Meghan Guidry’s essay, Mourning The Unknowable: A Daughter Comes To Hold Her Vanishing, Remote Mother As A Myth, tells a story about the levels of communication that we may establish through the making of personal mythos. This is a story about telling stories in order to bridge gaps and make order for a past that was only chaos.
Meghan Guidry has sharp philosophical skills and a point of view that naturally speaks in multiplicity. She hears and sees from a variety of perspectives simultaneously. Her insights are valuable and the doors they open offer opportunities for endless exploration.
Meghan’s mother suffered a deep unrest in her psyche. An unrest, a distress, that disabled her capacity to keep a job or a relationship or a steady place to sleep. She lived on a dreamscape made of synchronicities and secret messages. Her world was a combination of never-ending betrayals and of magical, expansive meanings. To stay in her life one had to stay in her favor and to stay in her favor one had to submit completely to the ever-changing parameters and expectations of the world that erupted from her imagination. Even her daughter had to submit to the wild swings and often outlandish proclamations of an unseen world in order to keep her mother reachable.
This essay is visceral. Meghan Guidry’s writing is so physical, so truly real that I felt her fear. I felt the jagged isolation of a young woman lying awake knowing her mother was out in the streets because she lives in the streets and there was nothing anyone could do to change it; even ‘help’ would only mean locking up an indomitable spirit. I felt it all. Meghan’s writing is deeply physical, she builds these rooms inside her paragraphs and you can sit inside these spaces and get the feel of the place.
Meghan also reads Tarot cards. She learned this art from her mother who used the cards to construct and interpret a world where only she herself would ever live. For Meghan, the cards were a language that could, at least, hold her mother in some physical proximity though they would never bring true knowledge of her mother as a person.
Meghan Guidry has a viewpoint on the cards that is profound and utterly unique. She continues to embrace the possibilities and the healing properties of Tarot work even though she knows that a mind without solace may grow destructive conclusions from the narrative of the cards because such a mind works that way. If you have ever loved someone who follows ‘the signs’ without regard for any other means of operating a human life, you will gain much from Meghan Guidry’s personal story. If you don’t know how this feels, get an idea: Click here to read Mourning The Unknowable.
“Meghan Guidry is a poet, novelist, essayist, and librettist currently living in Boston, MA. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College and a Masters of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School, where she studied bioethics, medical anthropology, and political philosophy. Her work explores themes of bodies and boundaries, with a particular focus on the intersections of myth, memory, and medicine. Her work has appeared in The Pitkin Review, The Wick Journal, Applied Sentience, The Harvard Divinity Bulletin, and others. Her first novel Light and Skin was published by Empty City Press in 2010, and her second book Kinesiophobia is scheduled for release in 2017. Meghan is also a working librettist, and has collaborated with composers on several original pieces, including Roots and Wings (c. Oliver Caplan), which was performed by the Handel Society of Dartmouth College. She wrote libretto for The Little Blue One (c. Dominick DiOrio), a new opera performed by Juventas New Music Ensemble in 2014. She is currently working on Tarography, and experimental interactive poem, and a new musical collaboration with Oliver Caplan focused on climate change.”
Michelle // Let’s start with one of your current projects titled Tarography. I have only a handful of words about it, but my intrigue is vast. Can you describe the process of this work to some degree and then we will talk a bit more specifically about the insight of your life experience.
Meghan // Absolutely. Tarography is, in many ways, the sequel to A Place on Earth. Because my mother was obsessed with Tarot, and because the cards themselves dictated her lifeworld, I’ve long felt that the only way I could authentically write about her is through that structure. But, the problem I’ve had with many Tarot-poetry books is that they’re static. The cards themselves are meant to be moved, turned, to be rearranged–I was missing that in Tarot poetry. So Tarography is a moveable poem where each stanza is linked to a card. You can read the cards from start to finish in order for one story, but you can also draw poems by picking cards and arranging/rearranging them. This felt like the authentic way to tell my mother’s story, and my story of her: because there’s no way to tell one person’s perspective with any kind of authority (especially when there’s a question of mental illness involved), it felt right to have this piece that, by nature, is always unfinished.
Michelle // Tarot is the never ending story, yes. I get that, I love that. All of this is an amazing concept and it goes directly with what people are thirsty for these days. We need stories that are large enough to hold us. When mental health is brought in, we need an even larger picture just to be compassionate with ourselves. This poem is an important construction.
What was the first story about your mother that you committed into writing?
