Notes from the Monster Manual

Remember the Monster Manual I mentioned in a post forever ago? I finally got it. It is really a lovely piece of work, and just the kind of thing I enjoy doing. Many of the monsters in it are quite familiar to me, and I appreciate learning new ways to talk to them. Havi’s approach to lots of things is fascinating, because it often goes in the opposite direction that one might expect from previous attempts, methods, and advice to get unstuck, and it’s been growing on me more and more over the last year and a half.

After I finished reading the Manual, I sat down with the coloring book and my “You don’t want to fail horribly and fall on your face LIKE YOU DID LAST TIME DO YOU REALLY WANT THAT TO HAPPEN AGAIN DO YOU DO YOU DO YOU” monster, who has been making itself known loudly lately. For somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes, I played with colored pencils and talked out loud with this monster. It was exhausting, and informative, and helpful, and relieving.

I think the most helpful concrete thing that came out of the convocoloring was the idea of taking my class notes as if I were doing it for someone else. I worked in my university’s student support services office last semester, which among other things connects students with disabilities with other students who can give them copies of their notes. None of my own classes needed notetakers (I was an office assistant instead), but thinking about things I could do to help this monster not give me so much anxiety about failing again, I realized that I often do better, more focused, more aware work on things that are for other people, instead of myself, as a result on my feelings of worthlessness and unimportance.

As my mood fluctuates I am often working on something else in class, only paying half attention, or not showing up at all. Obviously, the results of these “strategies” are usually poor. I can’t actually sleepwalk through my classes; it’s tough material that requires a lot of thought, making connections to previous work, puzzling things out with other people, and interpreting new information through my own life; I need to actually show up and pay attention if I want to succeed. If someone else‘s success depended on me showing up and taking clear and concise notes, that might help me actually do it, even if I couldn’t do it for myself. It might tap into my inclinations for service and sidestep the “why even bother?” monster and the “you’re not worth the time” monster, by making it not about me.

However, I’m a little wary of doing everything for other people and never for myself as a way to avoid that particular monster. In my experience, it leaves me vulnerable to being taken advantage of by others, it only makes that monster louder the next time because it now has extra evidence to use, and it reinforces the very seductive “you must take what you need RIGHT NOW because you’ll never have another chance” monster. I’m getting closer though—there’s something important in this thought.

Then I remembered Slightly Future Me. He’s me…but in the future. He might be me-of-next-week when I have to write a discussion response to this week’s reading assignment. He might be me-of-next-month when I have to write a midterm paper incorporating all the assignments up to that point. He might be me-of-early-May who is writing his final paper and will be so glad to have good notes and robust drafts to work from. There are things Me Now can do for Slightly Future Me that are basically pretty easy for me to accomplish in the present that will deliver exponentially different (better!) results in the future.

I may not feel like I’m worth spending time on, but Slightly Future Me is also Slightly Less Stuck Me and that definitely is worth spending time on. He’s a new man! Who is me. Bingo.


Doctor Who Tarot – What to Do With Idris?

This post may contain SPOILERS for Series 6 (2011) of Doctor Who.

The fun of working on an art project tied to a currently airing show is that things may change when new episodes are released. Sometimes this is a good thing; there are several holes in my list of cards, that may be better filled by new characters from the current season. Sometimes it is a frustrating thing; at some point my deck will be complete and perhaps printed, but Doctor Who will keep adding more material (gods and the BBC willing).

My current frustrations are these:

  1. Obviously, I didn’t get one card a day completed as I planned last summer. In fact, I haven’t drawn any more cards at all since last year, or even posted to this blog.
  2. The pips are still giving me trouble, and as wrapped up as I am in the seasons featuring Eleven, Amy, and Rory as Team TARDIS, it is difficult to call to mind scenes from any other season that may be appropriate for these cards.
  3. IDRIS. Gorgeous, beautiful, heartbreaking, goldmine of a character we will never see in this form again, and I have no idea where to put her.

I already planned to have the TARDIS on the Chariot. The Chariot can be quite the “mow down your enemies to reach victory” card at times, a perspective with which the TARDIS does not jive in my opinion, but…Chariot. TARDIS. It is obvious and imperative. My problem is that in “The Doctor’s Wife” (S6E4), we meet a new compelling version of our beloved blue box in the form of  Idris, a humanoid woman whose soul has been replaced by that of the TARDIS. The concept is delicious, the execution exquisite, and the character would be a wonderful addition to my deck.

