Discover more from Mommy's El Camino
sensitivities as "discredited knowledge" and a focus of creative work
a mini-interview with Alicia Lochard
I “met” Alicia first via Twitter. With a handle like “dykearchive,” how could I resist? We had a friendly relationship there and when she visited L.A. in 2018 we met up at Chego. Both of us are Tauruses and love good food.
When Alicia moved to Los Angeles I was thrilled. We drove around looking for an apartment for her to live in. Just a few months later the pandemic struck. Though we were living less than a mile from each other, amid fear, uncertainty, and “lockdown” (I’ll always use quotes, it was never really a true lockdown for most), we kept our conversation going mostly via text. Over the course of the pandemic, as things eased and vaccinations became available, I felt safe enough to see friends outdoors. And thus began our walks and talks in the nearby massive park.
I’ll always be grateful for Alicia’s friendship—her insight, her wisdom, and our shared Taurean and Scorpionic connections (her: Scorpio rising/me: Scorpio moon). While I regret not having spent more time together when she was living so close by, she has since made her home far away, and I’ll have to wait for her to visit me for the next yummy visit.
Alicia is a counseling astrologer, historian, and teaching artist living in Philadelphia.
As is my mini-interview practice, I asked Alicia to respond to three to five questions from a total of eight offered.
How did/does the pandemic change your creative process?
I was in what I would call a descent for a couple of years prior to March 2020. In late 2019, I got rid of nearly everything I owned and moved across the country to Los Angeles, a city where I had only been twice and had few close relationships at the time. I was finishing a death doula training course there as COVID lockdowns began.
The early days of COVID were a profound initiation into death and grief work because death was the only thing I and many others thought about in those days. After some intense months (years, probably) of not really wanting to live myself, I found the languages of loneliness, death, and grief to be very alive and accessible to me in the spring of 2020. In the early days of the pandemic, I experienced an alignment with the world around me that I had very rarely felt in my life before that point. I felt the world had slowed down to the pace at which I lived. And I wasn’t struggling to keep up. The sense of grief and fear that had always felt central to my experience was, for once, acknowledged and shared by nearly everyone else around me. I was able to connect with others using that language. My astrology study and writing practice expanded. I found community and energy for my creative work by foregrounding grief and loss. I created a workshop called The Griever’s Tarot, where we explored tarot as a tool for living after loss. Not just death, but family estrangement, divorce, displacement, migration. I explored a concept of grief and grief work that encompassed the vast and compounding nature of loss during the pandemic.
As there has been a collective push to return to “normal” I have had a difficult time adapting. Dionne Brand wrote about this in the summer of 2020 and I really feel it now. The space I’d felt opened up to me creatively and politically now feels distant and closed. Or, as if it’s closing. My creative process now involves defending that space – from what I see as white supremacist, patriarchal, ableist, and capitalist tendencies and expectations in society, in my community, and in myself – and building with others I’ve been relieved to meet along the way doing similar work. It feels strange to say my creative process involves protecting space for grief but I absolutely feel it does. Now I feel most successful in my work when I am able to find new descriptions for experiences of grief and connect with others going through it as well.
What's a type of art-making that you haven't yet done that you'd like to do?
Painting and ceramics are two formats that come to mind. I used to love drawing and painting as a kid but at some point, a desire to “do it right” or comparing myself to others killed the joy for me. Eventually, I stopped trying at all. But I’ve been wanting more time for these practices lately.
I might have a screenplay in me, too.
What inspired you to create Vetiver Healing Arts?
I suffered severe burnout in my doctoral program where I was studying and teaching African diasporic histories, especially Black queer and feminist histories. Then a significant relationship ended at pretty much the same time. For about a year and a half after that, I tried to return to academic work as “normal” and found that I could not read or write in the way I had been trained. I was hardly eating or speaking during that time. While on a leave of absence, I started pulling a tarot card a day as a way of getting myself from the bed to my desk. Eventually, Jessica Dore started Tarot Circle in Philly and I began attending weekly. We would all pull cards and share readings with each other. I gained the confidence to start my practice there.
That space and the people I met there were a lifeline. I started to rebuild my life around my personal tarot and astrology practice. I came to understand that a lot of what goes on in a divinatory consultation is being with someone who is afraid of the future or transition. Most of the time grief or fear of grief is at the root of that fear.
I also got to name a really core principle of my artistic life in my Tarot Circle community that I had touched on in my academic work but could not fully access within the university, which is that many of us are sensitive in different ways and those sensitivities give us access to important but often discredited knowledge. Many of us suffer and hurt ourselves because of this. We can lose connection to important sources of power like community or our own intuition because of this. Naming and resisting the impulse and expectation to discredit feelings and sensed knowledge became the focus of my creative work. And it is something I am constantly trying to unlearn personally.
At the end of my time in Tarot Circle I launched Vetiver Healing Arts as a way to bridge my academic work with history with tarot and astrology. It is much less connected to academia now since I’ve left the university. Still, I rely on Black feminist political theory, art, and literature to expand my vocabulary for divination and grief work. And I understand healing as a process of self-study and cultivating self-curiosity. Research is always going to be a part of my creative life, I think.
Vetiver is a grass that grows in Haiti, where my family is from. It has deep roots and its oils can be extracted and used for grief support. That resonated.
Take us on a walk through a place that gives you life.
I get life from the cemeteries and woods in and around Philadelphia. I walk and hike a lot. Morris Park comes to mind as a life-giving place here. I have to cut through a baseball field to access the trails from where I live but the deeper you go, there’s a creek with rocks to sit on. During the spring and summer, you are completely insulated from the city by these green green trees. There are a few places around the city – parks, trails, cemeteries – that give me this feeling of being surrounded, held. Life feels more possible there.
What tarot decks do you work with? Recommend?
At the beginning of 2018, I began using Courtney Alexander’s Dust II Onyx tarot. The deck is a completely transcendent and gorgeous work of Black queer genius that taught me so much over the years. Working with it a has taught me so much about how to make, re-make, and live with meaning over time as someone who practices interpretive arts. I was able to devote myself to the practice because my stories and lineage were reflected by the deck. I feel completely grateful to the artist and the deck for sharing their gifts. I now use the deck exclusively in my tarot readings and continue learning from it.
Marcella Kroll’s Sacred Symbols oracle deck is also very important to me.
What book or other piece of art/writer or other artist are you currently obsessed with?
A lot of my inspiration comes from music. I’ll go through obsessive waves with musicians, poets, producers, and especially singers – people who make and live with sound in a deep way. I read and watch tons of interviews with musicians because I love learning about what they’ve done to render a feeling or a story in a medium that I love but that don’t use in my practice. The brilliant writer Eloghosa Osunde wrote a short story that articulated this beauty much better than I could. Everyone should read it. But musicians whose artistry I study right now? Yebba, Baby Rose, and fellow Taurus Victoria Monét!
Mommy's El Camino is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.