Sunday, February 26, 2017

This week's Writerly Tarot: The Ten of Pentacles

Last week, I asked my daughter Kaley to help pull cards for the weekly reading. She graciously agreed, and being quite the talented channel for divination, pulled the Three of Pentacles, the card of good work and collaboration (you can read about it here).

She wasn't the only one to pull a card, however—our little Maltese dog Cloud decided that he wanted in on the action and literally leaped into the pile of cards I had spread out on the ottoman. One card went flying into my lap, and when I looked at it, I saw the Ten of Pentacles. In the classic Rider-Waite-Smith, this card represents material success and achievement, featuring that worldwide symbol of life well lived, a happy loyal dog at one's feet (two, actually, one for each foot as it were).
This card perfectly represents Cloud's point of view. He believes in material comforts (treats and comfy places for naps being at the top of his list). But he appreciates this card on a deeper level, for nothing satisfies his canine soul like being with his people. We are even more exciting than food, and that's saying something. When we come home-whether it's from a long trip overseas or a quick run to the mailbox-— he is overjoyed to see us. Pure ecstasy overflowing his doggie heart. And if he feels we are threatened, he will put his tiny furry self into the fray. The mail carrier will feel his wrath. The guy who checks the water line had best keep on moving. Even the most intangible of foes, say a bad fever or a broken toe, will merit his full undivided protection (this usually means he lies on top of you with his nose pressed right into your face, but such is duty).

This week, let Cloud and the Ten of Pentacles inspire you to appreciate and protect that which matters to you. You can interpret this advice for your creative project, making sure that you are working to, as they say, find a good home for it. You can lay down some boundaries against those who would infiltrate and decimate. Or you could appreciate the comforts that nurture your creative soul, like hot chocolate or your favorite perfume.

However you choose to open the door to the Ten of Pentacles, do it with gratitude. And maybe with an extra treat. Or two. Cloud says that would be just fine.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Writerly Tarot: The Three of Pentacles

This week, I decided to make our tarot reading a team effort. So I asked the other tarot reader in the house—my daughter Kaley— to choose a card for us this week.

I had a good reason. Creative endeavors, especially writerly ones, are often solitary pursuits. Seeking the lighthouse of one's art, following that clear beam in the night to your destination, is often singular in nature. Oars in hand, we beat through the waves for the safe shore.

That's the metaphor, of course—the day to day mundane reality is less poetic. Sitting down to the page requires determination and self-mastery. It requires putting aside the indulgences of a lazy afternoon, giving up an afternoon movie, forgoing the nap. One must learn to love the company of oneself. In fact, many of us chose the writing life because we are by nature introverted and solitary. The thought of teamwork is a little uncomfortable.

So I decided to ask for some help. And—the tarot being oracular and my daughter being a brilliant channel for it—she promptly drew the Three of Pentacles. The card of working as a team.

We've covered this card before (you can read about it here). I wrote then about the concept of the Great Work, the idea that even the most mundane task is laying the foundation for a larger success, a meaningful and significant work. That your part in that work is to show up as honestly and sincerely and openly as you can.

In a comment last time the Three of Pentacles appeared, my brilliant friend Laura is reminded me "of this card's collaborative aspects: not just with other writers, but with all the people that make writing happen: readers, agents, editors, research buddies." This week, appreciate your creative team. Give them some kudos. Remind yourself of the marvelous web of connection all around you.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Dealing Devils, Death, and Star-Crossed Lovers

(I've been unable to get to the cards this weekend for my Writerly Tarot, so I decided to share this article I wrote a few years back on interpreting (and using) the more challenging cards in the deck. We'll get back to our regularly scheduled postings next week. Thank you for tuning in!).

It’s one of my favorite pieces of writerly advice: Raymond Chandler’s observation that when things slow down, bring in a man with a gun. It served me so well during the writing of The Dangerous Edge of Things, my debut mystery novel, that the “man with a gun” I brought into the story went on to become one of its protagonists. It seems my narrator Tai Randolph, a woman with a gun shop, found him just as fascinating as I did.

Which is not surprising. It’s an iconic image, a man with a weapon, layered with all kinds of subtle and not-so-subtle signals. It represents competence and authority, danger and masculine control. You see it featured in movie posters and on book covers, just one piece of a symbolic code. Man plus gun equals power.

It’s a unique feature of the human animal, this language we speak of symbol and image. As a writer, I work with such images to create character and setting, tone and mood. As a tarot reader, I work with images too. The difference is that when I read tarot, the story I’m creating isn’t fictional — it’s the truth, as real as the person I‘m reading for. And sometimes the images in the cards can be as startling as the proverbial man with a gun.