But where do I place her? Should I feature Idris along with the police box on the Chariot because they’re the same character? Should Idris have her own card because the marvel of a talking TARDIS is significant and has different symbolism than the silent companion? Should the TARDIS and/or Idris go on a different card entirely, given her perspective on how she and the Doctor came to be together, such as Strength? How many cards can I put Idris on before it becomes too many?

My instinct is to keep the police box as the Chariot, and keep Sally Sparrow and the Weeping Angels as Strength. I have a hole in the Queen of Cups that would seem to be filled more than adequately by Idris: fiercely loyal, intuitive, supportive, healing, love, don’t piss her off because still waters run deep. The next best option I had for this card was Jabe Ceth, the tree woman from “The End of the World” (S1E2), but Idris is a much better choice. The other Queens are Reinette (Wands), Sarah Jane Smith (Swords), and Joan Redfern (Pentacles); the personification of the TARDIS should take her place among these other queens of the Doctor’s heart.

I have another option, perhaps in addition or perhaps instead, to put Eleven and Idris on the Lovers. It’s a card less about sex or romance and more about harmony, the attraction of kindred spirits, and choice. I hadn’t had a good candidate for this card before, but when I suggested Eleven and Idris, Siniful countered with Amy and Rory and Jared Axelrod with Ten and Donna, both equally appropriate choices. Right now, Donna is my Temperance, the union of supposed opposites in the DoctorDonna; I’d need a new Temperance if I moved her to the Lovers. As I consider it now, Kazran and Abigail from “A Christmas Carol” (Xmas 2011) would also make sense for this card.

What do you think? Ultimately I believe I should make a deck that resonates the most with me personally, and perhaps others will follow and create their own and make different choices, but I would love to hear some feedback from fellow tarot and Doctor Who people.

A Very Personal Ad: Awesome Person-who-does-work Looking for Equally Awesome Way-to-make-money

Ever since Sinclair Sexsmith linked to Havi Brooks’ Coloring Book for Monsters, I’ve been reading her blog. She’s got an interesting style (her business partner is a duck) and helpful things to say, and all her posts are intricately hyperlinked so reading “just one post” is a little like reading “just one entry” on TV Tropes. A tool of hers that intrigues me is writing “very personal ads.” She originally wrote one for her dream house, and ended up finding it.

I’ve already got the housing I need right now (I’ll write a post about the awesome place I’m in the process of moving into this month later), and the thing I do need is a job. So here’s my very personal ad for employment.

What I want:

I’m looking for a way to make enough money to pay for 6-9 credits of tuition for the next two semesters, school books, my monthly bus pass, rent, utilities, food, camping once a month for the summer, and student loan interest, with some extra for savings and emergencies. If there’s enough to do some traveling and conventions too, that would be great!

I want this way-to-make-money to pay me sufficiently for doing something I’m good at, as well as teach me new skills. Things I am good at include writing, helping people, working with books, doing research, queer activism, web design and creation in HTML and CSS, working with children older than six, taking care of animals, teaching, cleaning, admin work, and making art and crafts. I would love to get better at any of these things, learn new things that are related to any of these areas, or learn something completely new that builds on my skills.

This way-to-make-money might be a traditional job that I get up and go to, or it might not. I want a way-to-make-money that will not require that I compromise my principles in order to remain employed; I would prefer a way-to-make-money that is supportive of queer and trans people, but I need one that is at least friendly to such. I want most of the people I work with in this way-to-make-money to be pleasant and courteous and not give me stress and maybe make friends with me, and if there is a boss or supervisor involved I want them to treat me kindly but fairly. I’m okay with a dress code, as long as I am able to follow the men’s dress code if there is a difference.

During the school semesters this way-to-make-money needs to be part-time so I can attend classes, but I could work full-time during the summer. I would prefer this way-to-make-money be accessible by public transport in Baltimore, MD, or something I could do at home; I could work somewhere in Washington, D.C., accessible by public transport from Baltimore, but only during the summer or a few days per week during the semester. A local or community-owned business would be great! I would be able to leave the Baltimore area for way-to-make-money only during the summer, and only if I did not have to pay any extra money to live there during that time.

