my version of the big breakfast that Dad always made for her and we had a nice but subdued birthday morning together. She left after church to spend the day and night with her sisters down in the city. We survived.
I realized this morning that something has shifted. It’s one of the little adjustments you make in grief; it’s a step toward being OK. There is no clearly defined turning point or deadline. There are gradual changes that happen little by little. It snows then it’s sunny. I cry then I laugh and Life goes on.
Thursday was my father’s seventy-third birthday and I spent part of the afternoon, with my mother, checking out the hospice suite where he is going to die. To say it was a surreal moment doesn’t even touch it.
In August my dad went to the hospital for a cardiac catherization because he had a stress test at his cardiologist’s office that didn’t go very well. Dad walked into that hospital under his own steam hand in hand with my mom. He’s been there ever since. The test found blockages that led to bypass surgery where there were complications that caused the six hour surgery to last nearly twelve hours. A few hours later the surgeon had to go back in because there was bleeding. All the blood thinners Dad has been taking for years had done their job so well he wasn’t clotting properly. Then there was the pericarditis that no one knew about before the surgery that kept filling Dad’s chest with fluid. That required another heart surgery. By this time he was so bloated and his kidneys were so fatigued they shut down. The doctors started dialysis to fix that issue and give his kidneys a rest. His breathing was labored and his oxygen levels were low which resulted in a ventilator. Somehow he ended up with a tracheotomy so the ventilator goes right into his neck. This means he can’t speak, eat or drink. To compensate he has a gastric feeding tube. He is now in bed almost all the time except for an hour or two that he spends sitting up in a chair and machines are performing all his bodily functions. It’s astounding how his condition has snowballed. He walked into that hospital under his own steam and now he has to deal with all this and a dozen other indignities I prefer not to share with the internet.
Dad is a big man. Always has been. As a young, healthy adult he was six foot one and two hundred thirty pounds; his fighting weight. He liked to drink, loved a good meal and smoked like a chimney. He stopped drinking forty years ago. Stopped smoking thirty-five years ago. He and good food, however, have a life-long love affair. Not surprisingly he packed on the pounds and was eventually diagnosed with type2 diabetes. He’s been battling that since the late 80s.
When I was a little kid he was kind of scary. He was a US Marine once upon a time and studied to be an Irish Christian Brother for a while. He’s big and loud and honestly he’s complete crap with little kids. He never got the knack of dealing with them which sucks if you were one of his kids. By the time we each reached an age where he knew how to interact with us we were all done trying to deal with him. He did have his moments though.
I have a lot of fond memories mixed in with some misery. When I was in kindergarten he taught me how to play cards. By third grade we were playing chess together. He helped me study for the Richmond County Spelling Bee and thought it was funny that I was a Catholic School student and got eliminated for misspelling ‘religious’. I forgot the second ‘i’. In high school I would stay up late discussing philosophy with him. He loves Thomas Aquinas. He introduced me to the work of Thomas Merton. He loves baroque music and specifically Bach and gave me an appreciation of it. The night after his original surgery I was in my parent’s home keeping Mom company. I went down into his office to get her some batteries. His space is the same sort of organized chaos that I have in my art studio here in my home. I realized that he and I have a lot more in common than I would have wanted to admit when I was younger. The house is filled with books. There is a stack next to his chair just like the stack next to my bed. There is usually a New York Times crossword puzzle on top of his book pile and he usually finishes it. I prefer other puzzles. We both love a good mystery and get a sense of satisfaction when exercising “our little grey cells.” He’s an introvert and so am I. We both experience and observe things at the same time. If you aren’t an introvert it’s hard to explain that. If you are an introvert you know exactly what I mean. To think of his agile mind trapped in his deteriorating body is almost too horrible to contemplate. I think it would drive me insane to be in his position right now.
The Hospice Unit is in the same hospital on a different floor. You wouldn’t believe it if you were there. The energy is completely different. It even smells different. The nurses were great in how they talked to my mom. The compassion was palpable. The head of the unit was explaining the philosophy of hospice care and how they take care of the whole patient and that his comfort is the priority. While she was talking I was wondering why that wasn’t part of the regular hospital care. Why does each system of Dad’s body have its own doctor? The heart surgeon is really pleased with the progress his heart has made. The rest of Dad has fallen apart but the heart surgery was a success. His kidneys failed so he needed to be treated by a kidney specialist. His breathing was inadequate so he needed a respiratory specialist. He has wounds now that aren’t healing properly so an infection control/wound care guy is now part of the team. But they don’t seem to really be a team. They are each acting separately on different parts of Dad as if those parts were not connected to each other and to the man who’s been using them all for seventy-three years. The hospice director went on about palliative care and I wondered if that is even paid lip service in the rest of the hospital. If that had been the philosophy of care from the beginning how would Dad be faring now?
I am amazed at what modern medicine can do but I’m not convinced it should be done in all cases. Looking back over the last three months we are all pretty much in agreement that the original surgery was a bad idea. The doctors aren’t saying that. Only one of them will even hint at it. At the time, not having the surgery wasn’t even really discussed as an option. Apparently the phrase “I’m sorry, there is nothing we can do for you.” is gone from the practice of modern medicine. I’ve met most of his doctors and they seem like decent people. No one set out to cause pain and suffering but that is the end result. It would have been better for Dad if his pulmonary artery ruptured in the comfort of his own home than in the operating room that first day. It would have sucked for a minute or two instead of slow torture over months. It would have broken Mom’s heart all at once instead of chipping away at it while she helplessly watched her husband die by degrees.
On Wednesday he told my mother that he was tired of it all, his body is wearing out and he wants to go home to God. To watch them together now is to see what marriage is all about. They celebrated their forty-eighth wedding anniversary in September in his hospital room. Over the years I have watched them snap at each other, kiss each other, yell, curse and walk away from each other. I’ve also seen them be there for each other like she is there for him now. They really are devoted to each other. The hospice director asked Mom when she thought they’d be ready to move Dad into the unit. Mom burst into tears. She knows this is the right thing for him. It’s what he wants and so she wants it for him. She doesn’t want him to suffer anymore. She said “We’ve been together for fifty years. It’s like you’re asking me when do I want to be cut in half.”
While Mom and I were upstairs the nurses put my dad back in his bed. I came back to his room to find my husband telling him all about what our kids have been up to. Dennis tells a very good story and Dad was smiling. We all have to wash our hands and wear rubber gloves in Dad’s hospital room but I could still feel how cold and swollen his hands were when I held them. It’s comforting and unnerving at the same time to see how at peace he is with his decision to stop treatment. He has lost so much weight he’s back down to his ‘fighting weight’. His muscle tone is all but gone. He looks old and frail and nothing like the scary guy I remember from childhood. I kissed him good-bye and brushed back his hair. He told me he loved me. I have no idea how I held it together but I did. I smiled at him and he smiled at me. I left that room knowing full well that I may never see him again. I was fine until we were driving home. Dennis had the radio scan for a station and it landed on classical music. I heard Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and I started bawling. In spite of everything and as long as I live, he will be my daddy and I’ll be his little girl. It’s just not right that my cat had a nicer death than my dad.
This is my dad and me in 1966. He’s about twenty-six years old and I’m a chubby seven or eight months old. I nearly lost this photo when our water heater blew. I’m so glad the important parts are still there.