I’m big on divination, and recently took up tarot again after about fifteen years of frustrated distance. I went to an occult bookstore in North Hollywood called The Green Man, which I figured was a good omen since I was raised on Swamp Thing, who during the Alan Moore run in fact encounters a congress of Green Men, sentient versions of the leafy faces that appear on medieval buildings all over Europe that undoubtedly influenced Tolkien’s ents, as well as the set of miniature Green Man plaques my father purchased on a 2007 family trip to England and hung up at our summer house.
But I digress. I always do.
I went to The Green Man and asked the (not green) man behind the counter for a deck other than the standard Rider-Waite. Evidently perturbed, he directed me to the Robin Wood Tarot, incorrectly connecting it to Robin Hood. Although the motifs are similar—verdant forests, etc.—Robin Wood is simply the name of the artist who created the deck, and just happens to sound awfully close to Robin Hood. Still, I took The Green Man’s recommendation. When I unwrapped the cards at home, I was convinced for a few hours that the deck had only seventy-seven cards and was missing its seventy-eighth. Then I discovered that two were stuck together. I wish I had noted which two.
In the weeks since, the Robin Wood Tarot and I have grown quite close, and things have gotten a little weird. Cards recur, and point hard, and when, scared or disappointed, I lay a new cross hoping to find out something nice, they point harder. I have been proceeding, like most amateurs, with the aid of the interpretive pamphlet Robin Wood co-authored to go with his deck, and now Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack, who writes in her “Preface to the 1997 Edition”: “In the winter of 1969-70 I was teaching English at the State University of New York in the town of Plattsburgh, near the Canadian border.”
In addition to divination, I am big on synchronicity, and although this is a very weak synchronicity—who upon opening a book is surprised to learn the author has taught English at a state university in an inhospitable clime?—I include it here to illustrate the way in which my deck, aided by Pollack, has been showing me the limits of my ability to project my will over the web of occurrences I narrativize as “life,” and then again, or sometimes, or never—I’ll never tell—as “work.”
When I was invited to contribute to the Chaos issue, I had only one ready-to-go story, “Shut Down,” a twelve-thousand-word leviathan comprised of vignettes revolving around the unnamed female protagonist’s experience of her sexless marriage, taken from a collection of the same name. “Shut Down” was a shaggy beast, by dint of its sheer length unlikely, I knew, to catch an editor’s fancy. HFR editor Allegra Hyde startled me by selecting the story’s shortest section, “Lab.” Buried in the middle of “Shut Down,” “Lab” had never struck me as particularly standalone; I envisioned it as a contextualization piece to balance the other, longer sections. In Allegra’s view, however, these seven hundred and fifty words “seem[ed] like the emotional high point of the story: an extreme manifestation of the author's unsatisfied desire.” And just like that, my understanding of my narrator changed entirely.
Earlier this year I lived in Colorado for a month while I taught at a college there. One day I got curious and lonely and went to a New Age bookstore, where I paid for a psychic reading. I stood amongst the tumbled crystals and semiprecious rocks and scrying mirrors and wands for a long while, until the window of time in which the psychic was supposed to see me had nearly closed, and then I finally complained to the staff and they ushered me in. The woman was what I am at risk of becoming, with her geode jewelry and white deerskin dress and yards of bleached hair. She used a deck I’d never seen before, Tarot for Dummies it struck me, each oversized card decorated with a stock photograph illuminating an obvious concept. “Reconciliation,” “You Can Do It,” “It’s All On You.” The reading was bull, but I was the one paying for it, wasn’t I?
The psychic gave me a mantra for meditation, and I’m going to give it to you, and then I’m going to shuffle my deck and pull a card for this Contributor Spotlight. I worry I’m not a great shuffler, so to make sure I sit on the floor of my office and spread them out between my legs and with my palms move the mass of cards in a circle, back and forth, up and down.
The mantra: “Hue.”
I pulled the Ten of Cups, reversed. Pollack writes: “Some highly-charged situation, usually romantic or domestic, has gone wrong, producing violent feeling, anger, or deceit.” Eerily dead-on for “Lab.”
For a while these things surprised me, but not anymore. As Samantha Harvey writes in Dear Thief, “The sense that I get, to put it another way, is that far from drifting through a world of arbitrary objects and happenings, I am tuning in through static to a collection of sensory things that have been put there to reveal my mind to me.” My life these days is an orchard of resonances. I see a signifier, and I remember the history of the signified, and bad or good the world seems to have a shape, the kind that my character, in “Lab,” cannot feel or know for her isolation.
“Shut Down” is a few years old now. I have only fallen further into the orchard. Last night I went out for a walk but ended up at a bar. I wanted to write in my notebook a letter I won’t send but a woman started talking to me about her marriage, recently ended. I stood on the street corner and asked three times for her name.
Lisa Locascio’s work appears in n+1, The Believer, Bookforum, Tin House Flash Fridays, and Heavy Feather Review, where another section from “Shut Down,” “Ride,” will appear in issue 4.2. She lives in Los Angeles. Her story, "Lab," appeared in Issue 56 of Hayden's Ferry Review.