Monday, November 30, 2015

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The Magician

I peeked at the cards this week with some nervousness. The past few readings had been about heartbreak and hard lessons, and I was ready for some forward movement, some active purpose. Some magic maybe, a little sprinkle of the quirky and serendipitous.

Boy howdy, did I get my wish -- The Magician, the card of manifesting change in the world according to one's will. Now this can be as simple as picking up a broom and sweeping the floor. Ta da. Magic. But it can also be much more complex and rewarding, especially concerning creative matters.

Let me quote to you from the book right at my elbow at right this exact moment -- Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic (See? Serendipity?): "Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred. What we make matters enormously, and it doesn't matter at all. We toil alone, and we are accompanied by spirits. We are terrified, and we are brave. Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege. The work wants to be made, and it wants to be made through you" (emphasis mine).

Because through is the key here, the Magician's secret. He has one arm upraised to the heavens, the source of inspiration. He has another pointing down, into manifestation. He's a lightning rod for creative energy. And when you see yourself in the same manner, when you tap into the creative process, you are allowing the work to move through you into being. You are the channel. You are the conduit. You are the connection. Think flow. Think current. Think electricity.

This week, open yourself. You already have the skills (think how many hours have you already put in at the keyboard, how many words have already moved through you onto the page). You already have the desire (or you wouldn't be reading this). All you need to do is plug in.

Say yes to the Muse, however she comes to you this week. Say yes to your own genius. Say yes to the magic.




Sunday, November 22, 2015

This Week's Writerly Tarot: Strength


We have been in this particular lion's den before. But since this is not a story of vanquishing and over-powering, our return is entirely proper. For once you have befriended this lion, you may come back to it as many times as you wish, as often as you need to be reminded of what soft control looks like.

I was myself reminded of this kind of control this deep, unwavering, and yet gentle kind of strength in this week's Brain Pickings with Marie Popova, who shared excerpts from novelist Nicole Krauss' response to Vincent van Gogh’s 1884 letter to his brother. Van Gogh's letter explores fear, especially the fear of the blank canvas and the unknown. Krauss' letter, separated from Van Gogh himself by over a century, offers the following observation, a perfect summation of the Strength card:
 "And yet even if we could scrape away the many forms our fear takes and get to the underlying source our mortality, our division from the infinite — we would still discover that our fear is not based on actual knowledge, unlike the part of us that chooses to be free. Bravery is always more intelligent than fear, since it is built on the foundation of what one knows about oneself: the knowledge of one’s strength and capacity, of one’s passion."
This week, treat your fear as if it were a wild animal in need of comfort. Kneel before the part of yourself that wants to lash out, recognize this impulse as a protective one, and treat that creature with all the compassion you can muster. For compassion is no weak thing it has muscles and stamina. It is strong enough to be gentle. And so are you.

This applies to all your life, not just your creative endeavors. Whether you are sitting down to the page or sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner, remember that we must have compassion for everyone editors and mean aunties, critics and cousins alike but most importantly for that wounded and roaring part of ourselves. Because if our inner lion is not cared for properly, it might just eat somebody alive.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Writerly Tarot: The Three of Swords

There is nothing equivocal about this card. It is sorrow, piercing and heart-rending. For though we process life in our head, our heart must channel the pain, and it does this physically. Viscerally. It is our birthright, heartache, and the Three of Swords is its avatar.

I am in no way surprised to see it this morning. It is actually a small comfort, to have the hurt named and pictured. These readings are meant for everybody who finds their way here, for the community of writers and readers and creative folk I am so lucky and blessed to be a part of, but each card is first and foremost a message for myself. Each represents a piece of my own life, my own process. But if there is one thing I have learned, it is that the personal is the universal. When you share the truth about yourself, you are sharing the truth about the whole of us.

And I am in mourning today, with the rest of the world, for Paris and her people. For all the lives lost in blood and terror, this week and all the days previous. For the fear that first shouts, but then creeps, and then eventually marches. How do I send my child into such a world? How do I tell her to open her arms to it when today there is only aftermath? The natural inclination is to pull the blades from our heart and stab them into something else. Someone else, some guilty person, for surely someone deserves this burden more than we do.

