Saturday, August 12, 2017

A Writerly Guide to Mercury Retrograde YET AGAIN

Yes, Mercury Retrograde is once again upon us as of Saturday night at 9:00 PM EDT. I'm a Virgo, which is a sign ruled by Mercury, so its retrograde energy hits me with a wallop (Geminis, also ruled by Mercury, get an even stronger dose). And since Mercury is in the sign of Virgo when it goes retro this go-round, I suspect we of the Sovereign Sign will be feeling it more than usual.

The retrograde refers to the time that Mercury appears to be going backward in the sky. It's not, of courseTHAT would be the retrograde to end all retrogrades—but because astrology is all about perspective, it's a time of significant and potent energy swirls nonetheless.

Therefore, things get a little screwy, especially in the areas of life that fall under the auspices of Mercury energy: travel, communications, and technology. Anything related to movement and words, really. Yes, I see you skeptics sneering. Of course a tiny little planet zipping in a tight little orbit around a ball of blazing gas can't lose your hotel reservations. That's not how astrology works, silly. The astronomical movement is merely a clue that something's going on that we should pay attention to, like a particular tarot card coming up. The law of averages explains how often cards appear (just like the laws of physics explain why planets appear to go backwards in predictable cycles)—it's we humans who make the meaning.

Mercury often gets a bad rap (one of my mystical friends calls it "The Scapegoat Planet"). Yes, its energy often manifests in a chaotic manner, but that's most often because we fight it. Mercury loves a good tussle, and will give as good as it gets, so put down your dukes and power up your flexibility muscle. You can emerge from Mercury Retrograde not only intact, but stronger for the bargain.

Here are some excellent strategies (if you have more, share them in the comments).

1. Think like The Magician.  Instead of fighting energy or trying to wrestle it into obedience, the Magician understand that when lightning strikes, best to make like a lightning rod and let that pow-bang move through you. Mercury will return your opposition as reaction if you work against it, but if you channel the energy, it is now yours to harness.

2. Ponder like the Seven of Pentacles. We are too often enamored of forward motion. We like speed. We like word counts. We like page totals and checklists checked off check check check. But Mercury Retrograde is about moving forward even if it feels like we are moving backward (emphasis on the "feels"; Mercury loves to play with our "feels"). This is the time for any activity beginning with re—: review, rewrite, rethink, rejoice, recalibrate, recheck, resubmit, rewind, reconsider, rework, and, my personal favorite, revise. Those efforts will be especially powerful now.

3. Chill like The Hanged Man. This is a card of ultimate paradox—to control we must let go. Be receptive to the gifts of surprise and delight that often bloom during the retrograde. Don't get trapped with a bad case of "ought to be"; instead, open to "what is." This is a time when you'll find yourself unexpectedly taking the scenic route, discovering serendipitous connections in mundane places, or finding that a setback might actually lead you to an Aladdin's cave of treasures. Just breathe, watch, be patient. And relax, for crying out loud.

So there you have it, a recipe for creative success during Mercury Retrograde. Enjoy your time backtracking across the sky, and remember, the energy is only what you make of it.

You might want to back up that hard drive and double check those directions, though. Just saying.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The Wheel of Fortune

It's one of the more interesting junctures between art and science. It began in 1992 when author John Briggs observed that some of Jackson Pollack's paintings demonstrated fractal patterns, an observation later demonstrated in multiple physics experiments. Now there is some difficulty in defining what a fractal is, but one can think of them as repeating geometric patterns that can be split into parts, each of which is approximately a reduced-size copy of the whole.

Fractals are an important function of chaos theory (you know, the butterfly effect) and they are everywhere in nature, in pineapples and lightning bolts, in snowflakes and fault lines. They are easy to replicate using computer technology, but dang hard to create otherwise. Practically impossible. Pollack could do it, however. He could tap into the same random order that the Universe used to create a chambered nautilus. He was so good at it that fractal pattern analysis can be used to authenticate genuine Pollacks from forgeries.

And what is the Wheel of Fortune but an elaborate fractal pattern, Exhibit A in the deterministic but utterly random nature of the Universe. A dynamic system highly sensitive to initial conditions but not predictable in its final results. Round and round and round she goes, and where she stops...

Well, you get the drift. Sometimes we can peek ahead and see what's up, and sometimes the Wheel spins into territory that we could have in no way seen coming, but which can nonetheless be traced back to a single, singular action. We've been here before, of course. And we'll be here again. Such is the nature of all wheels, but especially this one.

What does it mean for you, dear creative friend? Methinks that this is a week less for pontification and more for pondering. Less for answers and more for questioning. Less about pulling back the veil and more about letting the veil cast its gauzy, hazy, utterly mysterious magic.

