Monday, April 25, 2016

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The Knight of Pentacles

In the Steampunk Tarot, Barbara Moore introduces the Knights by reminding us of their chaotic and unpredictable nature.  "It's not easy to wrangle a knight," she writes. They are quest figures, after all, always on the search for their own particular Holy Grail, always with eyes on the horizon.

At first blush, the Knight of Pentacles seems to defy that description. Unlike the other Knights in the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, his steed has all four feet on the ground. Our gallant hero doesn't brandish his symbol, or wave it about, or hoist it high. He contemplates it. The land around him is neatly tilled, and the sky is the golden-yellow of the sunset. There is a sense of coming home in this card, the journey completed.

But don't let all that steady calmness fool you. This Knight is just as knightly as his companions, just as focused on his quest. And therein lies the message he brings.

Pentacles are the suit of material resources, and as such, they are concerned with home and hearth, vocation and finances. Creative endeavors, especially those that are pursued as careers, can't always be about the ecstasy and the flow. Sometimes we have to get down to earth -- do the taxes, revise the scene, organize the calendar. The un-fun but utterly necessary work part of creative work.

When I see this Knight, I know it's time to buckle down. Some quests are quiet, more tortoise than hare. But when one is flying down the road at the speed of light, one misses the scenery. The softly rolling hill. The breeze scented with pine. The weight of the gold in one's hand, the way it catches the light. The quivering warm muscles of the mount beneath you, this faithful beast who has brought you this far and who will surely bring you home.

This week, find the beauty and pleasure in the progress, the one foot after another of your own creative journey. Word by word, chapter by chapter.  Slow and steady and soul-satisfying. Don't look behind to what you have or have not achieved; don't look ahead to accolades and accomplishments. As Anne Lamott reminds us, "Bird by bird." This is how you finally make it home/find the grail/finish the quest. One step at a time.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The Nine of Wands

Strength in reserve. That's the message of the Nine of Wands, personified by our grizzled, war-weary hero at the gates.

He's seen trouble, sure enough. And more troubles are on the way, you can bet. Trouble's always rolling in somewhere, after all, and his wary, defiant stance and bloodied but unbowed demeanor suggest that he'll be there to meet it when it does. Trouble is not going to sneak up on him in the night, no sir, no ma'am.

And he's right, of course. Trouble is here, trouble there, trouble trouble everywhere. What else is a person to do but wrap the bandages tighter, grab a stick, and take up position?

Well, now that you mention it, there's lots a person can do besides that.

A person could ask questions, for starters. Like, why am I the only one guarding this particular section of sticks? Isn't it someone else's turn? What's so important about these sticks anyway? Andand this is the trickiest question of allam I attracting trouble by standing out here looking like a target?

You are of course strong enough for whatever battle is to comethis card guarantees it. What it doesn't spell out for you, for anyone, is whether or not this is a battle you should be fighting. When the Nine of Wands comes visiting, it's time to evaluate what character you've decided to play in the story of your life.

Maybe you'll decide that you are indeed fighting the good fight; if so, hold your stick high, fellow warrior. Or maybe you'll decide to let Don Quixote tilt at windmills while you go do something else, like take a hot bath and get some rest. 

Because maybe, just maybe, you're brandishing that stick at the enemy-yet-to-come because that's much less frightening than figuring out what it is you're really supposed to be doing. Don't let Wielder of Sticks become your sole identity. Remind yourself of what life could be like without a stick in your hands.

Hint: It's pretty good.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

This Week's Writerly Tarot: Death

This morning, my daughter and I baked bread. I pulled out an old family recipe, transcribed decades ago by my thirteen-year-old hand, because it was quick and easy. Such requirements matter today because we were baking not for ourselves, but to help feed a family in bereavement.

Only a few hours ago, my kitchen was fragrant with yeast, the oven warming as the loaves finished their second rising. In another season, that flour was not the sifted pale powder in my kitchen -- it was thousands of whole grains waiting to be milled and processed. And before that, it was growing in a green field until it was mowed down by the combine, gathered and collected. Seeding and growing, reaping and harvest.

Death is often referred to as a Reaper. Look at him in the image—a pale rider on a pale horse, children and kings and priests alike falling before him. There is certainly a frightful aspect to the card, and to all losses, especially those of people we love, who have loved us. But there is also a promise. In the tarot, Death may be a reaper, but he bears a reminder of the season of renewal as well—the white rose on the banner, the symbol of the soul and rebirth. For this card describes not a singular moment, but a process. One step in the cycle.

Many years ago, I explored the Death card in a pilgrimage to Antietam, the site of the bloodiest day in Civil War history. I expected to feel some kind of horror there, some pervasive sadness, on that once battlefield, now farm. But the sky was blue and the fields were green and the corn in the field grew high and strong. That night, I dreamed of the Death card, and I wrote about that dream in my journal the next day:

"It is an unsettling card, Death—the black robes, the complacent relentless skull. In the dream, though, I flip it over and reverse it, and the image is now a chalice, overflowing with water, emptying and receiving simultaneously. Death is not static. It moves too, with time, a point on a continuum that really isn't a point, that is as fluid and forward moving as life. The two are inextricable."

And so my daughter and I baked bread this morning, the sun barely risen. And we gave thanks for life and for the harvest, kneaded that gratitude into each loaf. For everything there is a time and place. Tomorrow I will write. I will connect once again with the work that nourishes my soul. And though I will not eat any of this bread I have made, it nourishes me too.

I have heard it said that love is attention. As writers, it is our job to pay attention, so this week, do it well. Be grateful big and be grateful small, for both the expanding edge of the universe and a fresh new page. For the rising sun and the cup of coffee. And for whatever love surrounds you, for surround you it surely does.