For a couple of months now I’ve noticed this same card popping up over and over in my tarot readings. It’s not a bad way to begin a new year: a youngling leaving the nest, setting out on a journey into the unknown, trusting to luck. But the Fool can be unsettling card, too. I mean, just look at that cliff.


I looked up the Fool in Sallie Nichols’ book Jung and the Tarot and really liked what I found.

The Fool, archetypally speaking, is something of a shit disturber. He’s a truth-teller, but he doesn’t usually make much rational sense. In fact, disrupting reason is one of his primary functions in literature, especially where reason is being abused by those who seek power (e.g., in King Lear). Nichols points to the flower children of the 60s and the deadheads of the 70s as exemplars of the Fool’s playful-yet-serious anti-establishment impulse.

According to Nichols, literary tradition teaches us three ways to deal properly with the Fool: 1. Admit him at court and seat him at the royal table. In other words, be tolerant but keep a close eye on him. 2. Set aside periods of universal permissiveness and revelry: Saturnalia, Fastnacht, Mardi Gras, Feast of Fools. 3. Freely admit to and laugh at our own foolishness whenever it’s pointed out to us.

What am I supposed to do with this trickster? How do I embrace his playful, deregulating force for myself without letting it devolve me into shambles? Well, music seems to have something to do with it. Dancing, maybe. Certainly laughter.

My friend Rahul informs me that in the Baghavad Gita, Krishna (God) is a player, in several senses of the word. He fools around, he flirts, he flouts conventional morality. He knows that life is ‘leela’ (a play), and we mustn’t become too attached to our roles. It’s all fun and games. This is why Krishna plays the flute.

Hey, I thought, reflecting on all this, it might be fun to make a Fool puppet sometime. Then I remembered that I’d already done that 20 years ago. I dug him out of his box:


best Deadwood quotes


I’m late to the rumour that Deadwood might become a movie. Late, and extremely excited. Watching this show I used to press pause every five minutes to write down my favourite lines. Shakespearean syntax + facedown-in-the-gutter profanity = goosebumps-inducing dialogue. Here are some of the g-rated gems:

Truth is, as a base of operations, you cannot beat a saloon.

Hereforth, in a calamity, I’ll be sure to send for Jane.

Short of burning it all down, you got to trust someone.

I’d as soon as try to touch the moon as take on what a whore’s thinking.

I’m the simple type of man that, seeing lightning, looks for thunder, and finding thunder understands it as part of the same storm.

I don’t collude and I don’t cahoot.

You coulda just said “Amen,” Reverend.

He may have checked out short a useful amount of blood.

You do not want to be a dirt-worshiping heathen from this point forward.

Wild Bill Hickok: You know the sound of thunder, Mrs. Garret?
Alma Garret: Of course.
Wild Bill Hickok: Can you imagine that sound if I asked you to?
Alma Garret: Yes, I can, Mr. Hickok.
Wild Bill Hickok: Your husband and me had this talk, and I told him to head home to avoid a dark result. But I didn’t say it in thunder. Ma’am, listen to the thunder.


PS: The character of Calamity Jane, played by the inimitable Robin Weigert, served as a kind of personal archetype for me a few years back. I wrote about it here.


fun with archetypes: The Tower Princess

She doesn’t get out much, the Tower Princess.  Could be she has three wee bairns, all nursing at once.  Or it’s a lack of funds holding her back–her husband is an experimental jeweler, or maybe an organ tuner.  There’s a past she’s turned her back on, a history of addiction, breakdown or loss.  There might also be a touch of agoraphobia.  Certainly, she’s quiet at a party, finds nothing to say to those with degrees, careers, therapists, Caribbean vacations, hot yoga classes.

But just get her alone.  Better yet: visit her at home.  There will be muesli with warm almond-milk for breakfast, organic leek-and-asparagus quiche for lunch.  Dinner is Marrakesh chick peas with stone slab-baked bread.  Her house is small but impeccably clean.  A closer inspection of the chic, cubist fibre-art wall hanging in the dining room reveals wedding lace and motorcycle chaps: the piece turns out to be quilted together from her family’s milestone clothing and memorabilia.  Her children’s art is framed with hewn bark, twisted willow twigs from the park.  All the furniture is 70s vintage, all the dishes mismatched floral china.

Do you like the Tower Princess?  You love her.  She’s witty and generous and so stylish that her DIY boy-haircut, felted sweater and rubber boots make you feel simultaneously frumpy and overdressed.  There’s a romance to the curated warmth of her space, an allure to her fragility and resoluteness.

What you want most is to be like her, but without her limitations.  Tomorrow, of course, you’ll dump the kids at daycare and breathe a sigh of relief over your latte.  But today, after your visit to the Princess, you might come home and hang ribbons from your son’s window-frame, or bake a carrot cake.  Maybe, thanks to her influence, you’ll even be inspired to get out the bread machine.

ask Dr. Freud: archetypes

Dear Dr. Freud,

The theory of archetypes—the argument that a relatively small stock of characters and themes recur in endless but recognizable variations in our stories—has been hugely exciting and useful to scholars for a century now.  So who really came up the idea of archetypes first: you or Dr. Jung?                Sincerely,

Split Psychoanalytic Loyalties

Dear SPL,

Permit me to quote myself:

“I recognized the presence of symbolism in dreams from the very beginning. . . .This symbolism is not peculiar to dreams, but is characteristic of unconscious ideation, in particular among the people, and it is to be found in folklore, and in popular myths, legends, linguistic idioms, proverbial wisdom and current jokes, to a more complete extent than in dreams.” (The Interpretation of Dreams, Trans. James Stratchey, Standard Edition, V, pp. 350-51).