You won't be able to predict how your actions this week will spin out, so don't demand that your art conform to expectations either. Let your characters talk back to you, walk out on you, refuse to behave. Follow the side road into territory not on the plot outline. There is no satisfaction guaranteednothing is guaranteed this week. But I can promise you that learning to enjoy the risings and the fallings of this particular Wheel is a worthy goal.

There's a full moon on Monday, peaking in the sign of Aquarius. There's a partial lunar eclipse too. You can count on those two things. As for the results their energy will spin in manifestation...well, even the tarot will be nonplussed this week. And that is not a bad thing.

Monday, July 31, 2017

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The Nine of Cups

As I turned over the card for this week's reading, I was gratified to see the Nine of Cups revealed. After all, this week we celebrate Lammas, also known as Lughnasadh, the sabbat celebrating the grain harvest, and the Nine of Cups is the card of the bountiful table.

Imagine my surprise when I noticed that on this exact same time last year I drew this exact same card. What I had to say still applies on this most welcoming and nurturing eve, so I'm sharing it again. The Wheel turns and returns. Blessed be the Wheel.

And blessed be your creative endeavors this Lammas Day.

Today the Wheel of the Year turns, ushering in the Gaelic feast day of Lughnasadh, the first of the mid- to late-summer harvest festivals celebrated through Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Also known as Lammas, or "loaf-mass," in English-speaking countries, this holiday is a celebration of the first wheat harvest, and all the goodness that derives from that grain, especially bread.

Bread is more than physical sustenance—it is also a symbol of our connection to the cycles of life, and to each other. It is no coincidence that the word "companion" come from the Old French compaignon, literally "one who shares bread" (the Latin com which means "together" and panis which means "bread").

I was thinking about these themes when I turned over the card for this week's reading, so I was not a bit surprised to see the Nine of Cups shining there. What a bountiful card this is, and what an appropriate day for it to grace our presence. It does come with one warning, though—in abundance, we must also be generous. This card is often called the "wish" card, but as those old stories about genies illustrate, we must be careful what we wish for. We must never confuse abundance with a static state, a have or have-not duality. Generosity is an energy, less about the bread than the active breaking of it.

This week, ponder the nature of your resources both creative and otherwise. Who do you break bread with, both literally and figuratively? Who shares the abundance of your table? Who invites you to share in theirs? Think about these people this week, both past and present. Connect to them in your thoughts, and if possible, in your words. Perhaps even bake some actual, honest-to-goodness bread to share with them, a tangible symbol of your gratitude for their presence in your life. Here is a very simple, and very good, recipe. Don't let your resources stagnate with you.

For this is the truth all creative folk understand—we are not islands unto ourselves. Our art connects us to each other, and to the Universe. Not a word we write exists in isolation for we are using the same ancient tools—in the case of us English speakers, twenty-six of them—that have been used for thousands of years. We are artisans and architects, keepers of a sacred well, tenders of an old old fire. When we sit down to the page, we are always in good company. And as such, we should always be grateful. We should always raise our metaphorical cups in salute.

Have a blessed Loaf Day! May it be fruitful now and throughout your harvest season!

Monday, July 24, 2017

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The Tower

I am late getting to this week's reading again. This time it wasn't illness that got me behind scheduleit was The Tower.

I've written about this card before (you can read that here if you wish).  Sometimes the Tower represents a singular event, one of enormity and destruction, one that requires you to sink or swim. This is its classical meaning. But sometimes—as in my previous weekend—the Tower falls brick by brick, like shrapnel. During such Tower times, you may feel as if the Fates are aligned against you, that everything you touch either falls apart or clamps down on you like a booby trap.

Such was my weekend.

I was at a conference in Atlanta (a FANTASTIC conference, by the wayMystic South. You should go next year, you really should). I first noticed something was off when the sink quit working in my room right in the middle of brushing my teeth. I soon learned that a water main had burst, and that our fifteen-story hotel was without running water of any kind. Which also means that the hotel was without air conditioning. In Atlanta. In July.

The hotel staff rallied. They filled the side parking lot with port-a-potties. They set up hydration stations in the lobby, passed out gallons of spring water to take to the rooms. There was even free ice cream and popsicles. The housekeeping staff used the water in the fountains to mop with. The conference staff also responded like true heroes, with patience and good humor, and the workshops continued. We talked about hoodoo and root work, writing by moon signs and working with the genii loci. It was soul nourishing and brain stimulating.

But the Tower was not done with me. On my way home, massive car crashes (including one involving a gasoline-filled tanker truck) shut down the interstate. As I tried to find alternate routes, other crashes (six in all) also shut down those highways. Plus, no matter what I tried to do with my credit card, whether buy gas or get some beef jerky, the card reader refused to cooperate.