I would like to be able to keep my current job at my school’s library because it is a good job for me, but if there is a way-to-make-money out there for me that is perfect except I would not be able to keep my current job that would still be good. Or if this awesome way-t0-make-money could only be gotten to by car, I could make that work too.

Ways this could work:

Someone could read this blog post and know of the pefect job for me, and leave a comment here or send me an email or a message on Twitter to let me know.

I could find a job listing on Craigslist or other job advertisement location that fits me and is not a scam.

A business I admire could be currently hiring and somehow that information would find itself to me.

A friend who has a great job could let me know there’s a position available at their workplace.

I could set up my Etsy store with products I like making that people would want to buy.

I could get a scholarship for school or win a contest with prize money.

I could sell my writing.

I could tutor younger students in math, English, Japanese, or gender studies.

My parents could decide they want to help me with school again.

My commitment:

I will remember that there is work I need to put into this desire in order for it to succeed.

I will search for job listings on Craigslist and the like every day, and respond promptly to appropriate listings that I find.

I will ask friends if there are any openings at their workplaces that I could apply for.

I will make a list of local businesses I know I would like to work for that are on bus routes, and contact them to see if they are hiring anyone.

I will have confidence in myself and my skills and present myself as well as I can at interviews, even when I’m nervous.

I will work on my stuff so I can stay organized and be on time to my current job, and continue to be on time to my new way-to-make-money if it is something that requires being somewhere or doing something at a certain time.

I think that’s about it. I know there is a way-to-make-money, that will pay my bills and let me start a chunk of savings and let me be proud of the work I do, out there for me somewhere. I hope this very personal ad helps it find me!

Doctor Who Tarot – The Devil (sketch)

Doctor Who tarot card for the Devil features the Master standing in the center with his hands raised in a shrugging posture. The logo for the Archangel Network is in the background. An small image of the mini-old-Doctor in a cage will be in the bottom left, and a small image of Lucy Saxon in her red dress will be in the bottom right.

The Devil - The Master

Today’s Doctor Who tarot card is the Devil. This is the sixteenth card of the Major Arcana, numbered 15. This is a card of passions, desires, and “base” instincts; the Devil teaches us that we must neither repress our pleasures nor allow them to control us; without ambition we would never get anything done, but too much and we risk addiction to power; others can only control you as far as you let them. This card is also associated with the Lovers and the Sixes of the Minor Arcana. See other write-ups at Aeclectic Tarot and the American Tarot Association.

I chose the Master for this card because on the one hand he’s a narcissistic, obsessive, sadistic megalomaniac, and on the other he’s an ambitious leader who succeeds at everything he puts his mind to. That’s a powerful, terrifying, hypnotic combination. Yet the people around him, even the ones he has hurt terribly, find the courage and strength to resist, defy, and transcend his influence. Martha brings hope to an entire planet; the Doctor forgives his old friend and enemy; the Joneses endure the year from hell and come together as a family; Lucy Saxon changes the choice she made as a Companion. And at the very end, even as his hunger literally consumes him from the inside, he uses that power to save his friend’s life and correct some of his mistakes.

The Master is in his Prime Minister suit and his hands extend over the edge of the card border to show the pervasiveness of the power of this card (this is a connection I made up after I realized I’d drawn his head too big to fit his hands inside the card proportionally and didn’t want to fix it). The logo for the Archangel Network will be in the upper background, because it’s a cool image and it shows the seductive power of subconscious, unacknowledged desires and influences; also his eyes have spirals in them for his hypnotic focus. I think the background of the card will be a deep blue, but I’ll have to see how that looks against his very black suit.

I also want to put the Doctor in his super-aged chibi-in-a-cage state in the lower left corner, and Lucy Saxon in her red dress, possibly with the gun, in the lower right corner. However, I worry that will make the card too busy, so maybe not. Those two figures would remind me of the damage that can be done by indulging to extremes and the power to choose another course for oneself; it also suggests the callback to the Lovers card that is usually on the Devil.

