Toronto Author Liz Worth on Tarot, Punk, and Creating The Life You Want
Liz Worth is an author, poet, performance artist, freelance journalist and tarot reader from Toronto, Canada. Psychic Punx hooked up with her to talk about her love of tarot, starting your own tarot or intuition-based business, transcending punk and goth culture with spirituality, finding and following your passion and being authentic. Liz is the author of Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond, 1977-1981 (2007), Amphetamine Heart (2011), PostApoc (2013) and No Work Finished Here: Rewriting Andy Warhol (2015).
Mimi: So I’ll be very honest with you, I haven’t read your novels yet, although I want to – but I actually helped promote your book on Toronto’s punk rock history – Treat me Like Dirt – for the Quebec media! Are you planning on writing another similar book?
Liz Worth: No, I’m actually quite removed from it at this point. I started that book almost ten years ago, and it’s been out for six years, I think, and I’ve had three other books come out since then. My life has changed a lot since. I see myself more as a poet and a novelist than I do a journalist. When I did that book I was a journalist – that’s how I was making my money. And I really wanted to do that book. I was genuinely interested in finding the history of Toronto punk, and why didn’t we know these people and what happened here. I was really fascinated with finding out that Canada had so many different punk communities happening at that same time. I just felt that there was this void and that we needed to find what our stories were when it came to punk history. I really wanted to find the answers to the questions I had and I wanted to know what had happened to those people. But I don’t have that same curiosity for other movements – I just don’t! – and so I would have to have that same drive to do something like that.
Mimi: Yeah, absolutely.
Liz Worth: I had it for that one subject, and that’s it, and I did it!
Liz Worth: Yeah…I did try to do some other books along the way and it was a lot harder to find people to interview for those, it just didn’t feel like it was happening and it felt like it was just a dead end path in a lot of ways, and I thought “well maybe this is just the one book that I’m meant to do” and move on to other types of work and other types of writing, and that’s what I’ve done.
Mimi: Yeah, you just need to follow your drive and passion. I’m very passionate about music history as well – especially women in music history, and even more so the role women played in Quebec’s rock history! But other people are doing that right now, and I realized it didn’t have to be me. I’m not feeling it to the point of pursuing it further. Right now I’m focused on Psychic Punx, and like I always say, I can always interview people even when they’re dead! [Laughs]
Liz Worth: I like that! [Laughs]
Mimi: How did your interest in punk and music in general start for you?
Liz Worth: I’ve always been an outsider, in a lot of ways. I’m definitely a “lone wolf.” I’ve always been on the outside of a lot of things, even if I’m still participating in them in some ways. And so when I was younger I was really into goth, and really into the history of subcultures, and I was always interested in where things had come from. I was mostly interested in bands that were successful in the 80s – I wasn’t into current goth bands. I dug into where those bands had come from and dug into their influences, and that led me back to punk, but again, it was punk from the 70s. First wave stuff. I started getting really into The Clash and The Damned, and the more I learned about them the more I learned about the punk philosophy and felt really liberated learning that when punk started, it was just about being whatever you want it to be, and showing up in the world the way you wanted to show up, and not how the world expected you to show up, and I found that liberating because that’s always what I wanted to do as a teenager. But I always felt alone because of that too. So that just became a part of my identity and that was the biggest source of inspiration I took from punk. That it didn’t just extend to fashion and music but also literature, movies and performance art, and to me that was so amazing because it was everything I was interested in. I would go to open mic nights and read my poetry, and I didn’t have any punk friends who were doing that. I had to find other people I could hang out with, and a lot of them ended up being a lot older than me. But punk made me realize “who cares if I don’t have any punk friends who are into this, I’ll just do my own thing.” I knew that others had done that in the past and had gone on to create amazing things in the world.
Mimi: Thank you. I resonate strongly with that because when I finally decided to accept that I was a very intuitive person, I really wanted to find a way to put my love of punk or rock subcultures and of the extra sensory world, and I really struggled with it, I didn’t know how to do that. I was looking at people like Andrew W.K. or Noah Levine and saw how they were able to create that balance for themselves. Rock culture in general is very male oriented, especially punk rock – very male driven. It’s a testosterone filled, masculine energy. And it took a long time for me to figure out how to merge these two strong energies into something that would work for me. So I guess feeling like the outsider is the recurring theme for a lot of people struggling to embrace all of who they are.
