The Ghetto Tarot

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I just received this beautiful tarot deck for an IndieGoGo campaign I had contributed to a while back.  It’s the result of  a collaboration between the Haitian group Atiz Rezistans (“Artist Resistants”) and Belgian photographer Alice Smeets.  Each image is modelled after the famous Rider deck which was designed over a hundred years ago by A.E. Waite and illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith.  However, this version uses settings and materials from the ghettos of Port-au-Prince, bringing a whole new layer of symbolism.  The deck is a little large for my hands; however, smaller cards would have obscured the details.

I have several uses in mind for it: tarot readings, sure, but also prop and inspiration in role-playing games, and a reminder of the hardships — as well as the art — in places that are too easily forgotten after the initial news headlines, whether it be Haiti, Indonesia, or New Orleans.

[Edit: The deck can be purchased here.]

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Homework: Hothouse Descriptions

On the first week of the six-week online class I’m taking, “Writing the Other,” the homework consisted of the following instructions:

Below are 7 pictures. Do this exercise once with each of them:

Set a timer for 5 minutes for each picture. Take no more than 20 seconds (time yourself!) to take in the picture and the person in it, then start writing a description of that person. You can describe their physical features, you can make up a personality for them, ascribe emotions to them, whatever comes to you. Go with your first instincts and keep your fingers moving until the timer goes off. Like the other exercises, this is not about producing publishable material; it’s about writing, not thinking.

The exercise is called “hothouse descriptions” because it’s like hothouse “forcing,” coaxing blooms out of season. The pictures were all obtained from the fantastic “Humans of New York” project. (I invite you to browse the HoNY site, it’s so much fun.)

Later on, every participant in the class was invited to look at others’ descriptions and highlight words that attracted their attention for whatever reason. Here are my seven descriptions, and notes on the words that other students highlighted. (I cropped the images to fit here.) I’ll add my reflections on the exercise at the bottom of the page.

He was a man with wide features — thick eyebrows, wide eyes, wide nose, wide mouth — emphasized by his horizontal wrinkles on his forehead and ears that stuck out to the sides. His was a pleasantly homely, somewhat dreamy face. He wore a black winter jacket with a plushy collar, and a black-and-white pied-de-poule scarf. He look to the side, perhaps embarrassed by the attention he was receiving. I wondered if his voice would be craggy or soft, deferent or sonorous.
#1 – He was a man with wide features — thick eyebrows, wide eyes, wide nose, wide mouth — emphasized by his horizontal wrinkles on his forehead and ears that stuck out to the sides. His was a pleasantly homely, somewhat dreamy face. He wore a black winter jacket with a plushy collar, and a black-and-white pied-de-poule scarf. He look to the side, perhaps embarrassed by the attention he was receiving. I wondered if his voice would be craggy or soft, deferent or sonorous.

Words highlighted: wide (x2), wrinkles (x2), homely (x3), dreamy (x2), plushy, pied-de-poule (x2), craggy, sonorous.

Comments: I used “pied-de-poule”, the French term for this pattern, because of the time constraint when I could not remember what it’s called in English (hound’s tooth.)

 

She smiled broadly, the sparkle of her eyes barely dimmed by the hipster glasses. A bright blue scarf framed her face, a blue that spoke of sky, sea, flowers, birds, and comfort, and stood out against her black sweater. A bracelet shone around her left wrist with large beads, stones or charms, I could not tell. She seemed like a person I would enjoy sharing a cup of coffee with, and commenting on the unseasonable weather with. Would she think it rude or charming to be asked to coffee by some strange woman?
#2 – She smiled broadly, the sparkle of her eyes barely dimmed by the hipster glasses. A bright blue scarf framed her face, a blue that spoke of sky, sea, flowers, birds, and comfort, and stood out against her black sweater. A bracelet shone around her left wrist with large beads, stones or charms, I could not tell. She seemed like a person I would enjoy sharing a cup of coffee with, and commenting on the unseasonable weather with. Would she think it rude or charming to be asked to coffee by some strange woman?

Words highlighted: broadly (x2), sparkle (x2), hipster, blue, comfort (x3), sharing, rude.

His sharp profile made me think of some famous actor going incognito, perhaps Roy Schneider or Sir Ian McKellan: elegantly disheveled gray hair, dark sunglasses, the sweep of a fedora that sat well on his head, the staunch rise of a Burberry collar, a hint of cashmere scarf. I imagined him a once-famous theatre star, perhaps, now forgotten by many but remembered by fans of discerning taste. Would he flee recognition, or be secretly pleased that someone had seen behind the disguise?
#3 – His sharp profile made me think of some famous actor going incognito, perhaps Roy Schneider or Sir Ian McKellan: elegantly dishevelled grey hair, dark sunglasses, the sweep of a fedora that sat well on his head, the staunch rise of a Burberry collar, a hint of cashmere scarf. I imagined him a once-famous theatre star, perhaps, now forgotten by many but remembered by fans of discerning taste. Would he flee recognition, or be secretly pleased that someone had seen behind the disguise?

