8 min read

the sexual/spiritual benefits of owning a trash can

On reading tarot and owning furniture.

Textile designer Pauline Caulfield’s art-filled home and studio in Primrose Hill (that she's rented for 48 years). (The Modern House)

I recently broke the seal on my divination ban. At the nascent beginnings of summer here in Chicago, I deliberately hexed myself. I cast a spell that would prevent me from understanding the tarot whenever I tried to look into my own future. My favorite deck at the time had grown increasingly distant anyway. The austere watercolor portraits of the Aquarian deck looked at me with pity and cold disgust. You’re trying to see the future, again? It seemed to scoff. You know what’ll happen? Stuff. Its answers were vague and vaguer, making little sense to me. I grew frustrated with the deck and with myself, frustrated with how compulsively I’d ask the cards about every single thing. What will happen if I leave my room today? What will happen if I go outside? What will happen if I move out of my apartment and couch surf for a couple months? What will happen if I stay? The universe was fed up with my questions and so was I. 

It’s been a couple months since then and the hex has been beneficial. I think of ADHD, anxiety, depression as a sort of time sickness, a condition that warps your perception of the passage of time and of your insight. Anxiety feels a lot like being plagued with these visions of the future, constant branching paths, everything bad or good but mostly bad that could happen to you. ADHD is like seeing multiple timelines overlaid at the same time, multiple trains of thought, but not necessarily the track you need to be on.

Tarot was a way for me to relinquish control from all these visions – or so I thought. In my messy little room there at the beginning of summer, I was using tarot to grasp for control over my futures, my life. I wanted to wield the universe like a big sea bass in my arms, fish it out of the murky water, wrestle with it, carve it up, eat it. But really, all this grasping around in the dark was because I didn’t trust myself anymore. What the hell did I know about anything?


The months without tarot forced me into the present. I could not escape the very second, the very minute I was living in. I moved out of my apartment and started traipsing around the west coast, hopping from friend's house to friend's house. I blew up any future I understood and everything beyond my little trek across California seemed like a couple lifetimes away - a pointless theory, nothing more. Without anything to hold on to,  I let go. I never had any idea what was going on, and stopped trying to figure it out. Every 24 hours a new 24 hours. It was great. 

Twice over the summer in moments of weakness, I did try to read my tarot and the cards looked like strange gibberish. Okay I relented I won’t read them. I'll surrender. I'm a piece of driftwood in the ocean. And then, at some point, the deck disappeared completely. 

The Aquarian Tarot. No longer in my possession.

When I landed back in Chicago, I had trouble leaving that ever present moment. My friends and I moved all my stuff into my new apartment on the north side. I turned the power on. My bed in the bedroom, my desk near the kitchen, an inherited couch in the living room. My walls bare, the apartment mostly negative space, but the essentials were all there. If the summer taught me anything, it was that I feel at home in the vicinity of someone I loved, everything else was just extra. I spent 9 long, long, long weeks sleeping in rooms where the only thing I owned were the clothes in my suitcase - and that was just fine! Does living in my own place really mean I need to get more stuff? Can't I just, like, hang out with some people?

I got so used to feeling at home in the ephemeral moment, in conversations with family, in the quiet co-existence in a friend's house surrounded by their stuff. Their homes. I was like a second, smaller crab cuddled up in the cozy shell of another hermit. It was freeing. But then I spent all of October and most of November feeling a bit unsettled. The inertia of throwing myself into the chaotic winds of the universe hadn’t run out yet. As much as I tried to see the next year in this apartment, maybe longer, I couldn't help but feel that filling it with stuff felt sort of pointless. Aren’t I just going to leave anyway? If not soon, then surely at some point? I felt liberated by the emptiness of my apartment actually - no abundance of junk accumulating anywhere, no furniture to sit on, but my clothes fit in the hangers in the closet and in an open suitcase on the ground. If I’m not working at my desk I prefer to be laying on the floor anyway. 

Kiki's Apartment. At least she had a cat. Kiki's Delivery Service.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, or if you’ve inferred it by this point, but I’m constantly thinking about death. My own mortality, and the looming death that all living organisms must face, have faced, will face. My time on this earth, like my time in this apartment, is limited, but I don’t feel ambivalent on using the fuck out of my time here. I love decorating the earth with my words, playing music, dancing, I love walking and talking and eating with friends and strangers. I wanna be here while I’m here, really be here. But I can’t bring myself to put any of the art I own up on the walls. I can’t bring myself to buy any furniture or a small sauce pot to boil oatmeal in or a proper spatula to flip eggs with. I mean, I have the big pot, don’t I? I’ve gotten pretty good at frying an egg with a fork without breaking the yolk. And like, death really could come at any moment.

