an annual forecast
an essay by shelby traynor
painting by siobhan schmidt
I wasn’t prepared for winter when it came. I was confused, living with more questions than answers, and didn’t own nearly enough jumpers. I went to the psychic in April. Her office was on King St (a Sydney street that can only be described as alive, all hours of the day), up a set of stairs, warm. I knocked my knees on the low table between us, upsetting the cards, and she apologised. The session was recorded for posterity, and because I knew eventually I’d want to compare notes. It was an expensive half hour, but it got me out of my house, and once I was out of my house, it got me out of the rain.
“There’s nothing light about this energy at all,” she said. “But why does it need to be? I think you’re feeling a lot more deeply than you ever have before… and with that comes an awareness that this is a strange place to inhabit.”
I was unsettled, but not enough to contemplate leaving the city and heading back to Perth, where I’d grown up and lived until I moved in November 2016. I could only get so far as to imagine my sad, blue suitcase thumping down the stairs. Going back home would have meant moving backwards in both space and time, reverting to whoever I was before. I’d take a plane back across Australia and shrink, my memories peeling away, my experiences wilting. That wasn’t what I needed—what I needed was someone to tell me who I would be before I became it, to assure me that I had a future out there. I didn’t need to believe what I was being told. But I needed something.
“The Ten of Wands allows you to feel a lot more courageous, to be able to step into the unknown and not need the nice, pretty, silver-laden path laid out for you. You actually find your own way of existing that’s a lot more real. And it becomes more real with every step, because you’re constantly inquiring: Is this real? Is this the right way?”
When I’d left I’d set a time limit, believing all I needed was a year in a new city to explore and learn, before I retreated back to Perth and settled. So it was important to shake off the homesickness, to throw myself into another life without an afterthought, because this is what I had: a deadline to figure myself out, to become something else, to overcome everything that made it so easy to leave Perth in the first place. What I had in mind was a transformation. All I needed was 12 months. When that time was up, I would slot back into the world I’d come from and that world would welcome me back.
“Even though you might identify a direction for yourself, and think ‘that is where I'm heading’… there's something even more beautiful about letting it come when everything is in alignment, and it happening later rather than sooner is actually an indication of maturity… it's not only best for you, but best for others as well.”
In the following months I ticked all the boxes: cut off my hair, cried on a train, had a panic attack in the middle of the day. I turned everyone I knew into a sounding board for my own questions, asking all the time, is this worth being away from your family for? is this worth putting up with over-the-phone relationships for? is this even worth being away from your dog for? You miss and you miss and you miss, telling yourself that this is only for now. Assuming that the future is a sure thing, when it isn’t, etc. etc. I was an intense person to have a conversation with, when I spoke. Most of my time was spent commuting or writing in my journal, pretending that life in this new city was fun and interesting when really I was restless, and lonely, and feeling like I’d been snuffed out.
I courted myself in a bid to create romantic tension between this new life of mine and this new city of mine. I went to the cinema alone on Monday afternoons, took a hike alone through the Royal National Park, left my book and belongings half-buried in the sand at Manly beach while I swam, careful not to go too far out in case I was swept into a rip without witness. I told myself all I needed was a pen and paper, but then my life dried up, and nothing moved on the page.
“This feels kind of like a slow, climbing out kind of time… The Six of Pentacles is wanting to work with you to make sure that the things that you do lend your time and energy to… you feel as if you can make them something larger than what other people could perceive them to be.”
I approached everything with open-ended questions and, for a while, expected them to be answered by someone other than me. Soon after I cut off my hair I went out with a group of girls I’d gotten to know through work (we’re all journalists, and when we get drunk we get very loud about it), and who, at the time, I was only beginning to feel comfortable calling my friends. We went out to celebrate change, as if it were more exciting than terrifying. I had to get ready in the bathroom at work—reading the last news bulletin with my coat on, checking my makeup on the way down in the elevator (that’s how I lived; in the spaces between everything else), realising I’m a worse hairdresser than my bedroom mirror, at midnight, would lead me to believe. We got stunningly drunk and latched onto a group of older men. My friend was under the impression this would mean free drinks, but what it ended up being was me, reassuring a middle-aged man who installed sprinklers in apartment buildings for a living, that what he was doing was worthwhile.
