Every morning, before I start work, I pull a tarot card. I am not unique in doing this — I know plenty of millennial women who read the tarot, women who have oracle cards and crystals and sage stashed in bedroom lockers and desk drawers.
Somewhere private. Somewhere they can be alone. A moment of the day they take just for themselves. So yes, every morning I sit in silence and I ask the universe to tell me what it is I need to know. One card has turned up again and again in recent weeks, so frequently it is impossible to ignore. The Eight of Swords.
This card shows a picture of a woman blindfolded; her arms tied behind her back. The woman is surrounded by swords but not completely, there is an opening through which she could escape, if she wanted.
The book I use to interpret the deck is by a woman called Karina Collins, and she writes that “the Eight of Swords signifies that fear is holding you back from embracing your destiny. Release the fear and trust the universe will support you”. Karina finishes by saying: “Remember this: fear kills more dreams than failure ever did.”
I have just started as the Writer in Residence at Maynooth University. As part of my tenure there, I agreed to teach creative writing to a small group of students. It’s a 10-week module, and each class is two hours long. (As an aside, I know I have always been vocal in my support of teachers, but when I left after my first day — mentally and physically wrung out — I was even more in awe of their skill.)
As I talked the students through what was required of them, including a number of sessions in which they would be asked to a) read their work out in front of their class-mates and b) workshop each other’s writing through feedback and constructive criticism, I could see a shadow of fear pass over their faces.
I empathised — I have never taken a creative writing class, partly because I was terrified at the prospect of group workshopping.
Any time it is depicted in popular culture, whether in books or on screen, it looks brutal, an annihilation of the day’s victim. I suppose it is meant to toughen the students up, to help them develop a thicker skin — anyone who creates art needs that, conventional wisdom says, to survive the negative reviews, the rejection etc.
We’re not supposed to take such things personally, even if our work feels like an integral part of who we are. But I’m not sure such a harsh environment is conducive to creativity, especially when people are at the early stages of developing their practice. It is such a vulnerable thing to do, sharing your work with others. You are exposing yourself and you must feel safe in the process.
When I saw apprehension on the students’ faces, I stopped and asked them each in turn what their concerns were. Their answers were ostensibly different, but in truth, they were all variations on the same the