Target Practice

by Gabi Angus-West, creator of Bonefire Tarot.

Have you ever approached a deadline? And did it occur that the word deadline may own a rather more sinister origin story than merely the unpleasantness you feel as you strive to meet expectations agreed to and placed upon you while striving not be labeled as an over-promiser (or worse, an under-deliverer)?

Etymologically, the word “deadline” initially connotated one drawn around imprisoned Union soldiers in Confederate prisons. They were forced to work and if they crossed this deadline they would be shot, making it mortally important not to cross that deadline.

So in the modern publishing world, while sometimes we extend them or agree to stretch them, failing to meet them is considered negative and we are encouraged to blast them asunder and romp home to victory.

But what landscape really lies beyond our deadlines? We have reached our target, but how may we keep ourselves safe in this no man’s land and prepare to meet our greatest adversary, Block, the most fearsome of all the obstacles to creativity? Hard, seemingly impenetrable, and impervious to our presence, it lurks in the unchartered territories beyond the deadline. The person we seek to meet beyond the deadline is our guide, but this newest muse has set up camp on the other side of the Block and is blissfully disinterested in our naked, purposeless plight.

With 3 divination decks and a dozen years of making them tucked in my belt, I have met my fair share of deadlines and find them mostly inspiring and useful for targeted focus.

Presently, I am preoccupied with proverbial housekeeping in that liminal space beyond finishing the artwork for my newest deck, Tarot Avatara. Working hurriedly through a constructed laundry list of minor deadlines, edits, and amendments for past projects, I’m also adding new cards for the second edition of my beloved BonefireTarot, to be reprinted by Redfeather in the near future. I will not burden you with all the details but these split ends must be tidied, professionally trimmed, and braided neatly together to make order from chaos. Only when this is done can I fully face my newest Muse, the inspiration for my next and greatest work, and work to unobscure the next big Block.

This liminal space is familiar territory, where I found myself at the end of each of my completed books and decks, a place perhaps familiar to other creative people as well. After my first deck, Bonefire Tarot, I only stayed there a while as it had a little sister oracle deck, The Wyrd of Sarah Howard, readying itself to be made. Before that one was even finished, the Muse for my Tarot Avatara, the inimitable Frida Kahlo, rudely interrupted and dragged my poor oracle prematurely across her deadline. Each time I have passed a deadline, self or externally imposed, I have been changed a little, such that each project is introduced by an older, wiser, and less idealistic creator.

My first deck, Bonefire Tarot, was the first to change me in this way. When I began creating it, I loved it so wholeheartedly that I believed it was the only deck that I would ever need. I think of this now and mentally insert an eye-roll, but that deck was a two-year climb and I was very fulfilled by the process. I aimed higher, worked more consistently, and held myself to higher standards than ever before. I shot for the stars and boy did I hit them! My main target was merely finishing the deck, and then I wrote the guidebook, craftily bamboozled Schiffer into publishing both, and thus the frustrated and angry version of me who started Bonefire was lost forever, replaced by the me who finished the deck with a springy enough gait to hop across my deadline in a seemingly enlightened state.

My mark of success for the deck was finding even one person who could grow to love it as much as I did, and I found dozens, so that was enough.

So when you hit your target, what comes next? What will you have to aim for now? It becomes almost immediately apparent that you will need another target. As you find yourself an inhabitant of the land beyond the deadline you will need to start over, to again become the Fool of the Tarot, but this time your target will need to be bigger and the obstacles thrown in your way will be larger and more varied in nature, for this time you are standing in the liminal space in the cold light of day; you are waiting for the Muse, but others can see you there too, both friends and foes, and though they are mostly anonymous, you feel it, the weight of their expectations. If only your Muse could find you. With all those blockages and the masks that a degree of notoriety have necessitated, how your Muse even recognize you?

If I may depart and directly speak to the importance of discovering a life’s purpose — not so much one huge calling to last your whole life, but more how focusing on deadlines, big and small, divides time into manageable chunks of purpose to sustain you well enough until that big idea can carry you away again.

Can we say that we need to aim at a target to stay on our path, to avoid the calamity of the conscious soul’s knowledge of the uncertainty of that which lies beyond the biggest of all deadlines and the suffering which will surround it? To focus on a big project — a book, a deck, building a home, planning a wedding — enables us to effectively sacrifice now for that which we hope to achieve in the future. Shining a spotlight upon a certain plan pushes more practical concerns into lesser roles, and so many become willing servants to our ‘calling’. As creators in our creative state (and I am speaking of each and every human being) we can eat, exercise and work to make more time to put toward our tailored projects. I once stated I must give up drinking wine so I could stay up later to make art and stay alive longer to make more tarot decks and never accidentally die with one unfinished. That vow lasted a full two years!

