Guest Post: Tarotbot & The Hanged Man

Guest Post By Calvin Kasulke

The time has finally arrived for Calvin Kasulke’s splendid guest post about The Hanged Man, snatching time, and how his tarotbot will read you to filth (which, can confirm). I’m so excited for y’all to read Calvin’s wisdom in learning and to get utterly destroyed by his bot.

I know exactly enough code to get myself in trouble, which is to say I know enough code to realize I know next to nothing about code. The same goes for tarot; I've had a couple (2) readings done by two (2) very (extremely) patient friends, who both had to read my spread and explain each card to me, and also remind me what the suits represent, and also what the major arcana mean, and on and on. Both readings were helpful, but neither could do more than move my tarot knowledge from the darkness of total ignorance into the hazy pre-dawn light of vague awareness.

Still, I was inspired by the elegance of the three-card spread—your past to the left, your present in the center, your future to the right—and the tidiness of the tarot's 78 cards. So earlier this year I coded @_tarotbot, a simple little Twitter bot that produces a three card spread every three hours. It also creates a custom thread for Twitter users who @ it with the request "read my cards." (The bot has a 5% chance of not responding to a given tweet to ensure two bots don't get stuck in a loop replying to each other eternally; still, I feel awful any time I notice it's failed to respond to someone. Just ask it again! He is trying his best!)

Initially I thought these custom readings would be @_tarotbot's primary function; people ask to have their cards read, he reads them to filth, people quote-tweet their spread with "omg??," goal achieved. And that has been immensely satisfying, though here my rudimentary coding capabilities produced a potentially troubling quirk: the card the bot draws is completely random each time, which means it can draw two or three of the same card in a given spread. It gave someone the devil twice last week. The possibility of "Ooops, all towers!" is very real.

More than its interaction with others though, the daily presence of @_tarotbot in my feed has encouraged me to learn a bit more about what, exactly, my creation is trying to tell me. Some days I'll be thumbing through Twitter and be confronted with a spread full of ominous-sounding major arcana, or swords swords swords, and I'll stop my doomscrolling to look up the meaning of each card. Other times I'll forward a spread to Isaac, one of my Patient Tarot Friends, with a note like "seems intense??" or "ohno," and he will tell me no, this is good, actually, or maybe well, it could be bad, it depends on how you read this one card. Usually he tells me this not because he's a Pollyanna but because I have no idea what I'm talking about, and because I have usually been spooked by a card that seems menacing but is, in fact, just the hanged man.

Isaac has already written about the hanged man on this very blog, and I wouldn't begrudge you clicking over to read an interpretation of this card by someone who hasn't burned 500 words explaining his lack of knowledge on the subject. It's taken about four months for me to fully internalize that the hanged man is not a harbinger of death, some victim at the gallows or the target of a lynch mob, but Odin. One-eyed, old-ass, upside-down Odin, subjecting himself to some measure of discomfort in order to seek enlightenment, or failing capital-e end-of-a-zen-koan Enlightenment at least wisdom, or knowledge, or clarity—something more or new or better than he had rattling around in his noggin before he backflipped himself into his thinkin'-noose. It's a card that says you are working on some stuff, and, whether that stuff be big or small, it's gonna take a while. Settle in. Get comfortable, or get comfortable with discomfort. You're Learning.

If you're going in order, the hanged man is just after the middle of the major arcana, tucked away between strength and death. Which seems fitting; there's no better time to have a good long think than right before a death/rebirth/renewal situation. But most of us aren't granted forewarning about the hour of our death, or when an enormous rebirth or renewal is imminent; we aren't offered the chance to make one last plea in Gethsemane or call a time-out so we can meditate for a week ahead of the realization that our life has been a performance up to this point and we need to change our gender right the fuck now. Major life changes tend to ambush us while we alternately putz and toil through our day-to-day, and so we carve out smaller, more quotidian ways to work on our stuff. We have weekly therapy or ten minutes of pre-bedtime meditation or a particular loop we walk around the neighborhood each day; snatches of time where we can hang upside-down from a tree, so to speak, and return to the internal work we have to do.

And this is how @_tarotbot catches me off guard each day, appearing in my Twitter feed and offering me a puzzle. Here are some metaphors—what could they mean? How could they be helpful to you?

I don't know much about tarot but I do know the cards are a cycle, and that there are cycles within the larger, recursive narrative; loops we get stuck in, snags we catch on, solid ground we retreat to. We progress through these cycles-within-cycles by relentlessly returning to the path, day after day after day. I have accidentally engineered this for myself, on the smallest possible scale, with a small robot that reminds me to take a time out. To stop, to think, maybe google what a particular card means, and then return to the path. Or to reading shitposts. That's probably part of the path, too.

Calvin Kasulke is a writer, podcast producer and transsexual menace living in Brooklyn. His writing and reporting has appeared in VICE, MEL Magazine, Electric Literature and elsewhere; his debut novel, SEVERAL PEOPLE ARE TYPING, is forthcoming from Doubleday Books.

I’m currently reading for free for anyone who’s organizing and on a sliding scale for everyone else— get in touch if you want an individual and/or group reading!

Content will continue to be free until it’s way safer to go out. Also, my money situation is tenuous! Subscribing is $5/ month and $50/ year, and if you have some disposable $$ I would love it if you did (or sent me a Venmo tip @james0ctober). Stay safe, bake bread, watch TV. <3