Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Devil, The Lovers, & Me

Kimberlee Auerbach really needs to be bottled and sold. She's fresh, funny, and she's written this glorious memoir that I absolutely love,
The Devil, the Lovers, & Me: My Life in Tarot that I raved about in my column in Dame Magazine

Kimberlee was gracious enough to allow me to pepper her with questions, too.

1. The structure of the book, with each chapter jumping off from a specific tarot card, is really part of its wildly unique charm. How and why did you decide to do the book this way?

I played around a lot with structure during the crafting of my one-woman show. I consulted a great dramaturge/director, Scott Embler, who kept telling me that the audience, and in this case, the reader, “wants to go on a journey with you, wants to understand things when you understand them.” If there is no journey, there is no discovery, so we made the choice to have the tarot reading span the course of one night, having it all unfold in real time, creating two protagonist arcs—the person in Iris’s apartment who is being illuminated by the reading and the person in all the flashbacks who is being illuminated by life experiences. I originally had it structured in a less dramatic way: I went to a tarot reader, she pulled some cards, I was like, what the hell, and then during the course of my life, the lessons started to click. Not bad, but not as good.

2. I see in the PR notes that you read tarot yourself, and as a fledgling tarot reader myself, I'm fascinated. How did you begin reading the cards? Do you read for others? (And who was that West Village tarot reader? I think I want to go.)

My older half-sister Lisa introduced me to tarot when I was in high school. She’s seven years older, so when I was a junior, she was already well on her way to establishing a career in New York City. The rest of my family and I lived in New Jersey at the time, so I’d hop on a bus and visit her for the weekend. We’d stay up late, light candles, listen to reggae and read her Mother Earth cards. I loved the magic of it, not the Ouija board of it, but the ritual aspect of it. When she got married for the first time in Squim, Washington a few years later, I bought my first deck, Healing Earth Tarot, with all these woodland creatures and crystals and bolts of fire. I loved it. There was one card of a woman inside an elevated cage, clutching the bars, screaming to the heavens in such incredible pain. Behind her, the door to the cage was open. She could leave at any moment, but was too focused on her pain to see her freedom. That really resonated with me, and thus started my tarot deck collecting and studying. I used to think the cards could tell the future, but the more I read them, the more I understood that they’re more like a Rorschach inkblot test than a tool for divination. I read cards for people all the time. Sometimes I get paid. Sometimes I do it for free. Other times I do it for charity. When I visit book clubs, I talk about my book and then read cards for everyone, which is a lot of fun. (Hey, all you book clubs out there, I’m here and available for you!)

As for Iris, she’s really my inner crone/wise woman. The two tarot readers I based her character on are Yris, who used to read tarot at a little place on Greenwich Avenue, which shut down a couple of years ago, and Carole Murray, who is still seeing clients on the Upper West Side. They’re both great, safe, insightful and super kind readers. I’d be happy to give you their number. I’ve met a few other ones since. We should tawk!

3. One of the many things I loved about this memoir was your notion that we make our own futures, that the cards merely act as a guide. Can you talk a little more about this? What do you think people can gain from a tarot reading--and what shouldn't they expect?

Well, unfortunately, there are a lot of scam artists out there, which is why tarot has such a bad rep. They prey on vulnerable and weak people. A while back, a friend of mine stopped into one of those neon sign storefront psychic shops. The reader told her that someone had put a curse on her and in order to get rid of it, my friend had to give her $300. She promised to say a little prayer and put the money under her mattress. My friend felt bullied, asked where the nearest ATM was, and came back with the money. RUN, if anyone tells you that they need to put your hard-earned money under their mattress in order to lift a curse. There are other readers who are psychic. They often use the cards as an access point to the collective unconscious or a higher intuitive wavelength. If you go to one of those readers, they could very well be right on target and tell you what you need to hear. They might helpful and insightful, but I would warn against giving anyone else too much power. I believe we have choice in every moment and can shift our lives based on belief and action. Nothing is written in stone. I prefer the kind of reading where the seeker does most of the work. When I give readings, I let people make their own connections. I simply tell them what the placement means, what the cards mean in that placement. I will point out themes, tie things together, but mostly, I back off. To me, gentle guidance is the way to go.