Such a minor thing, this, but it had me almost in tears at the Walgreens. The nice lady cashier said, "Don't worry, honey, it's just a glitch." I wanted to yell and scream that no, it wasn't, that I was trapped in a Mercury retrograde all my own, a personal bad luck tornado. In the end, I made it home safely, grateful, beef jerky in hand, thanks to the help of a lot of people.

What does any of this have to do with writing? I was wondering when you'd ask.

This week, remember that Towers will rise and fall outside of your control. Sometimes they are singular catastrophes; sometimes they are a series of unwelcome calamities. Sometimes your creative work will suffer (mine surely has). But during such unfortunate events, do as Mr. Rogers suggested and look for the helpers. You'll find them. They'll have a kind word or a bottle of cool water. They'll take your hand or offer their shoulder for you to cry on. And sometimes you're the one called to be the helper. You can do it, I'm sure. Because when the bricks start falling, we find resources we didn't know we had.

This week, remember...whenever the Tower rears, dodge the mayhem as best you can. Offer help whenever possible. Accept help whenever you need to. The work will be there when the crisis is over, so don't beat yourself up if you don't make your word count. The work will wait for you. It is patient that way.

Take care of yourself. Take care of each other. It's why we're here. And I sincerely hope that your week is Tower-free.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Writerly Tarot: The Knight of Swords

We all know a Knight.

They are the extroverts, the enthusiasts, the seekers. They charge and brandish and yell "Tally ho!" They like speed and adventure, and while they can be somewhat reckless, they are brimming with prowess and a heady, mercurial energy, like alternating current. If you can get them to concentrate, that is. And stop tilting at innocent windmills.

Knights are court cards, which have a reputation as being tricky to figure out. I suspect their openness to various interpretations is the reason. There are sixteen court cards in a traditional tarot deckfour in each of the four suits: a King and Queen and Knight and Page—and they can personify the querent, a person in the querent's life, or the energy of the suit as expressed by their role.

In our case, the Knight of Swords has come dashing into the fray (and if there wasn't a fray before he arrived, there is guaranteed to be one after). Does he represent you, riding headlong into a battle of wits that is occupying every iota of your attention? Or is he coming at you, sword aloft, and if so, is he seeking to entangle you in his adventure or whack you down as the enemy? (this is an important question, really important). Or perhaps you are dealing not with a person but with manifestation of some particularly feisty energy, in which case, be prepared for wild times of the intellectual sort.

Only you know the nature of this dashing Knight. All I can do is tell you to be on the listen for hoofbeats this week. Get ready to ride, or get ready to run. You'll be doing one or the other for sure.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The Four of Swords

Well, hello there. This is me crawling out from under the worst migraine headache I've had in almost three decades. It was so bad I was convinced my skull was going to crack and shatter and shards of bright pain-light would escape. There was nausea, agony, weeping incomprehensibility. I couldn't make words. My world was a double-visioned, ever-tightening vise of pain.

So I didn't draw any tarot cards. I didn't do anything but crawl under blankets in a mercifully dark and cold room and let painkillers and ice do their healing work. And now I am back among the living. But I have gotten so very little work done. This always makes me uncomfortable, to be starting with a backlog, already behind schedule for the week.

And soas I sometimes doI pulled a card deliberately this week instead of drawing one randomly. This week is definitely a Four of Swords week.

Here is what I had to say about it last time it appeared:
That's the advice from the Four of Swords, another one of those cards where the nature of the suit—in this case the active masculine properties of the Swords—is at odds with the number of the card. Fours are about stability and foundations—think squares—and as such, like to arrange all the ducks in a row.
Easy to do when the ducks are dead. But ah, there are depths to this particular dying, which of course isn't about physical death at all. There is tension in this card between action and passivity, and it is best resolved by remembering how the tarot looks at death.
And how does the tarot look at death? As transformation. Which means that this card isn't about being dead as much as it's about feeling dead, and sitting with that discomfort long enough to realize that, hey, you actually aren't dead, perhaps you're just being very very still, which can feel the same way.

When I look back at this migraine, I brought it upon myself. I pushed beyond my normal limits, which normally wouldn't have been a bad thing, but which, when coupled with events out of my controla series of thunderstorms, especiallyturned into a small horror.

The Four of Swords asks us to recuperate. It requests that we lie in effigy for a while. This may feel like wasted time, worthless seconds ticking by and nothing getting done. My Virgo soul is recoiling at the thought, even now. But as much as I like to check items off a to-do list, today I have to spend some time out of the world and in my body. My slightly-broken but rapidly healing body.

And so I will.

