Sunday, September 17, 2017

This Week's Writerly Tarot: Justice

"I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice."
Theodore Parker

The tarot has many queenly figures in it. Each suit has its reigning feminine monarch (for four in all) plus there are several major arcana cards traditionally depicting women upon thrones, including the Lady visiting us yet again—Justice.

Discrimination. Wisdom. Clarity. Fairness. Consequence. These are the values associated with this card, numbered 11 to represent balance (and echoed in the twin pillars that are on either side of the throne). Like the personification of Justice that appears in our courts, Lady Justice of the tarot carries both a sword, representing severity, and scales, representing mercy. She is not blindfolded, however. She is objective, yes, but her sense of fair play comes from being able to see a situation deeply and clearly. How else is she to prevent a conniving thumb from sneaking onto those golden balances? How else will she ensure that the verdict she renders is truly right and not simply legal?

And that is what she asks of us this week, not the detached disinterest of the scale, nor the edged vindication of the sword—Justice requires that we keep our eyes wide open.

This is how the arc of the universe bends, after all. Not through passive inaction. Not by simply trusting that everything will work itself out. No, the arc is bent by the work of hands. But before we act, we must choose the right and correct action. This is the true work of Justice.

This week, consider how you can help bend the arc of the Universe. As a creative person, you have a treasure chest of gifts and talents. Creative work is soul satisfying, often very enjoyable, rewarding in its own right. It can also be used to create a tangible result. What worthwhile result can you envision? What small action can you take to move yourself—and therefore the entire Universe—toward that result?

Previously, I said of Justice, "You already have the long-enough lever—she's simply showing you where you might stand." That sounds exactly right for this week too.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The Nine of Wands

As I write this, the first storm bands from Hurricane Irma are starting to roll across the Low Country. The radar map shows them as sweeping waves of green and yellow and blue, spiraling counterclockwise as the wind and rain move closer to us.

Widdershins. Leftwise. The direction of banishing.

I wish I could banish all the damage that Irma will deal to the Southeast as she rips up Florida's backbone and erupts into South Georgia. I do not wield that kind of power. A hurricane, like all of those things we call natural disasters, is an elemental force. It has no fury. No mercy either. It is what it is, and all we can do is prepare for the onslaughtgather batteries and canned food, recharge the phone, tie up loose objects.

As the storm's projected track has shifted, so has its targets. My home is no longer a bull's eyes, and so I can breathe a sigh of relief. But now people I love are about to take a direct hit, and the fear returns. I light candles in the reiki bowl and write the names of my dear ones on slips of white paper. Into the silver and gold bowl they go, and my prayers for their safety go into the universe. This too is preparation. This too is necessary.

This week's card is The Nine of Swords. Here is what I said about it the last time it turned up in a reading:
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 suggests 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?
Indeed. What else can we do but prepare? Some battles meet us at our own front doors. A hurricane certainly does.

As we batten down our hatches and send thoughts of protection to our loved ones, we channel the energy of this card. We are still standing. We are still strong. We can endure.

But there is one caveat to this cardour bloody but unbowed warrior stands alone. I wonder if he really is, though.  I am grateful to be facing this storm in the company of people who care for me. We can look out for each other. And we will.

This week, no matter what challenge you are facing, know that you are strong enough to handle it. And also know that even though it may feel at times like a solitary battle, it isn't. As Mr. Rogers reminded us, look for the helpers. Look hard. And remember, sometimes you're the helper.

Blessed be, y'all. Keep watch. Hold tight. Stay strong. I'll see you on the other side of the storm.


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The Ace of Swords

There's a hurricane threatening my neck of the woods, a vast Category Five onslaught of ill winds and massive destruction. Predicting its landfall is difficult right nowthere are too many high and low pressure systems at playbut that doesn't make this kind of storm random. Oh no, a hurricane is a deterministic beast. Like all forces of nature, it is subject to rules and laws and factors. And that is why it is a particularly apt metaphor for the Ace of Swords.

You can read a summary of the card here. When it flashes into view, the Ace of Swords asks us to consider the mental aspects of our situation, how our mind can either help us solve a problem or play tricks on us. A clever creature, our brain. So much of its mechanisms remain separate from our understanding, just like the forces that shape the path of a storm.

And just like storm, our mental powers can be used for good or evil, to help or to hurt. They can challenge the status quo as deftly as they topple the best laid plans.

Right now, there is a panic sweeping the Eastern seaboard from Miami to Charleston, South Carolina. It is fueled partly by memory and partly by anticipation. Emergency preparation has at its heart logic and common sense, but it's easily corrupted by anxiety and fear. Like the Ace of Swords, our mental sharpness cuts both ways.

This week, I am prepping for a hurricane. And I am doing my best to be flexible in the face of such winds. Bendy like the willow, that's my motto. May it be yours as well.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The World

"We'll take the whole shebang/ all or nothing, anything/ Ecstasy's the birthright of our gang/ we'll take the whole she-bang/ free your heart from guilt and shame/come and claim what's yours, the whole shebang."
from "The Whole Shebang" by Grant Lee Buffalo

Last week, Iand millions of my fellow Americanswatched the moon move across the face of the sun in a solar eclipse. It was my first experience with totality, with sudden twilight in the middle of the day. As the sky deepened to indigo and the cicadas started keening and the temperature dropped and sunset glowed in every direction, I could understand how ancient humans thought the world was ending.