Meghan // What you said about the need for stories large enough to hold us is exactly right. I’ve long felt that experimental forms create that space, and that those spaces are vital. Especially, as you so insightfully said, when questions of mental health are brought in. And in addition to the need for compassion, there’s also a need for dissociation. Not in a clinical sense, but in the sense of giving space to accommodate the myriad self. Who I am at work is different in some ways than who I am with friends or at home, and these are normal and natural shifts that humans engage in everyday. So, I think there’s such an urgency for work that provides–or at least give potentiality to–that space and its recognition.
Your question about the first story about my mother is really interesting. I tried, and failed, for years to write her. I’ve seen vestiges of her and our relationship in many of my pieces, but I could never write about her, only around her. Partially, it was because I knew her view of her life world was so drastically different than my experience of my own and hers under her care, and that’s something I want to pay attention to and represent in any work I do about her. In some ways, the first card of Tarography is the first piece of writing I ever did about her that felt authentic and right. It’s for The Fool card, and the stanza is:
Perhaps the pact
Was always this:
I will believe everything you say
Michelle // The physicality for me is big. As you were typing I was thinking of the feelings your essay gave me– I’ve been thinking about how to describe it. Vertigo was the word that just came. Indeed The Fool falls from the cliff. It’s tremendously visceral. Maybe more so for me because of my relationship with the cards. This stanza is a perfect description and gets to a big feeling that came across through your essay was this suspension that occurs when you know you have to say you believe her in order to keep her. Vertigo.
In picking up this tool as your own do you use it to read for yourself? Do you hold a spiritual practice that involves the deck that is strictly personal for you? Did you make your own relationship with the cards?
Meghan / / Your point about physicality is also a crucial component to this that gets to the heart of the answer to your questions. As a teenager, I had a personal Tarot practice, though I didn’t have a set cosmology that accompanied it. I think I was looking for something that articulated the act of seeking something beyond this world, but that could be rooted in it. The cards, to me, provided that physical manifestation of questioning, even though I didn’t know then (and still don’t know now) what it is I’m seeking answers from.
In my 20s, after my mother passed away, I put the cards away for a while. It wasn’t a decisive action. I just didn’t know how to engage with them. I picked them up again in my late 20s because a friend wanted a reading, and even now, I mostly use the cards for others. However, in that gap between adolescence and now, what I discovered is that there are particular physical and mental sensations I have when using those cards that I find in other activities. Like, when I go swimming, for the first 10 minutes or so, my brain is very much “on.” I’m thinking about my day or working through problems or overly focusing on my movements in the water. But at some point, the momentum of what I’m doing takes over, and everything goes on autopilot. The action then becomes very meditative, similar to that free fall central to The Fool. And my brain, or the conscious part of it, shuts off. I’m always amazed at the ideas I have when I’m in the middle of swimming, and most of them are related to my writing. The sensation is similar to how I felt reading Tarot: it’s another way of putting a physical condition on an act of seeking outside of what we might consider physical constraints. So, I don’t read the cards as much or as intentionally now, but I’ve been slowly finding other iterations of that process in different domains so that I can weave that process more intentionally into my daily life.
Michelle // Body memory work. It’s interesting to bring that into the work with cards. As a teacher of Tarot I get into using shuffling as an indicator to the deeper self that help is coming, that self-care has begun. It works for me, maybe it balances the hemispheres, I don’t know, but it begins a process that brings me down from anxiety or confusion. Then the questions. As I talk to cards, I am focussed on asking logically ordered questions. It’s all body work. That’s deep work whether it uses cards or other mechanisms.
How do you see mythology in relationship to psychological healing, or physical healing for that matter?
Meghan // I think the body memory work you described is key, and as we talk, I’m having vivid memories of how the cards snapping down on a surface feel in my hands. It’s so key, this kind of physical orientation as a part of or a signal of a ritual beginning. Regardless of whether that ritual is private or public-facing, there’s always some kind of physical orientation to it, and I love the way you describe your relationship to shuffling as a physical signal that help is coming. It’s like a beacon, in a sense.