This week, you might be inclined to push past barriers, through limits, beyond obstacles. Which is all very well and good. But make time to retreat as wellinto yourself, into a moment, into silence and solitude. Be passive and receptive, but protected and secluded as well. It may feel like death, like the walls of a coffin around you as the world pays brief respects and then moves on with its bright agenda.

But it's not death; it's simply stillness. Welcome it for a little while this week. Tomorrow and tomorrow will welcome you back to the stage. It will be good for your soul, I promise.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Writerly Tarot Redux: The Ten of Cups

(I'm on vacation this week, so I'm sharing last year's column from this same day, whichas the stars would have itis playing out almost exactly as it did last year, right down to the writing I'm working on and the food I'm cooking. Circles and seasons, cycles and returns. May yours—and ours, and all of usbe blessed. Thank you for being a part of my community).

It's definitely a holiday weekend around here at Whittle Central. We're all home, for one, and there are tasty eats being prepared (in our case we're celebrating America by cooking a Mediterranean feast of epic proportions). We're all engaged in various projects, but not a single one of us feels obliged to crack down on our official to-do lists. So no engineering, no opening the college history book, and in my case, not a single bit of PR or promo work or (ack) bookkeeping.

Writing itself? Oh sure, I'll be doing some of that. But it will be purely for the joy of it today, not to make a word count. Maybe I'll treat my characters to a fireworks show and see what other kinds of fireworks might happen. Or maybe I'll let them have a dinner date that doesn't involve a criminal investigation. Regardless, it will be a just-for-fun scene that has no place in the plot-driven mystery novels they inhabit, but that I enjoy writing so very much.

That's the lesson I'm taking from the Ten of Cups, which is a card of well-earned joy. Tens are cards of culmination, and the Cups are the suit of emotions (and how we order and experience them) so a little celebration feels in order. For me, that means I'll be including my fictional people in my activities, but more importantly, I'm making time for my flesh and blood people. The Fourth of July is called Independence Day, but in the middle of all the red, white, and blue, I think what we're truly celebrating is our connection to each other. It takes an us to make a USA. And I have some fine people to call mine.

This week, honor your creative spirit by being grateful for all the joy that it has brought into your life. And be especially grateful for all the people who have helped you along the way -- your family, your friends, your creative tribe. Every hand that has taken yours in encouragement or assistance or camaraderie. All these shared moments are culminating in the right here/right now of who you are. Which is not where you were when you started this creative journey, I am willing to bet.

Happy 4th of July! May it herald a fantastic second half to your 2016!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The Seven of Wands

You're right, of course.

Of course you are. I mean, you wouldn't spend all this time and energy defending something you were wrong about, now would you? It's the principle of the thing, after all. Sometimes you just have to stick up for yourself and what's right, and you do know what's right...don't you?

The Seven of Wands has no opinion about the correctness of your beliefs. It does, however, insist that you must fight to defend them. And unlike the casual stick-rattling in the Five of Wands, the Seven is serious. This is a fight that matters.

Why? Because your beliefs are the foundation upon which your passion finds expression. What you believe falls under the purview of the Swordshow you act upon those beliefs finds expression in the Wands.

The image on the card makes this clear. Yes, our hero is embattled. Yes, he's defending with all he's got, strongly and actively. Yes, he's outnumbered. But look what he's protectingnothing less than his entire worldview. All that matters to him is on the line, and it's a line he's prepared to hold against all assailants. And they are many. He's outgunned—well, out-sticked anyway—six to one. But what a feisty one he is.

This week, you may find yourself challenged. The matter may seen insignificant on the surface, but make no mistake—a load-bearing wall of your identity is on the line, and right or wrong, you are being called to defend it. Is it worth the inevitable conflict and bruising? Is this a hill you're willing to die on? And—because this is the crux of the matter—would it be a bad thing if you did? (remembering that in the tarot, Death doesn't mean death, only transformation.)

Only you can decide. Only you know if the ground beneath your feet is your true home turf. And only you stand on the front line of it.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The High Priestess

A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”
Stephen Crane 

I am an inside person.

This is a good thing for writers, most of the time anyway, as we tend to spend a lot of our working day planted in front of our writing tool of choice, being interior. Inside the story, inside the characters, inside our own heads.

To outside people—those extroverts who climb mountains for fun, or shoot down whitewater rapids, or dance until dawn o'clock—inside spaces can feel limited. Boundaried. Without movement or action. I sympathize with those people when cards like The High Priestess turn up in a reading. After all, people come to the tarot for information, usually because they have a choice to make. They come because they need to move forward. They do not want to see the card of emptiness and passivity on their plate.

The High Priestess understands. Her understanding, however, does not create a sense of obligation.

