Labor (or Lack of) and Its Discontents: Seven-Card “Work Anxiety” Spread

A very strange thing has happened over the past month or so. In mid-June I was contacted by a prospective employer who, following several e-mail exchanges and a lengthy phone conversation, offered me some freelance writing work. We agreed upon an hourly rate for my services; then I signed a (non-exclusive) contract and a non-disclosure agreement. This was a month ago. Since then, I haven’t heard a word from this person, even though he assured me at the time that there was plenty of work that needed to be done right away, and that I was eminently qualified to do it. (This is not even mentioning the Bay Area dot-com hiring manager who scheduled a phone interview for me last May, then never called and didn’t return my e-mails) Needless to say, I have felt a sense of frustration—not to mention a bit of anger—growing more intensely as time has passed, despite my best attempts to keep calm with frequent breathing and meditation exercises, long walks around the Tar Pits, and when all else fails, a stiff martini (straight up; olives optional). After this year-plus of unemployment—well, it just seems as though someone is playing tricks on me!

Anyway, last night I dreamed that had been invited to a party in a small apartment. I didn’t recognize the place, but the people in the apartment—there were perhaps a dozen of them—were all people I recognized as co-workers from my last corporate job, which ended some four years ago. I don’t recall that I was terribly fond of any of them when we actually worked together, but in the dream, everyone was cordial and friendly, there was plenty of food and wine for everyone, and the atmosphere overall was bright and congenial. Then the lights dimmed suddenly, and out of nowhere my former boss, the President of the company, appeared: ”Okay everybody,” he announced loudly, “let’s get a move on. We’re hitting the road for the next three weeks, 20 hours of work each day and we’re camping outdoors every night. Be ready to leave in an hour.” All of a sudden the atmosphere in the room turned into an uproar, with half of the people in the room clamoring to get going, and the other half—including myself—at an utter loss for words. “I don’t have time for this,” I protested. “I wasn’t told this was going to happen, and besides, I didn’t pack any clothes!” My former boss, who is several inches taller and a hundred pounds heavier than I am, said, “Don’t worry. I have an extra pair of pants and a T-shirt. You can wear those.” Disgusted, I replied, “Your clothes are never going to fit me!” Then I awoke, again in a state of agitation. (I’ve been having a lot of cranky dreams lately!)

Time again, it would seem, the consult my personal analyst . . .

Today I laid out a seven-card “work anxiety” spread that, hopefully, will answer my questions—and hopefully, yours too, if you are undergoing a stressful time at work, or if you have been grappling with unemployment or similar career and/or money issues like me. I laid out the cards in this order:



4      3      2      1


The question for each card is as follows:

1. What am I thinking about this situation?
2. How am I feeling about it?
3. What do I wish to create or gain from this?
4. What is preventing me from accomplishing this?
5. What is the root or origin of the problem?
6. What is the wisest course of action I can take?
7. Assuming this course of action, what is the likely outcome?

Here are the cards that decided to make an appearance today:

Screen shot 2015-07-16 at 8.07.46 AM

Okay, let’s go to the tape!

1. What am I thinking about this? Five of Cups. Disappointment and disillusionment, as if everything I touch turns to shit for some reason, even if there is some reserve of resources for me. I still have some money in the bank, after all! And what about those two shadowy figures in the background of the card? Maybe they knocked over the cups and I’m just holding the bag for them!

2. How am I feeling about this? Nine of Wands. Oppressed and constrained, increasingly “boxed in” by situations that seem beyond my control; it is getting more difficult to avoid succumbing to my worst instincts when thinking about other people’s motives. (And if you’ve ever wondered why that sentry in the Waite deck looks so stressed and apprehensive, now we know!)

3. What do I wish to create or gain from this? The Empress. A feeling of being reborn, of starting over, with a chance to grow—to spread my wings (like the swan in the card!)—in a safe and nurturing environment. I’m tired of feeling threatened and insecure! (I realize, of course, that these emotional states are what fuels the engine of American capitalism, but it doesn’t mean we should accept it without question. It’s not good for us!)

4. What is preventing me from accomplishing this? Nine of Pentacles. This is the knottiest card in this spread. Normally it portends good fortune, but this ”rear view” perspective suggests isolation. Have I “walled myself” in against others, or have others done the same to me instead? I feel as though I have done all of the “right things” to catch the attention of potential employers—networking in person and online, attending trade shows and the like, and maintaining a public profile in general—yet somehow I have a nagging suspicion that I have been “shut out” of the market—possibly because of my age (too old for most companies to find desirable, but too young to collect Social Security). But how to prove?

5. What is the root or origin of this? Five of Swords. This probably stands for that last corporate job—to a great extent, the focus of my dream—where I often felt that I was literally “fighting a losing battle”, working three jobs simultaneously to prop up a dysfunctional company that eventually collapsed and cost many people, myself included, their jobs. At the time I tried to take it in stride—and, to be fair, I have burned no bridges behind me—but I probably haven’t completely let go of the resentment I felt at the time, particularly since I have been largely unsuccessful at procuring steady work since my layoff. This certainly came out in my dream! On the other hand, I didn’t meekly follow the boss’s orders, so perhaps there’s been some progress . . . or perhaps not (read on).

6. What’s the best course of action? Four of Pentacles. Following the path of The Empress, if that’s what I really want— means to “follow my bliss”—turning my back (literally) on the life I once lived, accepting the constraints on my finances for  now, and not being put off by the perceived obstacles in my way. (As you can see from the card, that steep hill that looms in the card is also fertile ground. And take a look at The Empress again—she might just be on the other side of the hill!) Keep searching for new avenues where I can best invest my talent because . . .   

7. What’s the likely outcome? Knight of Wands. If I travel far and wide enough (Knights implying movement in space and time), knock on enough doors, and put my talents on display in front of enough people, someone—somewhere—will acknowledge me, or at least provide me with some useful directions, the same way the members of the caravanserai in the card offer company to the Knight in the middle of the desert. Perhaps I’m lost in a desert of my own right now? 

Of course, there’s an alternative interpretation—one that cautions greater discretion and care on my part. The members of the caravan, with their camels and bedouin attire, hail from what was once called the Orient. The Knight, by contrast, is clearly a man of the Occident—and a man of nobility, not a mere peasant. As we know in our own time, misunderstandings can arise between people based on perceived differences such as culture and class, and when they do, clashes and even bloodshed can sometimes ensue. While I’m engaged in my own “job crusade,” in other words, perhaps I need to be careful to avoid being excessively harsh in my judgment of others. Yes, the people who offered me the prospect of work, then vanished off the radar, may indeed have been rude and inconsiderate, but I should be mindful of the  psychic toll one pays when one harbors a grudge. So today, I actively forgive all of them. WIll that make any difference in my job search? Most likely not, but it’ll hopefully help me have more pleasant dreams tonight.

Then again, there’s yet another interpretation to this spread. See the caravan that greets the Knight of Wands. No doubt they have traveled far across the desert, that their days are long and that they sleep beneath the stars. What was my former boss suggesting I do in my dream again?

Dante DiMatteo

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