Take The Tower for instance. In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, this unsettling card depicts a lightning-struck stone tower stark against the night sky. Fire erupts from the windows as the top of the tower crashes to the ground, the inhabitants of the tower — two human figures — tumbling along with it. It is a card of obvious and sudden catastrophe, and represents those times in one’s life when something huge is crumbling, when the very foundation is breaking apart beneath your feet. There’s no denying this energy — something is going down, and going down hard.

Imagine seeing THAT card in front of you. You ask an innocent question about your promotion and suddenly — bam! There it is, the proverbial disaster waiting to happen.

There are other visually disturbing cards in the deck as well. The Devil, with his goaty haunches and captive souls. The Ten of Swords, featuring a figure lying facedown beside a still body of water, ten sabers plunged into his back. And perhaps most distressing of all — Death, depicted in the Rider-Waite-Smith as a skeletal rider upon a white horse, his banner held aloft, and all the things of this world crumbling underneath the horse’s hooves.

“No, thank you,” some people tell me when I offer to read for them. They don’t want to risk turning over a card and seeing one of those ghastly omens. No way, no how, no ma’am!

I don’t blame people for worrying. These images trouble the water. They force us to confront our darkest fears, our deepest nightmares, our most terrifying shadows. But — and this is a vital point — the tarot is not a doomsday device. It does not predict some unchangeable future. The strength of the tarot is that it shows exactly what is. It is information, but like all information, you have the ultimate choice about what to do with it. You have free will, and that trumps fate every time.

I emphasize this point with my clients. There are no “bad” cards, I tell them. Some cards are harder than others, true enough. Some cards ask you to make tough decisions or confront difficult truths. But always — always — the power rests in your hands. Sometimes the universe throws a spanner in the works, this is true. Sometimes huge challenges crash on us like breaking waves. But every consequence has a precipitating action. Every end result starts with a beginning intention, thought, word or deed. Change the ingredients, you change the dish. If you don’t like what you see before you, look for the places where you can exert your free will. Look for the cracks you can wedge your lever in.

I tell them this before Death shows up. Most people have a hard time listening afterward. But Death is nothing to be afraid of. It’s just the cycle of release, the return to source. Some part of us is always dying. The trick is to be aware of that, and to honor the empty place left behind. Because an empty place always invites filling, like a hole in the earth invites the seed.

Before I read tarot professionally, I read for myself and my friends. I quickly discovered that my literary acquaintances were the most open to the messages in the cards. I think the same impulse that led me to the mystery genre, both as a reader and a writer, led me also to tarot. I don’t mind exploring the dark side of things — after all, a shadow is just substance plus light.

Mysteries take us to the heart of the shadow. They wade into chaos and return with order. The villain is revealed, and justice is served. But the mysteries that really catch my interest, the ones that hit me deep, are the ones that leave some questions on the table. The mysteries that make you ponder the human condition, the human heart, and the human soul.

The man with a gun is back for the fourth book in my series, Deeper Than The Grave. Something about him remains to be revealed. And so even though he is true to his image — masculine, direct, powerful — I tucked a tarot deck into his desk, just to remind him that sometimes we have to look below the obvious to see the truth.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The Two of Wands

And so we continue the theme of choice begun last week with The Lovers and apply it to that most fiery of suits, the Wands. Here is where the spark of creativity is kindled and tended, where it catches, and where it eventually blazes strong and bright before burning itself to ashes (check out the Ten of Wands if you want to see what that kind of exhaustion looks like).

The Two of Wands is choice in action, or rather, it is the necessity of choice and action (which we've explored in the past: here and here ). The figure on the card has yet to actually choose. Of sure, maybe he knows what he should do. Maybe he knows what he really really wants to do. Maybe he has surveyed the landscape, consulted his crystal ball, collected all the information he needs to decide.

The thing is, it's not a choice until he actually moves forward with it. A or B? Left or right? Forward or retreat? Our choices are rarely this binary. They are usually very complex and involve hierarchies and subsets, changing dynamics and new data, deadlines and timelines. Tick tock tick tock.

Last week we discussed The Lovers. and the necessity of choosing your work, of making it a priority. This week the Two of Cups recognizes how that choice may not always be yes or no. Of course we choose our art, yes yes yes! But how do we do that? Do we write query letters or edit first pages? Finish the chapter or research the villain's occupation? Keep working through a challenging project or scrap it and move on with something more interesting? Those questions are not so simple.

The Two of Wands is here to remind you that creation is all about energy, and that the tension of choosing enhances the wattage of that energy. So go ahead. Ponder. Observe the untapped energy arcing. And then choose. The options are open before you. The only choice you don't have is inaction.

Choose. And watch the power of the Universe rush to that choice like flame bursting from a struck match.