When my life had less structure I would wake up from a night out with the same friends I went to sleep with, on some sinking couch at the back of a parents house, remembering all at once how I acted, who I was with, what I told them. I would watch my friend’s faces, waiting for them to reveal their concern, or disgust. Whatever reaction I had stirred up with my vulnerabilities. Give me a few hours and I would get over the headache, the nausea, and then just feel raw. It’s how I felt all spring. Like a gash. And the wording is supposed to make you wince, because it’s painful.
Three days into spring I got up at seven in the morning to swim before work, the maximum temperature set to be the highest it had been in months. It took me an hour on a train and a bus to get to the coast, a trip that would soon become familiar but at the time was new. It took effort to inch into the water, each wave peaking higher on my body until it was up to my chin. This is a little bit how it felt, going from anonymity in a new city to a fully-fledged, fully-exposed person in a new home. The sting of salt water in your eyes when you swim in the ocean for the first time in months.
“I think this is your time to walk more softly. And because you're walking more softly, there's a hell of a lot more you're getting done... even if you feel you can't fully soak up the present just yet, it doesn't matter. As long as you're at least exposed to it, it will infiltrate somehow, at some point.”
I woke up to myself in the water. The sun sets over the sea in Perth, but to see the sun set in Sydney I would need to turn my back on the waves. That didn’t matter. My family, every member of it, was back home. That didn’t matter either. My want to stay still was has been overwhelming. I didn’t want to move out of the water, off the beach, or back across the country. The fear I felt leaving home wasn’t gone. It had just taken a while to catch up. When it did, I took it on. But something had tipped. I became afraid of leaving this place, and not just Sydney. My street, my house, and on some days, my bed. Big or small. I’d become a different person to fill the space; I wasn’t willing to give that person up. All the good things: laughing and crying for no good reason with friends I could dance with, and all the bad things: crying and laughing at the frustration of work and grocery shopping and having to shower. This is what I wanted—want. I’m almost ashamed of how simple it is to listen to myself.
“The Five of Swords towards the Six of Pentacles… Just an absolute understanding that the past is the past, the present is what you’re paying attention to, and you’re also acknowledging your future, and the kinds of people you want to have in your future, gathered around you.”
Summer forecasts are like bad omens. All we have are humid days spent waiting for storms, suffocating under sheets at night. I’m well prepared for this: I have a fan and an ice tray, with the hollow spaces all shaped like stars. With the heat I feel myself sinking into this place—calling Sydney home, calling Perth home too. Learning that I can have more than one. I get everything I wanted; a year passes. Time is overlapping now, and I learn to read tarot myself. I start by tapping on the deck a few times, holding it to my chest, paying attention to my breathing. There’s weight to a tarot deck that gives me comfort, holding it so close. Most of the time, holding it there, I ask, What do I need to pay attention to that I’m not already? What do I need to see that I’m not already?
“It's so much about you being able to explore from a much deeper perspective, and taking it really seriously, and not just rushing forward because other people think it would be a really good time for you to rush forward. You know, you take it slow. And again it's that taking it slow energy, but, it's... I think it's becoming your superpower.”
That’s all this is—a chance to sit with myself, to breathe, to ask myself questions. Why is this place better than any other? This street, this job, these people? Why are you happy here, away from your family? How can you possibly be happy? All the while aware that you, being away, happy, is causing other people pain?
“How did she overtake the whole world? Just by going slow, and creeping around, and showing people that there are other ways to be successful, other than through this really showy, full-on kind of attitude…. It’s how you are within yourself… I think that's what you're starting to prepare yourself for.”
I shuffle the deck, take out three cards and lay them flat: past, present, future. Then, one at a time, I turn them over to face me. Nothing I see is an answer.
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