Liz Worth: Yeah! It can, yeah. I mean, I was always interested in the occult and grew up in a home that was very accepting of the paranormal. My mom was into psychics, and she had parties where she hired psychics to come and do readings, and had recordings of them and would let me listen to them. I had a Ouija board, and my mom had had experiences living in a house that was really haunted; she would tell me these ghost stories, so it was really just a normal thing. And so I grew up this way, thinking “yeah, some people are psychic.” Ghosts and these things were just a part of life and it was never a subject that made me feel like there was any kind of “other” out there. It was part of the world that we live in. And so I was always very drawn to the occult and astrology, and I still identify with goth a lot as well, but I don’t consider myself like a punk or a goth or anything, but within goth culture, that stuff is just so much more accepted.
Liz Worth: With punk, there are a fraction of people who embrace that, and I think there are some bands who have helped with that, like Psychic TV for example. And again, the way that punk is defined is maybe not as opened to any form of spirituality at all, and that’s something I had to reconcile with after I did Treat Me Like Dirt.
Mimi: I wanted to talk to you about that! Go ahead.
Liz Worth: Yeah! That book was one of the easiest things I’ve ever done in my life, and one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life! And I felt that simultaneously at times! I felt I was meant to do that project, but there was a lot of ego involved in that and I really felt like there was a spiritual void for me there. It’s really hard to put delicately, I guess….but there were a lot of personalities that I talked to within those interviews who were very much driven by a sense of entitlement towards recognition. And I definitely wanted to recognize those people, but I couldn’t give them the level of recognition that I felt they were looking for. And when my book came out, I really struggled with thoughts like “what did I just put out into the world with this?” Some people would look through the book and count how many quotes they had. Like “Why did I only get five quotes but that guy got seven?”
Mimi: Oh for crying out loud.
Liz Worth: So some people were upset because the book didn’t give them the validation that they were looking for. And it wasn’t my intention.
Mimi: Yeah, and it’s not your responsibility either. You’re just telling the story.
Liz Worth: It’s not, but then suddenly I found that maybe I had opened some doors that I didn’t mean to open, in doing that, and so my intention for this project was just to collect these stories, that gave some kind of representation of punk in Toronto. I realized that there was a lot of other stuff going on and that people were very driven by ego around some of the work that was put out, even though it was over thirty years ago.
Liz Worth: Yeah, it was, and after I definitely had to think about how I could balance this out. I’d put so much energy into this project and given voice to something that maybe I didn’t mean to give voice to. So I spent a long time thinking “how do I rectify this in my own life?” and I think those questions are what led me on to a more spiritual path, where I started to get a sense of how the world could work if I started asking those questions more. Like “What am I giving a platform to?” and think of ways to give a platform that can feel more balanced and gentle for everyone involved.
Mimi: Were you already doing tarot at that point, or is that something you started doing at a later time?
Liz Worth: I wasn’t doing tarot when I was working on Treat Me Like Dirt, that came after. I started readings in 2008 and the book was pretty much done by then. I got into an astrologer, and he told me that I should do tarot because I could be very good at it, and when I was a teenager I taught myself how to read playing cards, and I hadn’t done that for a while at that point in time. I’d always been interested in this stuff, and I bought a pack just to get into it. And so him saying that just reminded me of another side of myself that I hadn’t given much attention to while I was working on that book.
Mimi: That’s part of what I wanted to ask you and you also briefly mentioned it: how did people react to that? Is that something that people already knew about you?
Liz Worth: No, I don’t think people knew about it, and I don’t think people even do now. I was really quiet about it for a few years and wasn’t really open about it because it was something I was doing for myself. And then slowly, I started talking about it a little bit more but I find that…my challenge with my writing and having a book out like Treat me Like Dirt…you know people like the book….but…it’s almost like anyone could have written a book like that, in some ways. Not anyone can write the same novel, though. So, my poetry and fiction are really personal to me. If you read my novels, you know a lot more about me, because it’s a much truer reflection of myself. Treat Me Like Dirt obviously has gone through my filter and perspective, but it’s not about me. I find that people who like that book aren’t necessarily interested in me as an author. And that’s usually people’s first impression of me because it’s been my most successful book, and people go “wow you must really love punk,” or “are you working on another book like this?” and have no idea that I have these other books out. My other books are really influenced by the occult, and for people there’s a crossover with that, they really like what I do. But for some others, it will never really register or cross their radar. So it might not make sense to someone who goes to my website looking for the person who wrote “Treat Me Like Dirt.” They’re going to find a tarot reader! And that’s ok because that book was an important part of my life, but it’s not my identity at all.
Mimi: How do you deal with skeptics? Or have you not crossed any so far?