There's a lot of symbolism to unpack in this card's image, ancient Kabbalistic references to severity and mercy, law and lore, potential and realization. The crescent moon at her feet and the full moon on her brow link her to the deepest mysteries of the divine feminine. There are treasures here that will not be plundered; they must be revealed. And they will only be revealed in stillness and silence.

This week, bring whatever creative conundrum you wish before The High Priestess. Lay it at her feet. Then sit back and wait. Keep your sticky fingers off your problem; no poking and definitely no prodding. Do not check your watch.  Do not expect the Priestess to say or do a thing. Eventually the time will come when you are to rise and go, leaving your wholly unresolved dilemma behind you. Do this. Do not look back. The old tales are heavy with the tragic stories of the one-last-look-backers.

Now go about your work. Eventually...well, I don't know what will happen eventually. She does, however. And that is all I know, and all you need to know, of this card.

Monday, June 12, 2017

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The Queen of Wands

I'm currently writing a story about a Queen of Wands—vivacious, attractive, somewhat restless, quick with ideas and plans and "let's do this!" schemes. As one of the court cards of this suit, the Queen of Wands personifies warmth and generosity and magnetic charm. For as Arthur Waite himself pointed out, the wands you see portrayed here are not dead wood—they are always alive and in leaf.

I enjoy writing about these particular queens, probably because I'm such an earthbound Pentacle myself; my series sleuth Tai Randolph, who has been with me for six books so far, is a classic Wands personality. Her sun sign is Aries, Cardinal Fire, which means that it carries the qualities of elemental fire—quickness, passion, wholehearted enthusiasmin one direction, forward. The Queen of Wands makes things happen. She initiates. Follow-through is not her strong point, but she'll always come out of the gate with a bang.

Some contemporary schools of thought assign Cardinality to the Knights, however, not the Queens, and I'm inclined to agree. Knights are much more tally-ho about things, charging here and there, questing and jousting and generally staying in motion. When I'm reading the cards, Queen are much more interior. They represent states of being. They have thrones, after all, not horses. They don't flit hither and yon.

So what does this means for you and me as creative people this week, to have such royalty grant us an audience? For me, it means that the project I am just beginning will benefit from two key if somewhat paradoxical aspects of this Queen—her ability to make a strong start combined with her ability to be centered in her own power. It's a tricky trick, being still and in movement at the same time. But it's what story requires of us. Sometimes the story leads; sometimes we have to give the reins a sharp pull. Always we have to be in partnership with our own creative process.

This week, if you find yourself fighting the work before you, find a comfy place to sit and arrange yourself there royally. Feel your backbone straighten, your brow uncrease. The wand you wield is a powerful one, as useful as a scepter as it is as a jousting stick. A queen knows how to do both, and when to do each. Be a queen. Sense your next move, the one that will clear the way. You'll know you have it when a little black cat comes and sits at your feet.

(For further information about the astrological associations of tarot, especially the court cards, check out Richard Palmer's explanation the Golden Dawn's elemental tarot associations at The Biddy Tarot, or this essay at Tarot Moon on court card astrology).

Sunday, June 4, 2017

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The Five of Pentacles

It's me, your humble tarot servant, writing to you from under a mound of blankets with a thermometer stuck in my mouth and a box of tissues at my elbow.

Yes, it's a sick day. An early summer cold, the nastiest of the breed. At least in the winter one can sink into the misery of being inside because the outside isn't much better. And I don't mind an August cold, eitherany port in that hundred-degree storm. But on days like today, mild and ripening, with gardenias scenting the air...


So instead of getting germs all over my tarot deckwhich tarot decks do not like, let me tell youI decided to write about the card that the Universe pulled for me, the Five of Pentacles (you can read about a previous time it showed up, around the Winter Solstice no less, HERE).

The Pentacles are the suit of foundation, and of all the ways that we experience being physical in the world. Therefore they tend to show up with information about earthy things: our homes, our jobs, our health. Money and wellness andas this Five demonstratesthe lack thereof.

As material abundance goes, these two sad souls have nothing. Bandaged and limping, hunched over and freezing, their clothes not nearly warm enough for the bitter cold surrounding them, they are misery personified. But look behind them, to the glowing stained glass window of what appears to be a church. It seems warm and blessed in there, it certainly does.

So why are our beggars not choosing that sanctuary? Are they blind to the comfort there? Unwilling to take it? Or have they been rejected by those who would prefer to keep that comfort all to themselves?

The tarot lets us decide. We use the surrounding cards to give the image nuance and subtext. Today, I am sick. But I have a family to care for me, money to buy medicine, soup from the neighborhood restaurant, and a comfortable bed to recuperate in. In a divinatory sense, the Five of Pentacles often shows up at times of physical illness or material discomfort. That's appropriate enough for my situation today.