I was lucky enough to know better. Science told me what was happening, and I trust science. This didn't lessen the awe I felt as a profound reverence overtook me. Yes, the world would go on. It would spin on its slightly canted axis around the flaming ball of hot gas that makes life possible, and the moon would spin around it in a clockwork ballet. Pas de deux and elliptical orbits, poetry and math dancing together. And there I was, a tiny speck of me, right at the heart of it. Just like you.

And that is the secret of The World, the paradoxical idea that the universe has as many centers as it has souls. But then this is a card of paradox. The world dancer exists in stillness and movement simultaneously, her feet firmly grounded on thin air. She inhabits the circle without end under and above twin infinity loops, and she is surrounded by four figures, one in each corner—a human, an eagle, a lion, and a bullrepresenting the four fixed signs of the zodiac, the four elements, and the four suits in the tarot (this is the squared circle, which is itself a symbol of paradox and mystery). She is alone, yet she is not alone (she is also not necessarily a she; in many interpretations, the figure is hermaphroditic, which further adds to the mystery of this card).

The World may look familiar to you, even though this is the first time it has come up here. If so, gold star for youthis card has many similarities to the Wheel of Fortune, which came up two weeks ago. Both cards feature a central image surrounded by the same four figures in the corners. There's one big difference, however—we are separate from the Wheel, at the mercy of its risings and fallings, unless we can find the still place at the center. That still place is The World. Here we are an inextricable part of everything. We are complete. We are the World. You are. I am. That guy over there? He is too.

So what does this mean for you this week? Traditionally the World foretells a time of culmination, a sense of integration, finality, and achievement. That's certainly true for meI am preparing to send in final edits on my sixth book and that's definitely feeling worthy of a hallelujah chorus or two. Whatever it is that's coming to a satisfactory close for you this week, take some time to enjoy and celebrate it. Seriously. Take time. Snatch it out of the maw of routine. Hallow that accomplishment with your attention.

And remember, you are part of something very big and wonderful. In fact, you are something very big and wonderful. Claim every scrap of it. The whole shebang. That's the lesson of the world, and it's as big as...well, everything.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

This Week's Writerly Tarot: Strength and the Sun

As I write this, we here at Whittle Central are preparing for the Great American Eclipse tomorrow. We live about two hours outside of the zone of totality, so we're making a little road trip in order to experience the full effect.

My husband the engineer is packing eclipse glasses, road maps, and a cooler full of sandwiches. I'm packing every red/yellow/orange crystal I owncitrine and tiger's eye, calcite and carnelian. I'm also bringing something I'm calling Coming Into the Light tincture, full of herbs with solar properties and fire essences. Cinnamon and orange and rosemary.

This is Leo energy in a bottle. Leo is the sign of fixed fire, ruled by the Sun, and as such, has many of the same associations as The Sun in the tarot (the Sun is primarily associated with Strength, but more on that later). Leo governs our creativity, and like the lion that is its symbol, evokes courage and charisma and confidence. Leo roars. It's good energy to channel during an eclipse, and since this eclipse occurs when the Sun is in the sign of Leo, it's going to pack a double punch.

And do we ever need it. Because even though a solar eclipse is about the sun, it's also about the shadow. Every time I watch the news, I feel that shadow. We have evoked this shadow, make no mistake, and it must be heeded and healed before it will return to its proper role in our lives (and it does have one). A shadow is substance plus light, and in order for the Great American Shadow to heal, we have to look hard at the substance it is revealing. Look hard and good for a very long time. Let the Light shine brightly on it. This is going to burn. It is going to be painful, and the tendency will be to turn away. But we must not. We must keep shining the clear light of truth.

That's what eclipses symbolize, after allprofound, often cataclysmic, change. Astronomer Natalia Kuna explains it thusly:
"First, we have an intense 'power outage' that knocks you right out, and then it is followed by a heightened renaissance: an amped up 'power surge.' In other words you go through a cycle of great intensity that leads to amplified light and growth."
(You would do well to read her entire article if you want to put The Great American Eclipse into perspective.)

This eclipse begins and ends in Leo, but the very next day, the Sun moves into the sign of Virgo, the sign of sovereignty and service and healing, joining the New Moon there as well. This is where the Strength card will come into play, the card traditionally associated with Leo in the tarot. There is a Lion on this card too, but instead of being in full roaring bluster, this Lion has been subdued by the quiet presence of a maiden. Not injured, simply returned to a state of calmness. This is the strength of non-violent control, of composure, of relentless, unswerving dedication. No whips, no chairs. Only love, which is at the heart of any true Virgo endeavor (don't let the rules and fussiness fool you—Virgos have enormous depths of compassion).

May the light of Leo shine like the Sun, and even in the dark of the shadow, may you remember that you have a heart of fire. A lion heart. May it be guided by compassion and strength. May this be true, like the eclipse, from sea to shining sea.

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.