I used this picture to get the pose I wanted. The Archangel logo came from here. And here’s Lucy Saxon and chibi-Doctor for good measure.

The Devil card from the Rider-Waite-Smith deck. A man with a goat's head and legs, bat wings, and clawed feet stands in the background. His right hand is raised and his left holds a flaming torch pointed at the ground. Two naked people are changed to his pedestal.

The Devil in the Rider-Waite-Smith deck

Doctor Who Tarot – Death (sketch)

Sketch for the Death card. The Ninth Doctor stands with his arms slightly spread at his sides and his head tilted back. His head and hands will be glowing.

Death - Regeneration

Today’s Doctor Who tarot card is Death. This is the fourteenth card of the Major Arcana, numbered 13. It is a card of transformation and transition, the death of the old self so one can be remade, the turning of the seasons, the cyclical nature of time, the reaping that makes room for new growth. This card is also associated with the Emperor and the Fours of the Minor Arcana. See other write-ups at Aeclectic Tarot and the American Tarot Association.

This is the card that started the whole thing. I understand the skeletal imagery that is on most renderings of this card derived from the Rider-Waite, but I don’t really like it. Luckily enough, the two decks I own both lack skeletons; Sacred Circle has a robed woman about to cut the last sheaf of corn with a crescent sickle, and Robin Wood has a figure in a deep red robe carrying a dark flag with a white rose on it through a sunny woodland.

Personally, a Time Lord’s regeneration is the perfect image for the Death card. The Doctor is the same person, but he’s not. He remakes his entire being to save himself. He retains all his memories, although his personality can be quite different. The transformation is a natural part of the Time Lord lifespan. A death that contains new life. A little death, if you will. (Yes, that’s a French orgasm joke.)

I chose the Ninth Doctor for this card for two reasons. The other regeneration we see in New Who is Ten into Eleven, but it’s a reluctant regeneration. As Ten, the Doctor has known it would be coming for awhile and has dreaded it the whole time; he sees it as “him” dying and some other man getting up and walking around in his body, and he doesn’t want to go. That’s simply not in the spirit of the upright Death card (although it’s a pretty good example of a reversed reading). Contrast Nine, who willingly rescues Rose from being burnt out by the Time Vortex and “dies” in her place. Ten’s regeneration is also prompted by his rescuing a human, but not before he has a chance to throw in an impassioned rant asking the universe why it has to be him. It’s a powerful moment, but it’s not this card.

The second reason is also tied to Rose’s rescue, only this time it’s her rescue of the Doctor. The Hanged Man is the card that immediately precedes Death, and I’m putting Rose channeling the Time Vortex on it. I’ll get into that card more when I draw it and get it up here, but it leads naturally in the tarot journey to put those two events together.

With this analysis, I don’t need all the symbolism from Rider-Waite with the king and the child and the sun, because these are all the things I know I will think of when I see the card. I haven’t decided on the background yet; it may be simply the bit of the TARDIS that’s behind him in the scene, or something more overtly symbolic (other faces of the Doctor arranged above him might be nice, but I probably wouldn’t be able to pull it off). This is the moment I am talking about, and I’ll make his head and hands glow with that golden light when I do the digital version. I used these three pictures to get more detail on the coat and the proportions. Some editing of the sketch will be necessary; hands are one of my major weak points, and the jacket needs all those nice leather folds and textures. The tilted-back head was the hardest part of this to draw, existence of hands notwithstanding; a tip from @Cynical_Woman helped a lot to ameliorate the “Magneto with his face kicked in” look I produced at first.

The Death card in the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck. A skeleton in a suit of armor on a white horse carries a black flag with a white rose on it. A king is trampled beneath the horse's hooves, while a bishop welcomes the rider, a maiden looks on in sorrow, and a child looks on in fascination. The sun rises in the distance.

Death in the Rider-Waite-Smith deck

Doctor Who Tarot – The Magician (sketch)

A pencil sketch of The Magician card from the Doctor Who Tarot project. The Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) stands in the center with his arms crossed. He will have a cup of tea, a sonic screwdriver, an Olympic torch, and a fob watch arranged above his head. The background will be the time vortex.