I know we’ve all been looking at the most extreme violence humanity has witnessed in 200 or so years for the last two months - but it feels like I’ve been looking at it for most of my life. History books, the news, social media – look around, man. Read one gay zine from the 90s and you feel the pain throbbing out at you across space and time. (the joy, too, but the pain, the pain, the pain.) The way the climate is heating up and bleaching coral, killing fish, killing humans. I feel like I've been staring down at this onslaught of needless, pointless, death all around me for my whole life and in the lives before this one.

There’s the calculated cruelty of the state, which I’m constantly aware of, and then there’s the disinterested entropy of the universe. I could slip and fall the wrong way down the stairs and die. My neighbor could accidentally start a fire and the flames could lick the flesh off my bones. An icicle could impale me through the chest during a walk around the block.

This whole, death constantly on my mind thing has, lately, compelled me to try and spend most of my free time hanging out with people or working. The mundane things seem a little less pressing - shopping for a table, spending 50 or 80 bucks on a freaking trash can, it seems like a misplacement of what little resources I have at the moment. 

But maybe, I could benefit from hunkering down. Forcing myself to put some fucking art up. To acquire a trash can so that my garbage bag does not hang limply from the back door. I mean, I love objects. I love art. I love being in someone else’s home and seeing all their stuff every where. Perhaps there aren’t any concrete spiritual or sexual benefits to acquiring a table for my living room, but I could put something on it, something that represents me and what I adore. And when someone comes over and sees it, they could see a part of me on display. Maybe it's not that it matters, but the very privilege of having a space with some semblance of continuity, that, theoretically, this little box is mine to decorate for a couple months and to squander the opportunity to fill it with beauty and life and art is a damn shame. Maybe to leave my apartment bare is to say: I don't have hope. It's to offer my home, my shell, my mortal coil up to the specter of death, to give myself to the state on a silver platter. I knew you were going to kill me anyway, so I didn't even try.

And, like, what the fuck? I don't want to say that.

The acquisition of stuff, the decorating of a home, however temporary, maybe it’s like a prayer. It’s like, I’m going to be here a little longer and I want it to be nice while I’m here. It's like, this matters, in some way. I’m not going to spontaneously combust tomorrow (hopefully). This matters. Or maybe this doesn't matter, maybe tomorrow I will choke and die and I'm still hanging this poster up on the wall anyway and that's beautiful. Or maybe that little bit of intimacy when someone comes over and says hey, nice table, and I tell them about the weirdo on Facebook I bought it from and why I like it so much, maybe that will have made it all worth the effort of hauling the fucking thing up to my third floor apartment. 

Cueva de las Manos. The art was created in several waves between 7,300 BC and 700 AD, during the Archaic period of pre-Columbian South America. (Wikipedia)

But yeah, I undid that hex I placed on myself. First by acquiring a new set of cards: the infamous Thoth, and then by using it. I’ve been a little intimidated by this deck for most of my witchy career, some of the readings being pointed reversals of the traditional tarot, and the art being packed with thousands of symbols. But now, it’s association with Crowley and sex magic and apocalyptic rituals, its hedonism and blend of eastern and western mysticism, all of that really appeal to me.

I asked my new cards what I should use them for and it answered: telling the brutal truth, having fun, and being naughty.

For the first couple of readings I do a bit of tarot spying. First for me and then for Aja (we are having a sleepover when I break the hex). Tarot spying is something that I felt sort of bad about doing in the past, maybe because I have proven to have eerily accurate predictions of what other people are up to at any given moment. While I was overcome, head to toe, with an erotic horripilation and a borderline voyeuristic thrill to be able to read the tarot again, to do a bit of light spying, I also felt a simple, exquisite respite in knowing that there’s a future to be had at all. 

Sometimes you don’t survive whole, you just survive in part. But the grandeur of life is that attempt. It’s not about that solution. It is about being as fearless as one can, and behaving as beautifully as one can. Toni Morrison on Trauma, Survival, and Finding Meaning

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