Words highlighted: sharp, incognito (x3), elegantly, dishevelled (x3), hint, once-famous (x2), star, discerning (x2), flee, disguise.

She looked lovely, and I wondered if she knew it. Not perfect: a few skin blemishes, a nose slightly too large, made her entirely human. But her hair smoothly brushed back from a well-shaped forehead looked soft and had a lovely depth of walnut hues; her eyes were clear and bright; her eyebrows, though carefully groomed, followed a graceful natural sweep. She looked like someone who took care to look her best, perhaps like all of us worrying over imperfections, but with enough confidence and character to accept them rather than try to look like someone else.
#4 – She looked lovely, and I wondered if she knew it. Not perfect: a few skin blemishes, a nose slightly too large, made her entirely human. But her hair smoothly brushed back from a well-shaped forehead looked soft and had a lovely depth of walnut hues; her eyes were clear and bright; her eyebrows, though carefully groomed, followed a graceful natural sweep. She looked like someone who took care to look her best, perhaps like all of us worrying over imperfections, but with enough confidence and character to accept them rather than try to look like someone else.

Words highlighted: lovely, smoothly brushed, well-shaped, walnut, clear, bright, graceful, character (x3), accept.

I thought he looked like a man well-travelled. He had a strong face, and the lines in it, along with the gray streak parting his curly black hair, suggested he might be in his fifties. Lines around his eyes, and thick eyebrows slightly frowning for the moment, suggested both laughter and inquisitiveness, both wariness and insight. His jacket said “business-man”, his colourful checkered shirt open at the throat answered “on vacation,” and the matching handkerchief emerging from his left breast pocket spoke of a sense of fashion.
#5 – I thought he looked like a man well-travelled. He had a strong face, and the lines in it, along with the grey streak parting his curly black hair, suggested he might be in his fifties. Lines around his eyes, and thick eyebrows slightly frowning for the moment, suggested both laughter and inquisitiveness, both wariness and insight. His jacket said “business-man”, his colourful checkered shirt open at the throat answered “on vacation,” and the matching handkerchief emerging from his left breast pocket spoke of a sense of fashion.

Words highlighted: well-travelled (x3), grey streak, inquisitiveness (x2), wariness, emerging (x2).

She had coaxed her motorized scooter-style wheelchair up the slab of stone and beamed back at the camera. Her short spiky white hair made her look like an elderly pixie, celebrating a prank. I was sure purple must be one of her favourite colours, because it splashed in motifs against the blue background of her patterned skirt, it wrapped her legs in the form of thick stockings, and it shone from the large utility purse hanging from the scooter’s handles. She was bundled up in a jacket against the nippy weather, and I could almost hear her breath coming in as sharp gasps of cold air.
#6 – She had coaxed her motorized scooter-style wheelchair up the slab of stone and beamed back at the camera. Her short spiky white hair made her look like an elderly pixie, celebrating a prank. I was sure purple must be one of her favourite colours, because it splashed in motifs against the blue background of her patterned skirt, it wrapped her legs in the form of thick stockings, and it shone from the large utility purse hanging from the scooter’s handles. She was bundled up in a jacket against the nippy weather, and I could almost hear her breath coming in as sharp gasps of cold air.

Words highlighted: scooter-style, beamed, pixie (x3), prank, splashed (x2), bundled, nippy, gasps (x3).

She was carrying the mail to the post office in a box she cradled with her left arm. She had dressed warmly for the season this morning, with a dark woolen coat and knitted hat, but by now the day had warmed so that she let her coat swing open over a blouse patterned with large tropical flowers in yellows, browns and greens. Her hair was dark and wavy, her roundish horn-rimmed glasses reminded me of the 1980s and I wished I could carry the look like that. She sang softly along with the music player tucked into her right coat pocket, the earphones buried under cap and hair, betrayed only by a white cord.
#7 – She was carrying the mail to the post office in a box she cradled with her left arm. She had dressed warmly for the season this morning, with a dark woollen coat and knitted hat, but by now the day had warmed so that she let her coat swing open over a blouse patterned with large tropical flowers in yellows, browns and greens. Her hair was dark and wavy, her roundish horn-rimmed glasses reminded me of the 1980s and I wished I could carry the look like that. She sang softly along with the music player tucked into her right coat pocket, the earphones buried under cap and hair, betrayed only by a white cord.

Words highlighted: cradled, swing, open, tropical (x2), horn-rimmed, sang (x2), betrayed (x2),

So, final thoughts. After the first two or three, I noticed I was not saying much about possible racial or ethnic markers. I asked myself whether I was avoiding the topic, but I did not feel constrained (except by time) while I was writing, so I decided to just keep doing what came naturally. I was content to suggest rather than state, and I also noticed that my focus was much more on the way people constructed their own look consciously (for example, with sartorial and grooming choices) or unconsciously (for example, with wrinkles from habitual expressions.)

