On December 24, I shared:
(image description: The Crow Tarot Eight of Pentacles against a bright orange background.)
This morning I’m being called out by the Eight of Pentacles.
Maybe I’ll write a blog post up about it, but not right now because I have too much time-sensitive work I have to get done and not enough time for it.
I’m glad I took a moment for a card draw, even though it was so sharp.
I’ve been working with Michelle Tea’s book Modern Tarot. I really love her interpretations, and for the Eight of Pentacles she includes some suggestions on how to shift our relationship to work when the drudgery becomes soul-crushing rather than meditative.
In my own life, I can see many sides of this card – I love much of my work, but I also have fallen into a pattern of working too hard, too much. The bills DO need to be paid, but my heart needs some attention, too.
This has been a big theme for me lately. “The bills need to be paid but my heart needs some attention, too.” This keeps coming up.
A small selection of where this is coming up in my morning pages journalling:
December 17, “The new year is coming and I want it to be good. I’m so anxious about money, work, creativity, the world…”
December 18, “I want to figure out how to have a work life that feels sustainable and joyful. I just don’t know how that looks… Part of why I don’t know is because it seems so far away. It’s been ages since I felt like I had that kind of stability.”
December 19, “Last year one of my goals was to take a day off every week and I completely failed at that… There’s such a churning excess of tasks-to-be-done swirling in my head. Every time I think about the future, I get distracted by thinking about all of the things I must or could or want to do.”
December 21, “It just feels like I am always too busy for any kind of softness or ritual. By the end of the day, I just want to watch TV and go to sleep.”
Reading back over these days, I see myself valuing sustainability, valuing a feeling of joyfulness and accomplishment in my work.
In many ways, the Eight of Pentacles is one of my heart cards, because I love so much of my work. There can be so much joy in work, especially when I am working with my cherished queer, trans, racialized, neurodivergent, poor, fat, disabled, and otherwise marginalized communities! Even difficult, time-consuming, expansive work experiences can be, if not always joyful, then rewarding. Michelle Tea uses the word meditative, and I can think of many times when I’ve found that deep well of nourishing work.
When I am reading tarot for someone, bringing a queer, trans, and intersectional lens to my reading, bringing in my narrative therapy skills and my connection to the cards and my compassion and that soft purple energy that infuses my tarot practice, I love the work.
When I am engaged in collective narrative practice, consulting with communities and creating resources that collect their insider knowledges, skills, insights, and experiences, I love the work.
When I am meeting with individuals, families, or groups for narrative therapy sessions, bringing curiousity and skill to the conversation, I love the work.
I love writing.
I love generating content.
I love working when it is the work that my heart feels called towards.
I don’t want to not work. But I want joyful work. I want a work life that is not sucking me dry, leaving me sad and overwhelmed.
A lot of this struggle is because of capitalism – it’s worth naming that context!
But some of it is my own habits, my own fears and anxieties getting in the way. The sharper edge of the Eight of Pentacles. The drudgery of it.
I suspect that I am not the only person struggling with this, especially because so much of it is a result of late-stage colonial capitalism. How many marginalized community members have work that they want to be doing, but the drudgery of paying the bills gets in the way? Based on the people I see around me, there are a lot of us. We may feel called to do our heart’s work, but rent is in the way. Underemployment is in the way.
So, when I’m engaging with the Eight of Pentacles in this way, it is not because I want to locate the problem in myself or in any of my community members. The problem is not just our relationship to work, the problem is primarily the context of our work. And so much of this context is out of our hands.
But not all of it.
We have choices, skills, insider knowledges. We have agency. And I think the Eight of Pentacles, in highlighting some of the non-preferred ways I have been working, is also inviting me to extend some effort into changing or challenging, resisting or responding to, the context.
This is not a new struggle for me, but it is particularly present right now because I have just finished my Master of Narrative Therapy and Community Work degree and I’m trying to figure out what comes next.
I want to build this tarot practice and do more readings for other people, and I also want to figure out how to integrate narrative therapy with tarot practice (this had been one of my ideas for my practice innovation project, but I ended up working on narrative therapy and polyamory, and on using narrative therapy to respond to the fear, anger, and despair of our current political situation – you can find my presentation on part of this work here).
There’s so much that I want to do, and there’s so much work in my life. I am currently working two ‘day jobs’ to pay the bills, and neither of them is fulfilling or joyful for me. But I do not make enough money with the tarot work or with my narrative therapy work to replace this income, and I am just so tired.
And into this context, the Eight of Pentacles.
(Image description, Eight of Pentacles from The Crow Tarot, Linestrider Tarot, Next World Tarot, Sasuraibito Tarot, Darkness of Light Tarot, and Wild Unknown Tarot, all against a dark background. These are the decks I am currently working with.)
Michelle Tea writes:
If the Eight of Pentacles has arrived, you can be sure it’s all work and no play… No slacking off, no cutting corners, no daydreaming. The type of work the Eight of Pentacles is engaged in can be tough for a lot of us…
Even creative work has its drudgery. If the Eight of Pentacles arises, you’re probably drowning in it.
If the Seven [of Pentacles] is where we are called to plant our own seeds or right our life’s wrongs, then the Eight is where we learn how to do that. This is where we find our own groove and become comfortable doing the work of running our own life. No one expects you to be a master gardener overnight, but they do expect you to do the work of the Eight of Pentacles; the work of learning, studying, and trying. This card is fun when it shows up in readings, because I’ve seen it be this deeper, all-encompassing message…and I’ve also seen it literally mean it was time to take up a new career by studying under someone or going back to school…
The biggest way this card manifests in our queer lives is when we are learning to pave our own way.
All of the hard lessons of the Seven and needing to pull ourselves up and create something out of nothing begin to resolve in this Eight, though not as effortlessly as we would like. It is a hard, gradual learning process, but in the end we move ahead to the next card (the very affirming Nine of Pentacles). First though we land here: in a place of apprenticeship, and the question to ask ourselves is not what we want to learn, but who we want to be after we learn it. That is where the real growth happens, and what the Eight has been trying to dig at all along.
Drudgery, apprenticeship, paving our own way and doing the hard work… All of this resonates for me, but it also feels heavy, overwhelming.
What does ‘taking a break’ mean, and what is actually left of me if I’m not working? What do I truly love to do, besides work? How do I feel right now about the work that I do? And how do I want to feel about it? And you know, who actually am I, these days? How much does my work define who I am?
These questions are present for me in this moment of drudgery and effort. How can I take a break, what does a break even look like? Who am I beyond my work, and do I even need to experience a “beyond” or is it possible to feel integrated into my work in ways that are sustainable?
I’m not sure what the answers are yet. I know that it will be a question that recurs across the year – the Eight of Pentacles showed up in my Elements of the Coming Year spread in the bridge between water and air, heart and mind. In the Next World Tarot, the keyword for the Eight of Pentacles is creation.
In my write-up of this spread, I wrote:
I see Creation in the bridge between heart and mind. The 8 of Pentacles, which often haunts me, calling me out for my unsustainable work habits. But here, coming from my well-tended roots, I see the potential for this to be a new way of experiencing this card.
So that’s what I’ll take forward.
Hope and action.
If you would like to book a tarot reading, either an Elements of the Coming Year spread or something else, get in touch! Coming Year tarot spreads are available on a sliding scale from $75-150.