Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tarot: The alchemy of theory in practice

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune... are always in flight to your location -- and mine. Doesn't it seem like as soon as one problem is solved another is queued up waiting to hit you with another shot? That's life. C'est la vie. And all that stuff.

For writers, you're only as good as your last book and that may be the root of the problem, topping one moderately or wildly successful book with another and another and another and . . . well, you get the idea. Sometimes it feels like the only way to get ahead is to stay behind, except if your first book fails, no one is going to queue up to contract another book with the idea that the next one will be better. Publishing doesn't work that way.

You could rely on workmanlike prose and stories that are consistently mediocre and produce good consistent sales with the occasional literary and popular spark of brilliance, and that may be the way to go, even if you never reach above good consistent, mid list sales. It's a living and a living that the bulk of writers make. Mid list writers are the fuel that keeps the publishing engine running while the wildly successful breakout books garner all the attention and the bulk of promotional dollars. Still, publishing remains a "what have you done for me lately" kind of business and one that writers, real writers and not dabblers or amateurs, can't and won't give up.

About the only thing that keeps writers down more than disappointing sales and okay to bad reviews, is the writer himself, paralyzed by fear of success or simply paralyzed by the blank page. So many ideas to choose from and so little time to write because it always seems like the deadline that was years away is looming closer and closer and you, the writer, are standing in the middle of the juggernaut's path like a deer frozen in the headlights of an onrushing truck. What's a poor writer to do?

4 of Swords

The fagged out Knight in the Four of Swords lies beneath three sharp and glittering swords poised to strike him dead center in the heart. Instead of danger, these swords are the problems waiting him when he gets up to fight again. Actually, the war weary soldier is safe from the battle behind the impenetrable stone walls of his chamber where he can take a break before facing the next challenge afresh. In this stable and secure sanctuary, the soldier will be able to marshal forces and resources to solve the looming problems. The situation is difficult, but more problems will arise if he doesn't take a step back to get a fresh perspective, meditate and weigh his options and find his center while recharging his emotional, physical, spiritual and intellectual resources. He has carefully built a solid foundation and can rely on that to support him when he is rested and refreshed. The one thing he cannot and should not do is ignore the problem; it won't go away, and ignoring it will not solve anything. Once he is ready to plunge back into the fray, he must do so with single-minded focus and avoid distractions.


When I think of Temperance I think of old stories of Carrie Nation and her crusade against alcohol. For Carrie and her crew, abstinence was the only way and moderation merely a slower path to destruction. That is not the meaning of Temperance in tarot.

This fiery-haired, passionate and strong willed woman holds two cups in her hands. One is gold and the other silver. From these brimming cups she mixes the contents to produce something new, blending until she gets the brew just right, tempering extremes in behavior, belief or feeling. She tempers life as a smith tempers iron in a white hot fire, mixing in air and charcoal to produce a strong and flexible sword to win battles and maintain order, maintaining and expressing passions perfectly. This wondrous wench is an alchemist who knows that in order to live well one must live life fully with one's internal beliefs in perfect harmony with external action and with the world around him.

Temper life physically, spiritually, emotionally and intellectually, mixing and blending with skill and wisdom so that life is a blend of elements in perfect balance. Beware extremes in behavior and don't let fear of making a mistake lead to inaction or stasis in which nothing is gained or solved or lived. Choose action or inaction appropriate to the current situation.

Page of Swords

The Page of Swords is a youth in the first flush of knighthood. He has not been tested in battle, but he has spent years practicing and honing his skills, learning battle strategies and etiquette and how to wield his sword with strength and bravery. He masks his fear with an air of confidence and pride that borders on disdain. He knows it all. He can do it all. He is an old hand and nothing surprises him. However, anyone who meets him can clearly see his apprehension and his doubts. They know he knows his trade and how to use his sword -- in theory. He's not been tested in battle.

He is ready to face new challenges and turn theory and logic into practice, but behind his bravado is fear. He is scared. What he doesn't know is that fear is understandable. Everyone is afraid before their first encounter, yet he also knows there is no substitute for experience, an experience he lacks. The only thing he can do is put on his armor, sharpen his sword and plunge into the fray, trusting what he knows and has worked so hard to achieve. Battles are fought with sword and muscles and intellect, but it wouldn't be wise to over analyze his opponent or strategy.

Swords in the tarot cards symbolize the intellect. The message of the Page of Swords is that too much thinking and planning will paralyze you. The other meaning of the Page of Swords, as with all pages of the court cards, is that a message is coming that usually deals with a current problem, issue or belief system. Basically, don't think too much, take things as they come and trust what you know.

* * *

Rest. Reboot. Temperance. Trust.

Life is a series of problems to be solved and wisdom to be gained and Francoise is no exception. She has worked hard to reach the top of her profession as a clothing designer, learned the essence of style and knows the way fabrics, color and embellishments work together or fight each other to a fashion nightmare standstill. She is an apprentice to a world class designer who has suddenly fallen ill and will not be able to helm the coming show for the new spring fashions. As his second-in-command, she understands his vision for the season and she is suddenly thrust to the forefront to finish the designs he began and create the rest of the designs in time for the showing. She's afraid she doesn't know enough and that she has not had enough time to prepare. Her career will be made or broken in one month and she's terrified. How will she manage?

In addition to her problems at work, her relationship is on the skids and heading for disaster. If she doesn't act quickly, the love of her life will walk away. She is being pulled in two directions: work and love. Both are important. Her relationship works best when she is caught in the fire of creation and her creative juices flow best when she is happy and in love. Everything is spinning out of control and time is running out.

You decide. Will Francoise rise to the occasion or fall flat on her face? Will this opportunity be a chance to make her mark or will she, after all the years of hard work and honing her talent, analyze herself into a professional coma? If she spends too much time on work, she'll lose George, and if she spends too much time with George, she won't be able to work. It's your story and your choice. What will you choose to illustrate?

* * *

Life is all about choices and using learning as a springboard to bigger and better things. Sometimes the best way to handle a problem is to take a step back and a deep breath, close your eyes, summon your courage and everything you have learned and take a leap of faith, trusting in what you know. Facing the blank page is difficult, but you'll never get a single word down if you don't face the page and trust yourself. The good thing about writing is that you can always revise, edit and revise again before committing your vision to print. Luckily, even after the contract is signed, you can revise, edit and rewrite again and again until everything works just right.

Once the editing is over, your vision is out there for everyone to see. Don't worry so much about how your writing will be received, get busy on the next book, story or article. It's like being thrown from a horse. In order to conquer your fear, get back up in the saddle and do it again quickly before fear paralyzes you. Trust what you know and remember that writing, like life, is a learning experience that always leaves room for more experience. Trust what you know and don't be afraid to try new things. That's how writers grow and evolve. Lay the groundwork and layer in texture bit by bit. There's always room for improvement.

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