In truth, I often don’t feel confident assigning racial (whatever that means) or ethnic identities; I had no idea for #1, #2 and #7, for example. Sure, I assumed that #2 was Muslim, but that told me nothing about ethnic or racial origin.  On the other hand, #3, #4 and #6 looked like they might be of European descent; in the case of #4, I would have guessed Eastern Europe and recent immigration. And #5, as I said in my description, looked to me like he could have been around the globe before.

Advent Day 24: Joy

Today’s topic is “Joy.”

This is my husband Edmund on our wedding day (we had a hippie wedding.) He is responsible for the greatest amount of joy in my life.

Edmund

Advent Day 23: Neighbours

Today’s topic is “Neighbours.” This is the queue early in the morning in Seattle, when homeless people wait for the day centre to open so they can warm and dry themselves, sit somewhere other than the cold ground or a park bench from which they will be evicted, get a cup of coffee, and maybe get some other help.

I saw them every morning from the bus on my commute to work, not to mention my noon-time walks around the neighbourhood. Some were friendly familiar faces, many were closed and looking inward, and many more made me sad because I could not give the kind of help they wanted.

The photo was taken with my trusty Holga toy camera.

Advent Day 23: Neighbours

Image by Sophie Lagacé 2005, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

Advent Day 22: Sign

Today’s topic is “Sign.” This is the marquee sign of the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, seen through the bus window as I passed it on my way back from work on a winter night.

The photo was taken with my trusty Holga toy camera.

Advent Day 22: Sign

Image by Sophie Lagacé 2005, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

Advent Day 21: Prophet

Advent Day 21: Prophet (Elizabeth Cady Stanton)

Today’s topic is “Prophet.”

What exactly does that mean? Wikipedia opines: “In religion, a prophet is an individual who is claimed to have been contacted by the supernatural or the divine, and to speak for them, serving as an intermediary with humanity, delivering this newfound knowledge from the supernatural entity to other people.”  Well, shoot, that leaves me nowhere: I’ve more chance of seeing a unicorn than a prophet.

We also use the word in daily language to mean a visionary, someone who accurately predicts things to come. But Wikipedia has one more thing to say, and it’s more useful to me: The English word prophet comes from the Greek word προφήτης (profétés) meaning advocate.”

So here is my prophet: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 19th century advocate of the women’s right movement and abolitionism.

[W]e declare our faith in the principles of self-government; our full equality with man in natural rights; that woman was made first for her own happiness, with the absolute right to herself—to all the opportunities and advantages life affords, for her complete development; and we deny that dogma of the centuries, incorporated in the codes of all nations—that woman was made for man—her best interests, in all cases, to be sacrificed to his will.

—Declaration of Rights of the Women of the United States by the National Woman Suffrage Association, July 4th, 1876.

I deliberately picked a photo showing Stanton as an older woman, because older women—no longer sexually desirable—get the least respect to this day in our society.

Advent Day 20: Good News

Today’s topic is “Good News.” How could I resist this image I took of newspaper boxes at the railcar stop along the Seattle Waterfront, near the Seattle Aquarium?

The photo was taken with my trusty Holga toy camera.

Advent 20: Good News

Image by Sophie Lagacé 2005, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

Advent Day 19: Patience

Today’s topic is “Patience.” This is a bonsai from Weyerhaeuser Company’s Pacific Rim bonsai and penjing collection in Federal Way, Washington. How patient do you have to be to start a gardening project that will outlive you by centuries?

Advent Day 19: Patience

Image by Sophie Lagacé 2005, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

Advent Day 18: Mercy

Today’s topic is “Mercy.” This is taken in winter at the Lac-Boivin Nature Preserve in Quebec; someone had left seed for the birds and squirrels. Believe me, during the cold Canadian winter, the critters can use it!

Advent Day 18: Mercy

Image by Sophie Lagacé 2005, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

Advent Day 17: Free

Advent Day 17: Free

Today’s topic is “Free.” This is a picture of one of the habitats at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, the nicest zoo I have ever visited. The habitats are created to be as natural as possible and give lots of space to the animals, and there is a strong emphasis on conservation, science, and education rather than just gawking for entertainment.

But I wanted to use this to make a little comment on a cherished Christian concept, “free will.” When I was Catholic, I held on passionately to the concept of free will because it’s the closest theologians have ever come to answering the problem of theodicy, or why evil exists, while preserving the notions of a deity who is all-powerful, all-knowing, completely good, and loving.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny.  The good news is that once you let go of the shopping list of concepts you wish to hold on to and prop up with the help of “free will”, it really doesn’t matter. Free will is not a useful concept in this form once religion is taken out of the equation; instead, responsibility, information, and context now matter.

The photo was taken with my trusty Holga toy camera.

Image by Sophie Lagacé 2005, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.