But, as always, it carries a potent reminder that our day-to-day struggles and joys are part of a larger cycle, a cog within a great wheel. This is an especially important reminder to those of us who do creative work, which can often feel very introverted and solitary, an island in an enormous sea.

Even islands are not separate. They are connected to the water that laps on their shores, to the sun that shines and the birds that perch and the air that moves. Isolation is an illusion. A necessary one at times (like free will) but an illusion nonetheless.

This week, there is probably something that could be better in your physical surroundings. It may even be something affecting your creative work, like a lumpy chair or a noisy dog or a nasty cold. Do your best to ameliorate it. A solution could be close at hand. You might be a little snowblind. Or perhaps the unpleasantness this week is actually a key, one that you can use to unlock a door that you didn't even know was there, one that leads to an outside rougher than you imagined. Perhaps you will then realize that even in your particular misery, you have a lot of share.

Open the door a little wider. That's how the light gets out.


Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Writerly Tarot: The Three of Pentacles

At the tail end of last week, I finished the draft for what I am hoping will be the sixth book in my mystery series. 86,558 words. It felt really good to lay down that metaphorical pen and walk blinking into the sunlight.

It's a big step, but of course it is only a step. Next it goes to my editors. And that's where the Three of Pentacles work begins. We've visited this card twice in the past (I wrote about it as a representation of the Great Work HERE, and as the card of collaboration HERE) and so today I look at it through my own personal lens, which this morning is one of amazement at all of the different facets a creative work brings into focus.

There is planning, represented here by the figure with the blueprints, the bringer of equations and theory, eye-pleasing arches and load-bearing walls. There is practice, the worker atop the bench, translating the words and images into brick and mortar. And there is inspiration, the tonsured priest, providing the reminder that the spark at the heart of any creative endeavor can be a connection to a larger purpose (and that one would not be off-base to think of it as Divine, if one so choosesnot required but absolutely appropriate).

At different times in the process, I am all of these people. I serve as priest and architect and craftsperson as word by word my work begins to stand on its own. Hopefully it will be a place that people will want to visit—I have tried to make it welcoming and lovely and accessible, tried very hard—but I am content that it exists as both a product of my expectations and separate from them. I am content that I did my very best.

It's not turn-key ready, not yet. But I am excited to think that it will be soon.

This week, consider the different ways that you show up for your own work. Ponder the specific joys and satisfactions of each. There is delight in sandpapering that is equal to the delight of blessing that is equal to the delight of planning the broad strokes of a soaring cathedral. Be grateful for them all.

Monday, May 22, 2017

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The Seven of Swords

It is raining here as I write, not the gentle showers of April. No, this is the roaring lion of May come down to growl and pace and throw himself around a bit. My dog is hiding with each thundercrack, and I am grateful to have a roof over my head on such a night.

I am one paragraph away from finishing the draft of what (I hope) will be the sixth book in my mystery series. I need to get to that paragraph. I need to be done. And yet I am still crossing off items on my to-do list. I have paid the bills, cooked the supper, written the letters, proofed the blog. Check and check again.

And now this last thing to do. When did tarot become a chore? A task?

Alas, that is not how it's supposed to work. So it is with little surprise that when I finally settle down to get this post written, and I turn over the card, it is the Seven of Swords, the card of sneak thievery.

He has tiptoed into our readings before. What I said about him then still resonates:
Of course, to call him a thief is to presume that the swords he is so stealthily carting away don't belong to him already. Perhaps he is simply reclaiming what was rightfully his in the first place, which makes this a mission of liberation, not larceny. The image is open to interpretation, and that's what you must do this week.

Contemplate the Larger Enterprise of which you are a part — has something of creative value been taken from you (or vice versa, it must be admitted)? What means justify the ends of getting it back? What steps should you take to correct this imbalance? And what exactly is it that's been (or is being) snatched away?
If I am to heed my own advice (and surely I should, for what's the point of sharing useless advice?), then I must look this thief in the eye and realize that he works for me. I hired him to steal snippets of time. He picks the locks with his tool of multitasking, but what he doesn't say is that his services cost me more than any purloined bounty he brings.

Today I have double-teamed every moment I have had. Not one has been deep, or singular, or purely experienced. I have charged through every single one, desperate to get to the next item and check it off.

Some days are like this, I know. Best to put one's head down and keep moving forward, stubborn as a bull. One step after another. But today there have been gardenias and rainbows and red wine, and the thief I hired to steal time for me has instead stolen moments from me.

This, not this week. Right now. Put down your creative to-do list and claim instead an hour of non-productive non-work. Don't check off anything. Don't rush through an unpleasant task. Creativity is a gift we give ourselves. Send the thief packing. Let the seconds run through your fingers indolent and lovely. And know that I am taking my own advice, as of right this very second.