So where do I find myself at this loose-end stage of my third deck? Beyond the bigger deadline and working on the smaller ones will make Tarot Avatara a reality. I am well-supported, yet still totally alone. My new Muse is as of yet an unencountered stranger. For the first time since I began Bonefire, I have found myself Muse-less, yet in chats with other creatives I am finding out that I am not alone in feeling alone; I tend to think current events have made it so for many of us.

I am relieved to have finished Avatara before it happened. The pandemic birthed the mother of all Blocks. For some it threw itself into the hearts of our creative moments, shifting focus and obscuring goals; existential angst offers no loving bedfellow for creativity. Many creatives, because of lockdown requirements, were suddenly given all the hours they had ever dreamed of to make all the things they never thought they could find the time to make. Some have grasped this opportunity with both hands and have indeed made these things and really evaluated their lives. First Tarots have been created in record time; just wait and see, there are so many and their makers are glowy with the flush of firing past their lock-down deadlines, determined this may be their one and only chance to change everything, so transmuted by the liminal experience they will be sustained for a lifetime.

They are the lucky ones.

We who have made things before and tarried a while in no man’s land between the deadlines are the ones who appear lost and confused by this change in circumstance.  I have always discovered creative magic in stolen moments of self-imposed bliss. Lucky as I am to be in Australia and grateful to work in essential retail, the Covid years have seen me busier than ever and moments for art have been harder to find. There has been no great reset for everyone.

Many experience that their Muse is finding it increasingly hard to penetrate the masks and blocks we have erected, while our guard is so high, as we prepare to physically fight for our lives, how may we truly focus on our creative endeavors? Does designing a Tarot card become pointless when you may not be healthy enough to complete all seventy-eight? As our pre-Covid deadlines grow closer, how are seasoned creators to find the inspiration to finish?

Right now, I cannot find my Muse. Perhaps they are lost in the clouds of antiseptic Glen 20 spray. I cannot tell if I can make great art without them and exactly who has the energy to make mundane lackadaisical art? Many of us are peering out from behind our blocks only to find our deadlines advancing like the enemy army, our Muses and tools for resistance and resilience are not as dependable as we are accustomed to and we are relying on muscle memory to complete our projects. Many have all of the time but none of the inclination to make great art.

So, what is the answer here? How may we befriend the dragon preventing us from greeting our Muse?  I will fall back upon the message of a Tarot card, The Wheel of Fortune. We meet our deadline at the top of the Wheel, we are exhilarated and exhausted, but we love the breathtaking view from the top. The harder we fight and the more we sacrifice, the more depleted we may feel. At this point, as we cannot grow wing and fly away, the perspective may show us where we have come from but also where we are heading. Unfortunately, it is back down. We may struggle to stay on the top, like a fellow running on a barrel seeking not to fall into a freezing lake below, but we will have to tire and take the plunge. The rude shock of the cold may force us to clamber out, to focus, take aim and once again target the top of the Wheel, but this time, the beginner’s Muse has not yet turned up to help, cut off as they are by mandated isolation and distracted by the type of World events which have rendered their presence essential by physicians, philanthropists, and philosophers.

So Tarot makers like me might have to bloody-well wait a while, cool our heels, and take stock while immersed in the freezing, still waters of the liminal space. Soon we hope to heave ourselves, as if mudskippers from Primordial waters, onto the shores of no man’s land. There we can spend long days honing our skills, sharpening tools, strengthening muscles, and charting our progress or lack thereof… knowing when our time comes we will take aim, blast way all blocks, rescue our Muse, and set our freshest of deadlines.

 Right now, it is time for target practice.

About the Author:

Gabi Angus-West

Gabi Angus-West paints from a small wooden house, between the Pacific Ocean and a great and salty lake in New South Wales. Her outer life is small and lucky; her inner world is dynamic and driven. Searching for a spark of meaning for life and art led her a merry dance which eventually happened upon Tarot. Here she tarried more than a while, intent on staying as long as it will have her. Gabi’s life and career have been subject to many a change in the weather, but commitment to Tarot and painting as mediums for exploring the vitality of creativity in a human life prevails unerringly.