My favorite Tarot deck is the one my mother bought me when I was thirteen: Clive Barrett’s The Ancient Egyptian Tarot. The Major Arcana are all deities or key scenes from Egyptian mythology, which I’ve been reading since I was in third grade. For me, the link between myth and physical and psychological healing has always been kind of a given. I think, often, in mythological terms. It’s like a common language: if someone else is familiar with the basic tenets of a given myth, you can start there to cultivate shared understanding and empathy. But likewise, because myths are so ensconced, you can tweak certain elements of them to highlight particular challenges, or to crystallize a perspective. That kind of tinkering is very powerful, because you’re playing with something that’s so ingrained. It provides a kind of necessary shock. And for me, that shock, that twisting of the expected and ingrained, is often both what causes injury and what is required to heal from it. On a simple physical level, if you move your body in a way that you don’t normally, you pull a muscle or pinch a nerve. The healing often requires moving your body in a way you don’t normally move it to coax something back into balance. Psychologically, I think it’s helpful to have these set story arcs that you can play with, move through, twist, place yourself into (or use mythic figures as avatars), because it forces you to engage with yourself in ways that aren’t habitual, and in doing so, it creates the space for growth or for healing. It also gives a loose arc towards completion through the myth itself, so it’s almost a kind of motivation, or at least a defense against the unknown.
It’s like the difference between apophatic and kataphatic discourse in theology: apophatic approaches are negating, and you say what something isn’t; kataphatic is where you affirm what something is. Often, these are used in describing how different theologians in the Christian tradition approached understanding and describing God. But I think mythology is incredible because it lets you do both simultaneously. Because the stories are set, you’re automatically engaging in kataphatic analysis, but because the stories are set, you get these really clear images about what something isn’t or what doesn’t resonate. And, if we’re taking healing to be synonymous with purposeful understanding that moves us towards something more authentic or more harmonious, then myth is an incredibly powerful tool for holding these two tensions conscious in a way that’s already been mapped.
Michelle // Organization of thoughts, feelings, and images. The completion you
mentioned, anything traumatic automatically lacks meaning, lacks reasons– or I should say, the traumas that make us suffer– mythology can give this way of making reason, making a story with the possibility of resolution. It’s huge. Purposeful understanding. I’ve been teaching the cards as a map, too. Amazing work to undertake. There is always too much to say at this level of working with the ‘book disguised as a deck of cards’.
Are you planning to make Tarography as a deck? How will we interact with this poem?
Meghan // I couldn’t agree more about how there is always so much to say, about the book-as-deck, about the question of mapping and how we build them. In an older essay I wrote called A Place on Earth, I talked about grief and trauma as violent destructions of maps, and what remains is something akin to old sea charts where the immediate area is mapped, but everything else is sea monsters. And a lot of the work of moving through loss and upheaval is going to interrogate the areas where we see Krakens on the map. I think it’s such a powerful point you’ve made and powerful work you’re doing around using the cards as a map.
For Tarography, my hope is that it will be printed as a deck. I have some ideas already for the artwork, and I think that could be really effective not just as visuals, but as a physical artifact. I’m also exploring how to create a digital version that offers interactivity as well, though we’re very early in that process. I don’t know if the image I see in my mind can translate to digital form, but I’m working with a friend of mine who is both a poet and a programmer on how to make that version a reality.
Michelle // Trauma tears up the map. It does this absolutely. And yes, everything else is sea monsters. I love your description. You used Hunger like a map. Our stories of escape and survival and the creative pursuit of making a place to just be inside of our own skin–these are all maps we can share with each other.
Do you have a specific memory of something you did when you were young that makes you feel strong and capable despite the reason you had to act as you did? We make these maps and we mark treasures where we find them, right?
Meghan // Absolutely. I think one thing I did as a child that makes me feel strong and capable now is that I would always listen to music and create stories around and for the songs. It started because I would get very nauseous in cars, and we figured out that listening to music was a good distraction. So I got a little portable tape player and a few cassettes, and would listen to them over and over again. When I was doing that, I would often pay attention to the lyrics, and try to imagine stories that would fit with the songs. Over time, I began to try and map what I was seeing outside the car window (and later on, what I would see on walks and on the train) to the music as well. It became an unintentional exercise in drawing connections and narravatizing the world around me in a deeply personal and private way. When I was younger, doing this always made me feel like I was growing and making connections. Now, it functions more as a grounding practice, as a way to go back into my head and make sense of myriad events from the day. Ultimately, it’s how I parse stimuli into stories, and how I try to keep those things connected intentionally.
Michelle // Wow. Yes! We all need to look deep and find the things that make us strong even though we learn them when life is overwhelming. Thank you so much for this talk, Meghan.
Read From: A Place On Earth (which deserves its’ own conversation)
Find Meghan on twitter: @MeghanGuidry1