It's time to unplug and sit with the lightning.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The Empress

Occasionally here at The Writerly Tarot, I break procedure and instead of pulling a random card from the deck, I choose one deliberately. I do this on the sabbats, those eight turnings of the Wheel of the Year that mark the solstices and equinoxes and cross-quarter celebration days.

I'm being deliberate again today, even though this weekend's holiday is a secular and not particularly spiritual one--Mother's Day. (Hint: If you haven't called your mother already, this is the Universe reminding you to do so). This day is probably second only to Valentine's Day in terms of floral purchases--likewise perfume and candy--but there's actually a deep significance to Mother's Day that goes deeper than its commercial expressions. 

The modern concept of Mother's Day began with Anna Jarvis, who wanted to celebrate her own mother, peace activist Ann Reeves Jarvis, who cared for wounded soldiers on both sides of the American Civil War and who created Mother's Day Work Clubs to address public health issues. And while the holiday does celebrate (as Ann Jarvis describes) "the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world," the day actually celebrates the deeper commitment to service to humankind.

And to peace. Julia Ward Howe's famous Mother's Day Proclamation echoed this call boldly:
Arise, then, women of this day!

Arise, all women who have hearts, whether our baptism be of water or of tears! 

Say firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."
Like Mother's Day, the Empress has depths. On the surface, she is the epitome of creative fertility, the Queen of the May, the Lady of the Land and all that it provides. And she is. But she is also the Lady of blood and fire and pain, for both birth and death are her purview. And yet here, as the Empress, she offers us bounty and blessings, abundance and Love, the big good kind. Her arms are open to all.

This week, be grateful for all the mothering and nurturing that you have received, and for all the ways that you have been able to share it, whether in a literal sense with your own mother, or in a metaphorical sense with women and men who have cared for you or nurtured your endeavors. And you know those people.

So yes, be sure to call your mom (that's the second time I've told you, so...) But yes also, say thank you this week. Say it in an email or a phone call or better-best in person. Be specific. Surely there is someone in your life who provided some precious water to a seedling of your very own. The Universe wants you to let them know you are grateful.

And have a blessed and fruitful Mother's Day. Peace be with you.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The King of Cups

First, a confession.

I cannot look at the King of Cups as depicted in the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot and not think of Q, the almost-omniscient troublemaker on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Something about that weird hat crown. And the whale-tail throne floating in the middle of the ocean. And the blue dress. And the necklace with the fish amulet, which is not something Q wore, but only because he hadn't thought about it yet, I am sure.

Because let's face it, the King of Cups is an odd combination of traits. He's one of the court cards, tricky devils when it comes to interpretation because they can represent the querent (the person getting the reading), a person in the querent's life, or some manifestation of the energy of their suit. So if he shows up, he could be you, or somebody else, or some kind of kingly presence.

The Cups themselves are also notoriously hard to pin down. Like the watery element they spring from, they are always ebbing and rising, flowing and switching course, in a perpetual state of constant change (ponder that paradoxical concept a moment). They transform and are transformed in continual movement, only temporarily contained. The King of Cups represents that dynamic, especially its emotional power. The Cups are the suit of the heart, after all, and this King is deeply in touch with feelings of all kinds, especially compassion and love.

This contradicts with the outwardly-focused, actively-engaged nature of Kings. Masculine cards are direct, linear, and somewhat relentless in their drive forwardinterior work is not their forte. And yet here is the King of Cups representing just that.

Also, you must understand that in the tarot, concepts like masculine and feminine have nothing to do with genderthey simple describe ways of being in the world by creating two poles on a continuum. So Kings don't always refer to men, and even when they do, they don't always reference the "manliness" of said men.

In summary, be on the lookout for the King of Cups this week. He'll beto quote Suzanne Vega's "Left of Center""in the outskirts/ in the fringes/ in the corner/off of the strip." He may be disguised, deliberately unassuming or delightfully outrageous. He may be in your own heart, or sitting next to you on the bus. He may be a she, or an it, both or neither. And he'll have a message for you.

What does this have to do with writing? you say. Excellent question. You should probably ask this King when he appears. He may answer with a riddle. But he'll always answer. Guaranteed.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The Nine of Swords

In numerological thinking, nine is the number of completeness and culmination. So is ten. In the tarot, however, endings are actually beginnings. The ten is the last number is a suit, and therefore leads you right back to the one. Circles in the sand, cycles and seasons.

Nines, though...nines don't play that paradox game. Nines come down like a curtain. And nowhere do we see the nines' knack for utter finality than in the Swords.