The Magician - The Doctor

The first Doctor Who tarot card I sketched was the Magician. This is the second card of the Major Acana, numbered 1 (because they start with the Fool as 0). The Magician is a skilled, knowledgeable, charismatic, inventive, tricky man; the male power of creation; a herald of new ideas and new ways of seeing the world; the transformative process of insight and tapping into one’s true potential. This card is also associated with the Aces of the Minor Arcana. See other write-ups at Aeclectic Tarot and the American Tarot Association.

For me, this card had to be the Doctor. If the Major Arcana are viewed as a mystic journey that the Fool (i.e. the Querent, the person the reading is for) undertakes, the Magician is the first person the Fool meets, who shows the Fool a vision of all the possible futures and gives the Fool the tools needed to make those futures real. The Doctor tends to show up when things have started to get a bit weird for a previously oblivious human, clarifying some things and giving the beginning of a handle on the situation, while opening the human’s mind to the wonders of time and space in the process. And he’s brilliant.

The tools of the Magician are actually the four suits of the Minor Arcana, as seen on the Aces. In the traditional decks these are the Wand, the Sword, the Cup, and the Pentacle; in this deck they are the Olympic Torch, the Sonic Screwdriver, the Cup of Tea, and the Fob Watch. Since I had to pick one face of the Doctor to go on this card, I chose Ten because he’s the most closely associated so far with all four suit-objects. On the sketch I’ve just labeled where they will go, arranged above the Doctor’s head, because I will draw good quality large versions for the Aces and then drop small versions into this card.

The Rider-Waite-Smith card puts an infinity symbol above the Magician’s head instead, so I’m going to have the background of the card be some kind of swirling time vortex imagery, to show the Magician’s connection to eternity, esoteric knowledge, and un/predictability. This, again, will be put in later when I make the pretty digital version because there’s no way I was going to be able to draw it with pencil.

The picture I used to attempt the face, hair, and crossed-arms pose in the proper proportions is here. It changes the symbolism a bit to have his arms crossed instead of directed out like the RWS version, but I thought about it while I was drawing it and decided I didn’t care. He’s also supposed to be looking straight ahead (there’s a bit of a cool thing where if you put the Magician and the High Priestess cards next to each other, they’re looking straight ahead, while if you do the same thing with the Empress and the Emperor, they’re turned toward each other; it’s significant to the meanings), but I redid the eyes six or seven times and couldn’t get it to look right, so he’s looking a bit off-center and possibly at River Song on the High Priestess card. It might even make more sense to have them looking sidelong at each other in the context of my deck. We’ll see.

The Rider-Waite-Smith version of the Magician card. A man in a white tunic and red robe stands behind a table with a cup, staff, sword, and pentacle on it. He holds a wand up in his right hand and an infinity symbol hovers above his head. The background of the card is yellow with a border of vines and red and white flowers.

The Magician in the Rider-Waite-Smith deck

Introducing: the Doctor Who Tarot Project

Exactly what it says on the tin, really.

I came up with the idea near the end of last year. I’ve been working with various tarot decks since 2000, mainly the Sacred Circle deck and the Robin Wood deck. They’re both gorgeous and have their strengths depending on the question I want to ask. Unfortunately each has limited use for me because their different symbolisms are a bit opaque.

Robin Wood uses the Rider-Waite system but with prettier pictures than the basic Rider-Waite-Smith deck, which does make a difference, but I don’t know enough about all the encoded symbols (from numerology to Hebrew letters to colors) to really be able to access the deck without the little booklet, even though I’ve had it for four or five years now. I tend to use this one for quick-and-dirty readings, because it’s fairly easy to map the keywords from the booklet to the cards and trace the connections.

Sacred Circle takes the Rider-Waite framework and dresses it with symbolism from British Traditional Witchcraft instead; some cards have altered meanings or orders or have been replaced. It’s fascinating, but as I don’t a background in the British Trads the symbolism isn’t any more accessible to me than the Rider-Waite. I still have to use the book ten years later. The cool thing is that it’s a real book, not a booklet, and the symbolism on each card is explained as well as the upright and reversed meanings; the info’s all there, but it just doesn’t resonate enough to stick in my head. I tend to use this one for long-term or in-depth readings because there’s so much to digest.

