Monday, February 7, 2011

Mama Said There’ll Be Days Like This

“Why does life suck?”

One of the teenagers in the high school art class to whom I was about to make a presentation made it known that this was her question of the day, maybe of the decade. She was at the back of the classroom and didn’t make eye contact. Her question got no rise out of her classmates. That did not really signify anything. Silence could mean agreement with her statement. It could also mean ennui. It’s quite possible that her classmates were tired of her observation, sensing a theme.

But it’s a common cry among her age group, so I went with it.

“Interestingly enough,” I pointed to the next slide in the show, “I anticipated your next question. This is the 4 of Cups which is sometimes called the apathy or boredom card.”

I went on to explain that at least one of Pamela Colman Smith’s invaluable contributions to the tarot world was her insightfully illustrated pip cards. So, instead of just four cups as in Marseilles-style decks or even our regular deck of playing cards with four hearts, Pamela or “Pixie” Smith showed the meaning of the cards in the minor arcana through her drawings. Here was our young hero, sitting beneath the tree with three cups in front of him and the Universe handing him yet a fourth cup. Mr. There’s-Nothing-To-Do-That’s-Any-FUN sits with his arms crossed and his legs crossed.

His stance is passive (seated) although he could be dressed for action. He’s perfectly capable of getting up and pursuing the cup or other delight of his choice. But, faced with a bounty of wonderful things before him, like the three cups at his feet, even when the Universe brings more opportunity or love or goodness or even intuition to him, he doesn’t even look. He’s too busy looking down and luxuriating in the moment of being in a foul mood.

The number four signifies stability that can drift over into being just plain stuck. Certainly, our pal in the 4 of Cups is stable. Nothing seems to be moving him from his spot under the tree. You could guess it might even be a sunny day, but he picked the shade. Doing nothing is a kind of stability and refusal to accept the positive can possibly seem lower risk. If you never hope, never take the chance to try, there’s the sense that you might lower your odds of getting hurt. But our guy doesn’t look too happy. So his non-involvement theory isn’t really working.

If you look at this card, you’ll see the sky is blue, the grass is green, the tree is tall and straight, the cups are upright and there’s a gift from out of the blue, well, ok, out of the grey, meaning uncertainty, of yet another cup. The only thing “wrong” in the picture is the guy under the tree who is pretty clearly saying, “No.”

I put “wrong” in quotes for a reason, though. Saying, “No,” isn’t always wrong. Sometimes, everything can look great but you just have a feeling about something and have to say no. Sometimes you can’t take even one more thing, even if it’s a good thing. Knowing your own limits and the fact that they change from time to time is a good thing. There are people who can’t say no. Our buddy in the 4 of Cups is the contrast to the clear spring day; he’s the one who isn’t bright and sunny.

My inner Muzak turned on while I was giving the talk to the high school class. My topic was actually the process of creating a work of art, in this case my tarot decks, and what I used to get from a foggy concept to produce a specific and tangible result. Sometimes the Muzak is helpful and the song playing in my head was suddenly The Shirelles’ 1963 hit, Mama Said.

The funny part about that songtrack was that I was also reminded of the story of the travelers on the road who asked an old person they met along the road what the people were like in the next town. The old person asked them, “What were the people like in the last town?” The travelers said, they were terrible and the old person said they would find the people in the next town much the same. Another set of travelers met the old person on the road and asked the same question about the people in the next town. Again the old person asked, “What were the people like in the last town?” This second set of travelers said they were kind and generous and funny and wonderful. The old person said they would find the people in the next town much the same.

So I smiled at the kid in the back of the classroom, realizing that I didn’t know her whole situation and may, upon complete, if unlikely revelation agree with her. But on the surface, I saw that she seemed healthy, pretty, well-dressed, allowed to study art in her teen years instead of having to work for a living to fend for her family, and attend a school that actually charges tuition and has an admissions policy rather than a “free” public school. I could see a few cups set in front of her. And yet she was beset by that bane of restless teen years, a sense of boredom, impatience and annoyance. She wanted the world to take her somewhere but hadn’t connected that she must get up from under the tree and head in the direction that was right for her, whatever that was. I had to give the kid a break, too, though. After all, not yet out of the comfortable nest, she was still in the process of learning what it means to be human. She can turn down the gifts given to her freely if they don’t fit. But it’s not life that “sucks” if she doesn’t then do something to pursue the things she truly loves. It won’t actually be life that sucks; she will just be stuck.

It doesn’t hurt to make your wishes known because like the travelers and the old person, you’re likely to get the energy you put out there. It’s pretty simple. If you’re grumpy, people will likely be grumpy with you. If you’re pleasant, they’ll likely be pleasant with you. And one of the biggest secrets of the universe, especially in teen-age angst, is that seriously, no one is thinking about you more than you are. They are all really worried about themselves. It’s part of the human condition.

Oh, sure, I can cite instances of life truly being awful to people. No one in Miss Nancy’s art class has been executed for saying life sucks. That does happen in other places. I wish it didn’t, but there you have it. And people can put on a completely “sunny day” exterior as a protection from thinking or feeling what is truly going on behind the scenes. We have a choice, in spite of the worst circumstances, to adopt gloom as part of our inner being or use our energies to make things better, even in just a small way.

Sooner or later the kid in the back of the classroom will realize that life will "suck" just as long as she lets it. And, because I wish her well even though I never met her before that day in her classroom, I hope it’s sooner.

Best wishes!

1 comment:

  1. Nice post. I sometimes get impatient with teenage angst and have to remind myself that they are just reacting to their changing hormones and almost adult status.

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