Liz Worth: I don’t encounter them too often, so far anyway.
Mimi: Yeah, me neither. I think it’s just an energy question. It depends on the kind of energy you put out.
Liz Worth: I think so too, yeah. I think it has a lot to do with the way people present themselves. I don’t know, I think maybe people just aren’t surprised – I don’t know if it’s just because of the way that I dress, or I don’t know what it is – but people are for the most part not surprised when they find out I do tarot. I find that people are often open about it and might also have a question. Some people might say “oh, so is tarot actually real?” but I find that people are usually open but again, I think it depends on how you present yourself, how confident you are about it, what kind of energy and presence you’re bringing. You know, I’m really interested in astrology. I’m not a professional astrologer, but I’m working towards becoming one. Astrology has always been a big passion of mine. Every time I talk about astrology, even casually – like talking about certain alignments that are happening, or the moon cycles, how planets affect us – I find that many people are very skeptical towards that. It’s just a big, complex subject that a lot of people understand as something you read for fun in newspapers. But those daily horoscopes don’t always apply to people because they’re so general and so boiled down. It doesn’t really give an accurate experience of what astrology can actually do or how it can help them understand who they are, or why they are the way they are. Talking about something like that is more challenging.
Mimi: Yeah, and you seem very down-to-earth also, as opposed to someone who would be very esoteric in how they present themselves. I think people resonate with that very strongly. There are so many clichés about spiritual people or the new age community and that can scare people.
Liz Worth: Yeah – with tarot readings or palm readings, I think a lot of people have this vision of you know, the fortune teller. People who are set up with their shops with the neon signs and crystal balls. That’s definitely a different kind of atmosphere that these people are bringing into their business. And I think that that can work for some people, that’s the kind of experience that some people are looking for when they go for tarot readings. And there’s nothing wrong with that if that works for you. But it’s not what everyone’s looking for and it’s certainly not what everyone can relate to. What I’m doing isn’t fortune telling.
Mimi: Do you or did you ever fear people’s reactions or judgments about what you’re doing?
Liz Worth: No, I don’t really care what people think in general.
Liz Worth: It’s a characteristic of mine and I guess it’s also what’s always made me feel like a lone wolf. When you don’t care what people think, there are people who will pick up on that.
Mimi: The energy changes, for sure.
Liz Worth: The energy does change, and you know what, I don’t go out chasing for validations. And I think that in itself makes people more uncomfortable than me talking about tarot, to be quite honest.
Mimi: [Laughs] Yes.
Liz Worth: Saying something like “well I don’t really give a shit what you think about me” can really put some people off. They want you to care! Right? [Laughs] I’ve never been that kind of person, because I can’t! I can’t fake it! It goes back to that question that people have, “are you ever going to do another book like Treat Me Like Dirt?” and the answer is always no, because my heart’s not into it. My heart’s into astrology and tarot. I want to talk about the moon, and that’s what I’m gonna talk about! And if you’re not interested in it, then you’re just not my audience. I have to do what moves me and excites me.
Mimi: Yeah, and I feel your background with your parents probably also helped you with that confidence because it’s been part of your belief system since your childhood. Whereas with me, I grew up in a very strict Catholic household, so this stuff is definitely weird, sinful, and the devil’s work.
Liz Worth: Yeah, I really do believe that the upbringing we have certainly gives us a sense of community or fear about how we present ourselves. I mean, I certainly had challenges with my parents growing up about other things that they didn’t accept about me. The home that I grew up in was quite conservative in other ways. But there was always something in me that didn’t care either, I always had a drive to just be who I am regardless of the situation, no matter how bad that might turn out for me sometimes. And since I’ve gotten into astrology more, just learning how some of these things affect who we are and what kind of paths we can be put on from birth also really helped me reconcile certain things. You know, like Jupiter is in my 12th house, and the 12th house rules what we come into this world with. It rules our intuition and our subconscious and lessons we’ve brought in from past lives. Jupiter is a planet of opportunity and luck, and that tells me that the more I listen to my intuition, the more opportunities I’m going to create for myself. The more authentic I am to who I need to be, the more answers I’m going to have about what path to go down. For me, one of my biggest life lessons is to trust myself and trust that something is right when it’s right, and not let the noise of other people or their opinions of what they think I should be affect me at all.
Mimi: Yeah, and I think that as soon as we start trusting our gut and our heart, the more things start happening for us. The more we trust, the more it flows and comes in. That’s been my experience. So you say it’s been a life lesson for you – have you always been able to trust yourself and your intuition?
Liz Worth: No. I think intuition is something that unfortunately we have to learn through trial and error, and a lot of it comes to us through lots of errors. We need to have those mistakes that we can look back into and say “oh I knew that would happen” or “I knew I had a bad feeling about this person.” You know if it just doesn’t feel right, but you have to live it to know that it was correct. You need to experience those mistakes to learn and say “Oh, I should have listened to myself.” And you’re always listening to yourself, but you don’t actually know that you’re listening to your intuition at all, that you’re actually tapped into it. So you need to sometimes veer off those paths, and I’ve definitely had some big regrets and big life lessons because I didn’t trust myself or give myself permission to just say no to something, or change when I needed to. I also think having that perspective helps me a lot now with the work that I’m doing. It helps me resonate with other people who are sitting at the same places that I’ve been at in the past. If I hadn’t had those experiences, I wouldn’t have been able to bring in the same perspective when I’m doing tarot, and I probably wouldn’t have learned how to trust myself or even feel certain things in my body. I find that intuition speaks to us physically a lot of the time. I wouldn’t have had those lessons to be able to recognize the signs.
Mimi: Yes, and that’s what I like about your energy, and that transcends in your writing like on your blog, is that you are able to take a challenge that you’ve experienced and see the positive side to it. That’s basically detachment. You don’t seem to internalize the emotions when you are faced with a challenge. Would you agree?
Liz Worth: Yeah, I mean asking “why is this happening?” is a big thing for me.
Mimi: Yes, me too.
Liz Worth: Yeah. I’m always asking myself “what is the reason that I went through this?”
Mimi: That’s kind of what it is to be “enlightened” as far as I’m concerned. It’s a first step, at least!
Liz Worth: Yeah! It’s a really helpful tool to just be able to cope with anything. Just asking, “what is the lesson here?” And you know, sometimes we won’t know the answer, but just asking the question – like even just writing it down in a journal, sending the question out there – just sends a signal that you’re looking for an answer.
Mimi: Exactly, yeah! And if you look or listen closely enough, you’re gonna get an answer. You need to detach from your feelings about the situation and your need to know, also. That’s a big one for me.
Liz Worth: Yeah, it’s not easy! I think that’s a challenge for a lot of people. So many people will ask “I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing with my life,” and it’s just really common for us to be disconnected from who we are. We have so many mixed messages that we have to swift through and so many external pressures and expectations that come at us, and we don’t live in a world where we’re encouraged to be who we are.
Mimi: Exactly. Ok, I want to talk a little about your belief system. When you do tarot, who or what are you invoking?
Liz Worth: I always thank my guides and my higher power – that’s just something that I say to myself as I’m getting ready. I believe that our source of higher power is ourself, but that it’s also the universe.
Mimi: Yes, me too. I call it “collective consciousness.”
Liz Worth: Yeah – I guess for me the universe is my definition of “God.” I can’t really explain it – it’s hard for me to articulate it because it’s just something that I feel, like a connectivity that I feel within myself but also with everyone. As soon as a person contacts me for a booking, I already have a connection with this person. I’m thinking about them, about what spread I’m going to use, the question they’re bringing – you know, we already have a connection, long before we’re actually sitting down to do the reading. To me, that’s universal energy. This ability for people to connect with each other, even if they’ve never met or been together in the same room. And the word “universe” for me works so well because there’s a lot happening that we can’t articulate, as human beings. We are just not meant to know everything. It’s just big and strong, and I just feel really tapped into it. That’s really the only way I can explain it! [Laughs]
Mimi: That’s a very good explanation, yeah! That’s pretty much it! [Laughs] Tell me about your tarot business – how did you start it and draw clients to you?
Liz Worth: My tarot business started really organically – like if you’d told me even a year ago I’d be doing this right now, I just wouldn’t have seen it. It just happened. I started reading tarot for me – it’s just something I picked up for myself. My goal was always to be a writer, that was where I was putting all of my energy, and possibly too much energy, in hindsight, and that’s because I wasn’t taking enough risks in other areas of my life, or letting other areas of my life grow. Over time, I decided I wanted to learn more about tarot, and wanted to be able to read for other people and started practicing on friends. But it’s been a process of years. So friends let me practice on them and I did that for a few years, and then I started getting asked to read tarot at parties, so I started doing that. Then people started offering to pay me to do readings. The more I was asked to do readings for strangers, the more I started thinking “maybe this is something I could do.” I was working at a day job and in the same industry for a really long time, and I wasn’t really happy there, at all. I thought, “how can I make a move out of here and leverage my writing?” You know, there isn’t a lot of money to be made in being a novelist or poet, and I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to live off of my work, too. And so I kind of eased up on the pressure I was putting on myself with my writing, and started to allow myself to focus more time on tarot, and just found myself becoming more and more consumed by it, in a really good way. I was really excited – I’d go home and read about it and work the cards on my own. I was just really excited and inspired by it! And one day I looked in the mirror and said “I’m gonna figure out a way to make money.” I was talking to myself and telling myself that I was gonna find a way to get out of my day job and start my own business and build something for myself. And moments of my making that promise for myself, I got laid off!
Mimi: [Laughs] Yes! That’s amazing.
Liz Worth: And so I decided to launch my business right away. And again, everything’s just been really organic. Just through blogging and even asking for opportunities, as well.
Mimi: What advice would you give to someone who is still doing tarot or any other form of readings for themselves, but are still not sure about reading for others?
Liz Worth: Well, I think if you want to read for other people – a lot of people start online or do email readings. I kind of started backwards – I had never done an email reading until years later. After reading for myself I started asking friends if I could read for them, even if it was scary, and I’d use the book if I needed to. I would also write things down for later, if something came up that I wasn’t sure about. If I’d get feedback, I’d understand what something was really about. So it’s just about getting over that fear. I think what we most need to understand about fear is that it’s always gonna be there, no matter what. There’s always going to be a creative block or other – that’s what it takes to have ambition. Ambitious people have to go out of their comfort zones constantly.
Mimi: Yeah. The way I did it, and always have done for everything throughout my life, is to just force myself to do it. For this specifically, I forced myself to offer readings on Facebook – publicly and live. It was terrifying! [Laughs] But I needed that push, else I wouldn’t be here right now. I’ve done that with everything, including hosting radio shows in my 20s, or going on YouTube with Psychic Punx.
Liz Worth: Yeah! And for people who are learning and who don’t have friends close by that they can read, like if they’re in an isolated community or if they don’t know anyone open enough to try a reading, just asking people through tarot forums for example can be great. There are a lot of online tarot communities where people are really supportive and where a lot of people are learning tarot as well. So if you can just find people to talk through that process and talk through the cards, that can go such a long way. And if you live in a bigger city that has any kind of metaphysical store, or some kind of community that you can even meet with in person, those can be really great experiences too. Just finding people you can talk to about it. I think that talking it out is such a huge part of learning the process of tarot.
Mimi: Yes, and it gets you out of the ego too, that fear of getting things wrong or of what people will think if you get something wrong. Doing readings for others can help you realize it’s not about you – you’re offering a service. And if you’re practicing, that person is also offering a service to you.
Liz Worth: Absolutely – and you’re right about the ego. I think one of the biggest things to learn when reading for other people is not making assumptions about whether there’s a “good” card there or not. Sometimes it might not make sense or fit a question a person has brought, but you can’t assume that it’s not what they need to hear. You can just ask – “this card is telling me this, is that relevant to you?” But don’t assume that it doesn’t have a purpose just because it doesn’t fit into the context of your discussion. Go through a reading without judgment and just talk about what you’re seeing.
Mimi: Yeah, and that goes with experience. Censoring ourselves is a very human thing to do. Someone might say something you got right doing a reading, but you censored yourself out of fear of being wrong – and you’ll just go “doh!” But you can only learn these valuable lessons while reading for others, as far as I’m concerned.
Liz Worth: Yeah, and when people understand that you’re learning, they are usually very supportive.
Liz Worth: Ask them for feedback, or ask, “let me know if I’m wrong.” People will be gentle.
Mimi: Are you able to live off of your tarot readings now?
Liz Worth: I do tarot, but I also do creative coaching. I’m getting ready to launch a four-week program in the new year. That’s a big part of my focus right now. I help people move through blocks, insecurity or self-doubts that they have, or anything that they feel is holding them back from doing the kind of work that they want to do. Sometimes people don’t need a tarot reading – they need a hardcore realistic conversation about what’s going on and why they feel like they can’t write a manuscript if they really want to, or why they can’t reach a certain creative goal. And I think that’s where my expertise and experience of having done all this intuitive work and having a background as a writer can help others. I’m not gonna tell someone how to write or how to paint a picture, that’s not what I’m doing – I’m really just interested in helping them digging into what they need to move forward.
Check out Liz’s website and services, including her Intuitive Creative Coaching services: www.lizworth.com