Basically, I’m left with two very pretty tarot decks that I don’t use as much as I should. I don’t automatically think to pull them out to help unravel confusing questions or situations because they don’t really resonate with me. Very nice tools, but not My Tools. Published decks I lust after include the Shadowscapes deck (freaking GORGEOUS) and the Ancient Egyptian deck (right up my pagan alley).

The latter half of 2009 was when I really embraced Doctor Who. I’d watched an episode or two of the new series in the year or two previous, and had various run-ins with hardcore fans and exhibitions without really knowing what the big deal was before that. My girlfriend’s former housemate @pacmanlawyer named his wireless network “TARDIS” and his computers “K-9” and “Master.” I happily teased an English forum-friend about her Doctor Who fixation when she posted pictures of characters and props and sets without feeling the proper envy for her location relative to the big exhibitions. I saw the long-running and now closed exhibition at Longleat in England when I was a kid without having any idea what it was I was seeing—I came away with a vague impression of tentacled dioramas, a man in a coat and some odd metal things, and that I’d just seen something to do with The Who—the band!—because I didn’t have any other entry in my brain at the time to connect to what I’d seen. If my dad had come on that trip too instead of just my mom, I’m sure I would’ve been a fan much earlier, and a Time Lord for Halloween that year. I still have no idea why I knew about The Who and not the Doctor at that age.

But last fall, my Doctor Who fuse finally lit and I fell in sci-fi love. I watched all of the 2005-onward series (minus a few extra episodes) and two seasons of Torchwood and a season of The Sarah Jane Adventures by the end of November, just in time to wait for “The End of Time” with everyone else. In the meantime I watched Torchwood: Children of Earth—ouch.

I also had the thought that a Time Lord’s regeneration would make a great image for the Death card in a tarot deck.

Ding ding ding ding! Suddenly I started getting ideas for all sorts of other cards. Soon I had a spreadsheet drawn up to keep track. I found a Buffy the Vampire Slayer tarot deck online, but no mention of a Doctor Who deck. After several permutations (should I put Torchwood and Sarah Jane Adventures characters in there too?) I arrived at the version I have now—which isn’t an entirely accurate phrase because I’m really still developing it. The Major Arcana and Court cards are largely intuitive and mostly fell right into place, some even with several options to choose the best from, but the pips in the Minor Arcana are always the hardest for me to read in a deck and they are proving to be the hardest to design. So I actually have a second spreadsheet with ideas for an oracle deck that doesn’t follow the Rider-Waite tarot structure and is drawn entirely from my analysis and intuition of the themes and emotional impact of certain scenes and the outlooks of the main characters.

When I started, I thought this was just going to be a fun concept, or possibly a way to associate symbols in Doctor Who that I understood with Rider-Waite constructs that I didn’t. If I think “the Doctor sitting across a table from little Amelia Pond” whenever I see the Two of Cups, perhaps that will help me remember what the damn thing means. I know that the tarot’s Death is a card of changing phases and transformation of self, but all those skeletons doesn’t actually make me feel that when I see the card; the Doctor regenerating would.

I’ve already sketched two cards and I’m planning to do more sketches, and eventually get to digital versions. If I draw one a day (which, honestly, I won’t, but it’s fun to think), I’ll have a full deck of sketches in two-and-a-half months, which isn’t bad. Making them pretty in Photoshop will take quite a bit longer than that because I’ll need more than a day per card at my most optimistic. After that, who knows? I don’t know how I would go about having the deck printed properly. Surely I wouldn’t be able to sell them. And that’s assuming I end up even liking the art enough when I’m done to want to do something other than forget it.

I’ve been posting thoughts and sketches for the cards on Twitter with the tag #DoctorWhoTarot, and I’m going to start posting them here as well with longer explanations of why I chose the imagery and what references I used. I’m only using New Who for a lack of familiarity with Classic Who, and I will be getting new ideas as Series 5 progresses but I will spoiler-warn for those. I hope readers who are familiar with tarot and/or Doctor Who will comment along the way with ideas. 🙂

You can follow along as I post them, or browse the Doctor Who Tarot category, or look on the Doctor Who Tarot page where I will be collating the entries by their cards’ positions in the tarot deck (since I won’t be drawing them in order).