The card game

cards 1

The card game was rigged, Pat was sure of it. The cards didn’t look right. How could Pat know anything anymore? The queen of diamonds – was that a queen? Pat was sure there was a shadow of a mustache. Was that a crown or a helmet? Was this an omen of a fight?

The dealer smiled and shrugged. “Them’s the cards. You gonna study them or play them? ‘Cause I don’t have time for art dealers.”

Of course, he didn’t say any of this in English. But even Mandarin has dialects like backwoods Alabama does. Every language does. It doesn’t matter what the phrasebooks say – there’s always a casual under-language, a side-speech. People use it when they get comfortable, switching into it the same way they switch into pajamas when they get home. Just like with pajamas, they don’t do it around strangers or those they want to impress. You have to be in, like family or a close friend to see a person’s real side.

Pat wasn’t sure why the dealer was talking like this.  They’d only known each other a week.  This dialect that was meant to make someone feel more comfortable was making Pat feel more and more nervous instead.  This wasn’t a good way to start. It could very well be the end.

“It’s just that I don’t recognize the cards, that’s all. I’m distracted. Do you have another set?”

Pat didn’t want to be distracted. Return-home money was riding on this game. Play it well and Pat was gone. Play it badly and Pat stayed, a slave. Sure they treat their “visitors” well here, but certain freedoms would disappear, along with Pat’s identity cards. Only the spirits knew what could happen when someone has no name, no birthdate. They weren’t telling, as usual.

“Sure. I saved these. I found them in an old junk store a dozen years ago. See? I’m helping you out.”   He fanned out the new cards on the battered wooden table.

 

card 3

Pat studied the new deck. The images were familiar, but the shape wasn’t. Round? The image on the back looked ancient too.

cards 2

Surely these were marked cards with all those petals and leaves. A dot here and a missing petal there, and the dealer would know at a glance whether you were bluffing or winning. Best to try and conceal them as much as possible.

Pat was grateful for his large hands. It was his only advantage now. The dealer wouldn’t change the deck again, that was for sure. It was best not to push him.

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(This story was inspired by a pack of ephemera I bought from Etsy. It included some very unusual playing cards.  The story was limited by the size of the page I glued the ephemera to.  I didn’t use pronouns with the main character because I wanted the gender to be ambiguous.)

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The always not-quite-ness of being an artist.

Part of being an artist is always feeling incomplete. If you were content, you have no need to create. You would not have a lack, a hole, a vacuum, an emptiness. Artists create to fill that blank space. They must.
But the problem is that they never feel complete. They make the painting, the poem, the play, the piano sonata – and it isn’t enough. They still don’t feel done. The piece may be good enough for now, but it is never what they saw in their heads. So they have to try to fix it, or make another one, or move onto another project.
It is like living in a world where you can hear another language in your head, but you can’t ever fully speak it. Just trying to say the words is like speaking with your mouth full of water. Yet you keep trying, because to not try means to not communicate at all.
The language you were given as a child, be it English, Russian, Somali, Korean, is a pale second to your first language, which is being creative. Then, because nobody teaches you how to speak that language, you are constantly frustrated in trying to express yourself.
Yet the more you try, the better you get. Try learning different techniques from other artists, either in person or in a book. Get different art supplies. Learn a different thing entirely. If you paint, write a poem. If you write plays, learn to play the guitar. Art is art is art and it all feeds into the well you draw on to find your “words”.
Make something every day, even if it is a small something. Be okay with not being perfect. The only failure is to not try at all. Instead of getting frustrated at that not-enough feeling, learn to embrace it as why you create. Without it, you’d be a robot.

Communication connection

I’m starting to see a connection with all the classes I’ve been taking on my own, the art I’ve been making, and the tutoring I’m doing. It is all about communication – in as many different ways as possible. It is about giving other people permission, as well as different ways, to express themselves.

Pastoral care, the Circle Process, Dialogue in Diversity training, the Remo Healthrhythms Facilitator training – they are all classes I’ve paid for. Tutoring and the classes I’ve taught in prayer bracelets – that has been without pay (mostly) and taken my free time. This is all in addition to working a full-time job.

Something has driven me to take these classes, but I didn’t know what the unifying theme was until now. At the heart of it, all conversation is about communion – our connection with each other, with our own selves, with the Divine. If that sounds too out there, I can say it is about connection to yourself and others.

And that is part of it too. I want to include as many people at once. All races, all cultures, all levels of understanding and ability. This involves learning about different ways of learning, different cultural norms, different myths and legends that shape us. This involves leveling the playing field for everybody – nobody is higher. We are all working together.

I also want people to be able to express themselves not only so they will feel understood, but so that they will understand themselves. Just because English is your native language doesn’t mean that you feel comfortable communicating in it. You may write well, but don’t like speaking out loud. You may speak well, but are embarrassed about your handwriting. Or you can’t spell because you are dyslexic.

I want to remove all of these barriers between people. I want to learn as many tools as possible to get people not only talking with each other but also listening to themselves. Dance, singing, drumming, fingerpainting, puppetry, beading – whatever. I want to learn as many ways to communicate as possible.

It is critical to get out feelings. I believe that unexpressed feelings are the source of all addiction and many diseases. I believe that giving people different ways to communicate is as important as providing equal access to buildings by making them handicap accessible.

We are all handicapped in one way or another. Written and spoken language is artificial. We aren’t born speaking or writing our “native” language. It is an arbitrary system of sounds and shapes assigned to the things around us. It is symbolic, and often difficult to use.