But no. No. We strive to move past pain, but we must learn to sit with it, our own pain and the pain of others. And then we must learn to walk around with it throbbing within us. Laugh with it. Love with it. Sorrow is a tide, rising and falling. Ancient, powerful, and as endless as the ocean.

How are we to respond today, to this freshly broken world? We do our work. We show up. We open to the whole of this morning and this day and this life. I believe that creative work is a particular kind of prayer, that it connects us to that which is bigger than us, and to each other, in ways that are profoundly spiritual. This I believe. And so this I practice, today especially.

In his poem "A Brief for the Defense," poet Jack Gilbert insists that "we must risk delight . . . We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world. To make injustice the only measure of our attention is to praise the Devil."

This week, risk delight. Go to the page or the easel or the wheel or the dance floor with stubborn gladness. A pierced heart is an open heart. Honor the wounded places. Do your work. And blessed be.


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Writerly Tarot of the Week: Justice

This week, Lady Justice comes calling yet again (you can read about her previous appearance here). Despite my careful and thorough shuffling, cards do show up more than once, sometimes back to back (it's bound to happen a traditional tarot deck has 78 cards, so some are destined to be repeat visitors). In my tarot philosophy, a card that shows up more frequently than the law of averages would dictate usually has one of two messages to share:

1. The energy is repeating itself, only in a new transmutation.

2. The energy is the same as it was previously, but I haven't figured out everything I need to figure out about it, so until I do, it will keep repeating and repeating, like blows to the head, until the information finally sinks into my thick hard skull.

This week is #2. Alas.

So I am returning once again to my own ideas about justice and fairness. I am questioning my beliefs about what it is to be deserving. I am pondering karma, that ancient engine of cause and effect, reckoning and consequence. I am doing these things especially with my creative endeavors, because there's nothing guaranteed to make one feel like a plaything of destiny than sending one's work into the larger world.

Justice is here to remind me that she has the eternal tally sheet well in order, thank you very much. She doesn't need me nudging her in the ribs, highlighting certain details that might have slipped her mind, scribbling helpful notes in the margins. Her balance scales do not require recalibration (and they especially don't need my thumb helping things equal up properly). All that she requires of me is that I keep my own balance book neat. And all that requires is the attention and intention of my entire lifetime.

Previously, I said of Justice, "You already have the long-enough lever she's simply showing you where you might stand." That sounds exactly right for this week too.

So . . . to work.


Sunday, November 1, 2015

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The Eight of Swords

The Eight of Swords describes a moment we all recognize (and might be living again real soon). It's not especially pleasant, but it's not as terrible as it appears on the surface. In fact, that's one of the themes of this card -- that appearances can be deceiving -- which is why the key to understanding it isn't the eight swords surrounding our heroine, it's the scrap of cloth tied around her eyes.

On the surface, it resembles a scene from one of those damsel-in-peril mysteries so popular on the Lifetime network. Bound and blindfolded and barricaded by swords, a woman stands alone on a rock. The sky is a dull gunmetal gray, and she seems lost and forlorn and unsure how to get herself out of the predicament she surely didn't put herself into.

But look again. Our lady bears some responsibility for staying in her situation. She's not seeing things clearly (literally and figuratively). After all, her feet are unbound. The swords do not surround her. Even the ties around her body seem loose. She seems paralyzed by her own fear, which is keeping her in place more effectively than any bindings.

Fear is generated by the mind, and it's meant to be helpful. It wants you to run away, avoid, save yourself. But in this particular situation, it's not doing our lady any good. And in your particular situation -- and you probably know what that is -- it's doing you no favors either.

This week, consider what fear large or small might be keeping you trapped. What is it about the situation that you aren't seeing? Is there a way to make some small change that might allow you to rip off whatever blinders have settled in place?

Shake off the cords. They weren't really holding you back anyway. Peel up the edge of the blindfold. Take a gander at whatever it is you've been missing.