4. Your relationship with Noah is fascinating because it doesn't end up with marriage, but it most certainly ends up with a strong and wonderful love between the two of you. You talk about "not holding on so tight." Can you say a bit more about that and why that's the way to go?

Have you seen the movie Out of Africa? I think it handles love and attachment and the desire to own things and people so beautifully. Karen, played by Meryl Streep, moves to a farm in Africa, and over time, learns that she has little to no control over the land and that she can’t hold onto anything. When it comes down to it, we own nothing and no one. We are simply here for when we are here, love when we love. It’s a very Buddhist message. I’m not a Buddhist per se, and I’m certainly no Buddha. I struggle all the time with this concept. I am constantly reminding myself to let go, to love openly, to be free, to let others be free. I loved Noah and still do. I broke up with him a couple of months before my book came out, because we were still stuck and had become unhappy. I kept thinking marriage would be a panacea, that my needs would be fulfilled if we walked down the isle, if he committed the rest of his life to me. It would have been a disaster. I really believe some people come into our lives to teach us lessons, to help us grow and heal and learn. That’s what we did for each other. I still believe in marriage, but if I ever get married, I want it to be that we both keep showing up because we want to, because there is flow, because we know that loving is risky business and scary-as-shit, but we do it anyway, in the face of potential loss, change and death. We do it until we don’t want to do it anymore or until we die. I know, so dramatic. I used to think I could control people… if I was loving enough, pretty enough, perfect enough, then someone would never leave me. I don’t want to have to work so hard. I also think it’s much better to focus on loving than being loved. I think when you love you experience love, which means you can always have love in your life. Love is not something you can touch or hold onto or grip, and when you try to keep it the same, you suffocate it. That is what I have learned.

4. I'm obsessively fascinated with how writers work. Can you talk a bit about what your writing day looks like?

When I was writing my book, I tried to listen and pay attention to my rhythms. There were days I could write for ten hours straight and other days I would be lucky to be able to concentrate for ten minutes. I think it’s about finding your flow and not forcing the moment. Also, I am a firm believer in something Natalite Goldberg said, “If you are a writer, you are writing even when you are not writing.” That’s not an exact quote, but you get the point.

6. What are you working on now--and why does it obsess or interest you?

I am playing around with a few ideas. I want to veer into a self-help/self-transformational direction. I’m really interested in healing… in helping people, especially women, live more authentic, joy-filled lives.

7. I have to ask you about your job at Fox News because I know from the Observer article about you that you got a lot of flack about it. Do you feel that as a writer, it's easier in a way to take these soul-killing kinds of jobs because you can escape into your imagination and/or because everything is material in some way? (And will this be material?)

When I took the job at Fox, I was a kid, well, 25. I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted to do. I thought I wanted to do on-air hosting, which I could still see myself doing. I thought working behind the scenes would be like going to graduate school, which in some ways it was. Oh, how we justify our lives away. After a couple of years, when I knew it was not the job for me, fear kept me there, fear of the unknown, fear of trying something new. And then, when I figured out I was a storyteller and writer, I wanted to put all my energy into that, instead of looking for a new job. I figured there would come a point when I could take a leap into a new life, and sure enough, I was right. I just had no idea it would take 9 years! I feel so grateful for the leap I took, for my new life. The cool thing about leaps is the unexpected. I used to dread not knowing what my life was going to look like, and now I find magic in it. My book helped me stumble upon a great, new, unexpected passion: teaching. I love it so much. I love helping people unearth and form their own stories. It gives me so much joy. I look forward to letting more new, unexpected passions unfold in the empty space I have created for myself.

7. What question didn't I ask that I should have?

Hmmmm. How about what am I reading now? You can check out my vlog on A New Earth:

8. Will you read my tarot cards? (Just kidding.)

Hells yeah!


Clea Simon said...

Lovely interview - now I've got to find this book!

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