Monday, January 17, 2011

Getting Creative with Tarot

(This first appeared on Amy Corwin's Fiction Writing and Other Oddities blog -- you can find it here)

Mystery writing is not my only paying gig. I’m also a mother (although the paycheck doesn’t come in dollars), a freelance journalist, and a professional tarot reader. That last one may seem out-of-place, but it’s really the linchpin that holds the other two together, for while reading tarot for strangers enriches the pocket, reading for myself enriches my creative potential. After all, tarot accesses the subconscious wisdom available to each of us, the wellspring of human creativity, and I can’t think of a more necessary — and more versatile — tool in my writer’s toolkit.

Take the daily reading, for example. Among tarot readers, one way to keep in practice with the cards is to pull one card every morning and ponder it for a bit. I find that as I progress through my day, I notice all the little ways that each card’s special energy affects me. If I’m having a rough time writing — say, wrestling a bloated WIP into submission or pondering a particularly tricky plot point — tarot offers the clean lens of a new perspective.

Take the Seven of Cups, for example (pictured here as illustrated in the classic Rider-Waite-Smith deck). The Seven of Cups depicts a situation any writer can relate to — that dreamy voluptuous reverie when the imagination is allowed free rein. Most of the time this card features a rather dumbstruck individual surrounded by clouds of fantastic images. Some of them look enticing: others appear mysterious, even frightening. None of them are real, however — they’re just the swirling, seductive raw material of the human mind.

As any writer will tell you, such expansive free-flowing exploration is a necessary part in the writing process. It primes the pump and stirs the creative juices. It’s also incredibly fun. For my novel The Dangerous Edge of Things, this meant soaking in the ambiance of Atlanta — sipping mojitos in Little Five Points, meandering the galleries of the High Museum, sinking into the supple leather of a Ferrari coupe. All decadent, but utterly necessary.

Of course, the Seven of Cups sometimes warns that you’re indulging in too much of a good thing. When this card shows up reversed — that is, upside down — I have to consider that it might be time to put down the highball glass and pull up the word processor. Inspiration can only take you so far — the rest requires good old-fashioned perspiration.

Sometimes if my morning card is particularly relevant, I’ll keep it displayed on my desk, as a reminder. One card that always inspires me is The Star (pictured here from Thalia Took’s tarot illustrations, which you can find here). A card of hope, optimism and rejuvenation, The Star reminds me to keep my eyes on the horizon. It reassures me that while corrupted files and writer’s block and recalcitrant protagonists are certainly frustrating, this writing life also promises joy. Head up and eyes forward, says this card. And breathe. Breathing would be nice.

For me, tarot isn’t fortunetelling — it is, however, an excellent way to keep me on a productive and fulfilling creative path. The tarot’s symbols and images give my subconscious something to play with, and in return, it rewards me with knowledge that I didn’t know I possessed.

Try tarot for yourself. You don’t have to be a professional to reap the benefits; you just have to be open to your own intuition.

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