The Swords are the suit of mental acuity. Like the blades that are their metaphor, Swords cut both ways. The same intellectual sharpness that we use to be logical and rational can also be used for cruelty and spite, sometimes at the same time. To paraphrase a popular saying, we always hurt the one we know best. And we know no one better than we know ourselves.

The Nine of Swords occurs during the dark night of the soul. But it doesn't reference any actual event; rather, it refers to those times when our anxiety is so strong that it becomes a force to be reckoned with all by itself. Our worries are only worries--insubstantial, wispy--but given the proper fuel, we can worry them into something three-dimensional.

So perhaps the nines do traffic in paradox after all.

This week, if you feel the cold breath of something unpleasant against the back of your neck, don't let your imagination fill in the details. Turn around and face that monster straight on. It's guaranteed to be smaller that way, less corporeal. Give it a poke and watch that soap bubble baddie go poof right in front of you. You created it after all. You can de-create it just as easily.

But if that doesn't work...brew some tea and call a friend. Nothing like flesh and blood sympathy to take the edge off a nightmare.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Review of The Science Tarot by Logan Austeja Daniel, Martin Azevedo, and Raven Hanna

In honor of the Marches for Science taking place around the country today, and for Earth Day, I'm sharing again my review of the Science Tarot. This review first appeared at The Mojito Literary Society, and it describes why I consider the Science Tarot to be the perfect blend of data and divination.

You can still find this deck for sale. It's gorgeous, cohesive, and wonderful for readings. I highly recommend it!

*     *     *

As the new year begins, I find myself hard at work promoting the book that's coming out (February 1st! OMG!) and writing the book that my editor wants to see a hundred pages for (another OMG). So my To-Be-Read pile of books is nearing skyscraper proportions, and it's not looking to be reduced anytime soon. Even when I'm too busy for reading, however, I always find time for working with my tarot cards.

This Christmas, I was excited to find a deck from my engineer hubby under the tree. Even better, it was a deck that managed to combine the awe and wonder of the material universe with the mystery and magic of the Tarot. I am having a great time reading about the creation of The Science Tarot, but an even better time working with the cards.

The key to making this combination of seemingly contradictory systems work is structure. Both science and tarot are highly organized, orderly collections of information. Both involve a progression that feels linear, but which is actually a series of cycles. The difference between the two is the main perspective lens -- science uses logic and rationality (left brain stuff) and tarot uses intuition and subconscious processing (right brain stuff). That's a bit reductive as an explanation, but as the Ace of Scalpels (Swords) points out, reductionism is a valid method for comprehension. It's part of the seeker's toolkit. It's just not the ONLY part.

Like traditional tarot, the Science Tarot is broken into the major arcana and the minor arcana. Likewise, the minor arcana are broken up into four thematic suits, which each contain numbered cards ace through ten, plus four court cards. The difference is in the nomenclature. For example, in traditional tarot, these suits are called Wands (Energy), Cups (Emotion), Swords (Intellect) and Pentacles (Physicality). The Science Tarot uses Bunsen Burners (Creation -- astronomy and cosmology), Beakers (Integration -- biology and ecology), Scalpels (Observation -- physics and math) and Magnifying Glasses (Exchange -- geology and chemistry).

For example, the Nine of Pentacles (represented in this deck by the Magnifying Glass) is Aurora, the stream of energized particles accelerating along Earth's magnetic lines that cast off excited electrons in the upper atmosphere, creating the mythic glow of the Northern Lights.This card in both decks represents the release of outdated things and ideas, leaving only the refined and cultivated newness behind. This process often entails sacrifice, but it is worth it for the end result.

Instead of Pages, Knights, Queens, and Kings, the Science Tarot present Explorers, Innovators, Storytellers, and Visionaries. For example, Carl Sagan is the Queen of Wands, the Storyteller whose intelligence and empathy welcomed others into scientific discovery.
The Major Arcana tells famous stories from science, or as the deck describes it, "shared experiences and moments of transformation." In traditional decks, these are the cards of grand archetypal experiences, the "big stuff" we all discover as we grow and evolve as human beings. For example, the Empress in traditional decks is represented here as Mendel's Peas. But both cards represent nurturing attendance and natural processes, a time for growth, patience and gestation.

By honoring the connection that science and myth share -- the wonder and awe that occur as we try to explain this universe and who we are within it -- the Science Tarot creates a bridge for skeptics who might dismiss the power of this ancient divination tool. Plus, it's just gorgeous, with each five sections rendered by a different artist, providing continuity within each suit and creating a tapestry of lush imagery overall.

I highly recommend this deck for both tarot beginners and more experienced readers. And it's especially useful for introducing someone who is maybe a little weirded out by tarot's "woo-woo" reputation to the power of their own subconscious.

To read more about the Science Tarot -- or to order it -- visit the website: