Sunday, October 25, 2009

Five of Cups

I'm starting to see the Five of Cups in different places these days. The card resonates with me. I first started contemplating it a month ago at a writing workshop. I saved it to a desktop folder into which I gather images relating to my blog. The other day I opened it, these two images aligned, and I connected them. They reflect each other, a pair.

I cropped the photo so as to highlight the similarities and to play up the "cups" (not sure what those objects are exactly) to the left of her, and to her right. The young woman is in a desolate area. Though not pictured I understand that there is a body of water nearby (a strait, a sound, or a sea) and if there isn't a bridge there now there used to be one, of sorts.

The young woman isn't me, I didn't take the picture, and don't in fact have anything to do with it, except for having discovered it online and having dated, a million years ago now - 33 to be exact - the man who did take this recent photo (he's now well into his fifties). He's actually in the photo but I've cropped him out.

The young woman reminds me a great deal of me. Whatever his and my relationship once meant to me, I have recently come to understand that I was simply an early prototype of his "type." I've had to rethink my own history.

Anyone would think that I'm obsessed. I'm actually not. I am an older woman looking back at my youth, trying to make sense of it, set the record straight for myself. In the midst of this the Five of Cups image keeps coming up.

I came across a book at the library the other day, a collection of black-and-white photographs claiming to be evidence of ghosts. I leafed through the pages. There was a 19th century photo of a young Englishman, tiny fairy Tinkerbelles swirling around him. There was an Arbus-like photo of an odd-looking bride, grimacing, with what appeared to be an image of a cherub's face in her tightly-clutched bouquet. In another photo a ghostly Virgin Mary hovered in the trees. Darn, what a great book! I should have checked it out.

My mind spotting iterations of the iconic Five of Cups image doesn't prove anything such as that there are ghosts, spirit guides, other dimensions, or anything of the sort. Yet, of the 78 cards in the Tarot deck, why did I happen to pull that particular one? Why not another? Had I pulled a different card, would it have resonated with me so strongly? I tend to think not, or at least, not at this particular time in my life. (In the writing workshop, the other participants seemed to strongly connect with their cards too; much of the writing - our individual responses to the cards - was really very interesting.)

I saw several films at the Columbia Film Festival in Chatham over the weekend, including two that focused on the coming of age of two young women, Fish Tank , and An Education. Sexual initiation in a child-woman's life, as these films brought out, can bring with it unanticipated collateral losses, that is, of bitter acquaintance with the dark side of human nature, emotional pain, and the potential for life-altering, even disastrous consequences.

The theme of sexual initiation with its ambiguities seems to have been a subtheme of the festival. In far darker iterations, it was touched on in, among other films, The Maid. From the state of his bedsheets the maid is keenly observant of the maturing of one of her charges, but seems herself to have severely delimited sexual experience - the result, perhaps, of youthful trauma? In The White Ribbon, sexual betrayal by those whose responsibility as "elders" is to protect the innocent is also touched on, as one of the unrelenting variants of self-serving cruelty. And from what I gather (since I didn't see the closing film) it figures in Precious, the story of a girl's descent into hell is brought about and exacerbated by her father and mother - the very people, one presumes, whose charge is to protect her.


I don't know much about Tarot or, more accurately, don't recall much. Thirty years ago in college, I signed up for an informal winterbreak course taught by a sweet, gay MIT student named Stu. Knowing me, I'm sure I took copious notes - he was very knowledgeable - but they're long since gone. After graduation, while working in an office on a high floor at the Embarcadero Center in San Francisco, I willingly parted with $20 during a sunfilled break in the plaza. The reading was a disappointment after Stu's informed, nuanced interpretations.

Now I search online for a basic interpretation of the card. The empty cups on the left signify disappointment, the upright cups hope and possibility. The river signifies the flow of time, backwards and forward. The bridge? Something about crossing over. But the bridge is in the far distance, out of reach... The tower? I'm not sure.

I'm an older woman looking back at my youth. The young woman in the photo above seems innocent and happy, as I was too, until I wasn't.

But like the girl-woman in An Education, I managed to scrape myself together, go off to college and acquire an education, and in the long run it was a happy ending for me.

After all, how lucky is it, truly, that I didn't end up with that man?

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