When it comes to quitting a corporate job and putting everything on the line to follow your creative dreams, some risks are bigger than others. If you're in your 20s and you quit your job selling khakis for the Gap because your dream is to be, say, a freelance photographer, the sacrifice is relatively small. When you're 41, the job is chief financial officer of the San Diego World Trade Center, and the dream is to create an Internet business that showcases digital multimedia produced exclusively by Radical Faeries (including your own Masculine Fantasy Tarot deck) then the risk is pretty freakin' gargantuan.
Just ask Patric “Pipa” Stillman, who took a lot of chances when he left his position at the SDWTC in 2003. So far Stillman has created his own web-based art gallery, Oak Grove Oracle, as well as designed and produced the Brotherhood Tarot deck, which is one of only two gay tarot decks in circulation. (The other deck, The Gay Tarot, was released only five months before Stillman's.)
Stillman, a Minnesota native who came out of the closet at 17 and has made his home in San Diego for the past 10 years, explained that his desire to be more connected with the gay community was only one factor in his decision to leave the corporate world.
“I didn't find a lot of openly gay people in those [big-business] types of settings,” Stillman said. “I don't know that I faced much discrimination as far as day-to-day operations, but there always seemed to be some type of reason for my not being able to excel, regardless of my skills. I definitely felt that I hit the ‘pink ceiling' here in San Diego, so it didn't seem to make sense to spin my wheels there.”
Having lost a lot of friends to AIDS in the early '80s, Stillman described how having so many people close to him die young made him reconsider what he wanted out of life. Even though he was a successful businessman, the work he was doing wasn't giving him much personal satisfaction, so he gave it up to reconnect with his more meaningful goals.
Stillman identifies as a Radical Faerie, one among a community of nature-loving gay men whose name puts a proud twist on the pejorative term “fairy.” Radical Faerie culture began in the 1970s, when gay rights pioneer Harry Hay was inspired by the role of the Berdache—a sexless or pansexual shaman—in many Native American cultures. Hay created the Radical Faerie movement with the hopes of establishing an independent civilization of Pagan gays that functioned politically as their own entity.
Hay's plan, obviously, was never realized, but the movement evolved and exists today in a more relaxed incarnation. Stillman explained that Radical Faerie gatherings often take place in a desert or a forest during Pagan holidays, celebrations of seasonal changes.
“Radical Faeries gather and commune together in nature to throw off the cloak of what it is to be a man in an urban environment,” Stillman said. “Because it is a free-form culture, nothing is locked into roles we play in daily urban settings. We might put on wild or feminine clothes, run around naked, howl at the moon, have heart circles and come together to talk about things openly in a safe and beautiful area.”
The reverence Stillman holds for nature is woven throughout all of his creative projects and counteracts the isolation he felt in the business world. His website is named in honor of the oak, which is held sacred in many Pagan cultures, and a variety of California landscapes are an integral part of each image in his 78-card Tarot deck.
Tarot cards have been around for hundreds of years but regained popularity in the 19th century as a parlor game of the elite. For Stillman, however, Tarot is much more than just a parlor trick, and it plays a significant part in his spiritual life.
Likening Tarot to an early form of psychology, Stillman believes that looking at an image and finding relevance in it acts as a form of creative stimulation to the brain that makes one look at his or her life from a different perspective.
“Tarot lets you consider the future possibilities if things continue along any given path,” Stillman explained. “Once you have that knowledge, you can choose to let things continue on or to change them. I did a personal reading for myself once I had formulated the idea of what I wanted to create. I asked the cards, ‘Am I on the right path? Is this a good decision?' and all the indications were yes.”
Finding it difficult to interpret traditional decks that include both men and women, Stillman is confident his deck will allow other gay men to find more relevance in their readings. To make the experience even more meaningful, Stillman has re-created scenes from gay history and mythology that are so often swept under the rug by hetero historians.
Already having sold 500 decks in 38 states and 10 countries, the numbers certainly indicate success. But Stillman isn't interested in numbers. “It's not bringing in enough money to completely support myself yet, but I have seen my friends bring more things to their lives as a result of this project, and these little things mean so much more to me than my accomplishments in big business.”
Stillman's website is www.oakgroveoracle.com.