On Not Being Able to Read by Jessa Crispin

Illustration by Jen May
Illustration by Jen May


I can’t make sense of what is in front of me.

I’m doing the same Celtic Cross spread that I have done for myself for years. I’ve always had a difficult time reading cards for myself — a lot of us do. We see things we want to see, skip over nuance, get distracted by that 10 of Swords or Devil laughing in the corner and decide, “Now’s not a good time, I’ll try again later.”

But lately, it’s like the cards are being willfully obtuse. Spitting out cards that do not relate, that do not come together into any kind of recognizable story. The cards don’t feel like they’re for me, that they are at all tied into my experience. I put the deck away.

I read for someone else. The cards cohere, they constellate. I find the story and I read it out. You are here, you want to be there, here is how to go to there.

Inspired by the clarity, I spread the cards again for myself. I get only nonsense in response.

Traitors, I yell.


I am in a weird place. I mean that literally and figuratively. I am in small Medieval town, where I am perfectly bored. I don’t necessarily understand why I am here, other than at a vulnerable moment someone said the town’s name and I clung to the sound of the name like a life raft. Yes, there, there I will find all that I need.

I didn’t find all I needed. But I did find some spaghetti carbonara, and sometimes that is enough.

More existentially, though, I am out of a seven year relationship, already in love again, but that love keeps knocking me on my ass. I am out of a twelve year job, trying to put new things into motion, but there are as many delays as there is progress. I am in a new home, in a new town, in a new country, but that wasn’t so much a choice as it was a combination of accident and exhaustion. I have finished writing one book, and the next book sits there like a messy blob, unformed and spilling out everywhere.

And so I go back to the deck again and again, trying to pull something out of this. Trying to give some shape to what is happening. I hiss Kathy Acker lines under my breath: “Something is trying to emerge from this mess. I don’t know how.” This has been my life for six months now.

Here is what I have learned: I do not do well with uncertainty, and I cannot bear tension. One night my dreams are prophetic wisdom, the next eight slip away too easily upon waking. And my morning tarot card draw, once a source of alignment, is now an exercise in frustration.

On mornings I wake up wanting to die, I pull The World. On pretty good days where things are going well, I get The Devil.

When did my tarot deck acquire the skill of sarcasm?


I tell my clients things I do not take to heart. Some times things need to go to their extremes. Sometimes things need to scatter so you can put them back in the right order, a better order.

I quote Cioran. We only find god in our fevers, etc etc.

If someone said this stuff to me right now, I would maybe punch them in the face.


I go have my cards read by a new reader, and it is like she is talking about someone else. She goes through the cards one by one, but when I ask her how they seem to relate to one another, even she shrugs.

Maybe I should put the cards down, but, like I said, I am no good at uncertainty. I want to know how this all turns out. I want to make sure I am not fucking everything up. I at least want to understand a little about what is going on.


Wrapped up in a duvet I think, I want to go home. And so I call the airline to delay my flight back and then buy a plane ticket to Athens instead. I think, I miss my ex. And so I email him and ask him to please stop writing me.

Something is trying to emerge. But I don’t know how.


Jessa Crispin is the editor and founder of Bookslut and Spolia. She reads tarot cards specifically for writers and artists, meant to unearth creativity and remove blocks. You can contact her at jessa@bookslut.com. Additional info is here.

Jen May is a Scorpio and artist living in Brooklyn, NY with 3 cats. She keeps a tumblr updated regularly with horoscope images and everything else.