In other words, SPL, Jung says he got the term “archetype” from classical sources.  Well, the term is neither here nor there, because he got the idea from me.


Sigmund Freud

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fun with archetypes: the Constant

Part of my feeling harried and hard done, by these last couple of weeks, is a result of too little contact with my Constant.  It’s her birthday today, but Mary is most of a world away from home (Samoa and the Solomon Islands, for a month, for work).  It’s more than missing her; it’s a low-grade grief.

Mary and I have been best friends since we were fourteen years old and, except for the odd year here and there, we’ve lived right round the corner from each other.  We’ve shared recipes, clothes, books, apartments, clubs, teachers, students and a small business.  I mean, my dog likes her better than me!

Ironic, to name her my Constant: Mary changes quicker than anyone else I know.  Her hair grows so fast and spirals in so many different directions that she looks like a different person every time I see her.  She redecorates every few months.  Her work is thin on routine and heavy on innovation.  Add to all this restless exuberance a tendency to lose things, to leave things behind wherever she visits, and we have here a woman who remakes her world like the rest of us eat breakfast.

And yet she is steady, loyal and fierce.  If I am mired in my life, she wallows with me for a bit, then puts her shoulder to my wheel.  If I am floating with joy, she leaps to catch my string and enjoy the ride.  Her exasperation reminds me what we’re up against.  Her bravery and brilliance remind me what’s possible.

Hurry home, girl.  We need to have cake!

fun with archetypes: Calamity Jane

She was me, today, in Fides’s singing class!  There I was, channeling Calamity Jane from the early episodes of Deadwood.  Sloppy, sad, aggressive, foul-mouthed and utterly winsome.

We’d been talking about the challenge of trying to teach a class with an undefended voice.  On a rainy Monday morning at 8:00am in March, my students emanate hatred of me and everything I stand for: scheduling, discipline, effort, accountability.  My usual defense against Monday-morning resentment is to go on the offensive: to force the students out of their torpor and into discussion, inquiry, engagement.  I push and push, my voice become low and authoritative; I model keen intellectual engagement with the material.  But there’s a big part of me that feels for them–that feels with them–and wholeheartedly agrees that any sane creature on a morning like this would still be under the covers.

That’s the part of me I need to rally in my voice, to ward off strain and fatigue.  The softer, empathetic aspects that carry emotion as well as smarts.  The winsome and wayward bits.  So, Calamity Jane it is!

CJ is unfettered appetite, unchecked whim.  She drinks herself silly, wears skins from animals she’s shot and skinned with her own hands.  Jane has broken so far out of the female mold that she belongs nowhere and everywhere on the lawless, calamitous frontier where women are consigned either to the brothel or the laudanum bottle.  If she had only found her pack, I think–her tribe–she would have been unstoppable; she would have changed the course of history.

And what does Jane sound like, coming out of my mouth as I sing?  Physiologically, she means a loose, open diaphragm puddling onto my pelvic floor.  A six-shooter sternum aiming true to target.  A soft, slurring tongue and a tremulous, sorrow-filled brow.  With this technique my voice is broad and throbbing, warm and easy, packed with stamina and power like never before.

Of course, this is exactly what Fides is after: the sound, the technique.  Calling up a TV character is one of her tried-and-true pedagogical methods for helping us make the leap between concept and practice.  With the archetype of Calamity Jane fixed firmly behind my eyes, my body can adopt the posture and attitude it needs without my interference or censure.

It felt really good, and I liked what I heard.  So much, in fact, that I might just try to keep Jane around for awhile.

the werewolf I wanna be

I’m all for bandwagons when it comes to fiction.  If something is selling well, we should make more of it–that’s basic market wisdom.  And the laws of innovation dictate that each generation of product should improve on the last.  So while Stephenie Meyer updated the timeworn Gothic Wolfman by giving us native-American werewolves whose destiny is to protect humans rather than savage them, those riding her wake are stretching the type even farther, in all directions.  We’ve now seen a hero who’s only human once a year, in Shiver, a heroine adopted by werewolves in Raised By Wolves, and–my personal favorite–a Scottish Lykae Wolf-Clan king who falls for a half-vampire, half-Valkyrie girl in A Hunger Like No Other.

But before all this (before Twilight, anyhow) came Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D.  She wrote a bestseller called Women Who Run With The WolvesAs an undergrad I had the poster on my dorm-room wall: decorated with Aztec-esque designs, it listed the various “Wild Woman” archetypes in world myth as described by Dr. Estes in the book. 

La Loba, the mythical wolf woman, gathers dead bones in the desert and sings them back to life.  As an archetype she is patroness of all artists busy with the work of invention and creativity.  “A healthy woman,” says Estes, “is much like a wolf: robust, chock-full, strong life-force, live-giving, territorially aware, inventive, loyal, roving” (p. 11).

To me this werewolf is more tantalizing and romantic than the repressed and oppressed wolf-boys of recent fiction.  The idea that it’s not an either/or scenario–that “loyal” and “roving” can go together, that we can live civilized and responsible lives but call on our inner Loba‘s feral tenacity to create our art–holds real promise and power.  Now that’s a wolf I can work with.