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. Today...rest. 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!