The other day I was re-reading portions of one of my favorite books of all time: Meditations on the Tarot. The card known as The Tower, or Chaos, drew me in particular. The image is of a crumbling tower being struck by a bolt of lightning. Does it symbolize justice, wrath, fate, angry gods, or inspiration? The sky is dark, the tower is shattered. And who are those unfortunates, falling from the battlements? What fear do they experience? What grief – what hopelessness – what rage – what dread?
Ominous, yes. In a disastrous attempt to build a tower that reaches heaven, the builders are doomed. When the Tower of Babel, the most famous of all towers, began getting a bit too close for comfort, God’s choice of destruction was to divide the builders by giving them each a different language. Unable to communicate, the builders allowed the tower fell into disrepair and eventually to collapse.
Building – by the sweat of our brow – is how many of us live on a daily basis. As writers, we build constantly: using words, sentences, chapters, and creating our stories. We edit our work, sometimes ruthlessly, and often we throw much of it away, usually in abject misery and frustration. We’re always seeking new ways of doing things, and then letting these ideas and plans wash away like a sandcastle built on the edge of the incoming tide.
Meditating on these age-old symbols draws out the story-teller in all of us. That’s true of all archetypal symbols, whether they’re found in fairy-tales, dreams, or nature. The anonymous author of Meditations on the Tarot offers a key to unlocking some of these meanings, but always as a guide, not an interpreter. What that means then, is each time I study a symbol, it may evoke a different story or meaning.
This time I discovered that the key in the card of The Tower has to do with taking a different approach to a project. Instead of building with bricks and stone and mortar, I started to think about writing as planting a garden. In a garden there is soil to enrich, and moisture with which to nourish, and seeds to plant, and the mystical alchemical process of watching a seed growing into a living thing.
Suddenly the stress and anguish of story-telling – the heavy lifting of rocks – begins to diminish.
Building and destroying – and the constant longing to reach heaven – creates things like writer’s block, frustration, depression. But planting, and allowing time to grow, and watering, and nourishing stories allows our writer-sides to flourish too. Instead of going upward and outward, I decided to dig downward into the ground, to go inward, and to be patient.
To let the story grow of its own accord.
Writing Practice – Planting a Story
Write a story as though you were a gardener. Describe the landscape and the surrounding area, including the season and the weather. Now focus on the soil and describe that. Is it covered with weeds or dead leaves? Is it mossy? How are you going to prepare the soil for planting?
Now comes the time to plant the seeds. What kind of seeds are they? What do you envision? Vermilion gladiolas mixed in with gorgeous cosmos? Or delicate violets and forget-me-nots? Create a picture by using the personalities of the flowers, including the fragrances you envision.
Water them. Tend to them.
Now comes the hard part: Waiting. Leave blankness for a while, allowing the sprouts to emerge as they will. Let the words come by themselves. Even if nothing happens, just wait. Listen. Smell. Leave the page blank for fifteen or twenty minutes if you must. Close your eyes. Enjoy imagining what is happening to those seeds underground.
Then write slowly, delicately, as though those delicate sprouting plants need all the tenderness and reverence you can muster. Treat your words with that same tenderness. Gently.
This practice might not result in great quantities of writing, but it gives you the opportunity for something just as important: allowing for the quiet opportunity for the words and images to find you.
- Piles of fresh vegetables on a kitchen counter
- The courage people bring to their lives
- The start of the waxing moon
- Singing around a bonfire
- Dreaming about New York City
- Grilled eggplant
- Hoping for the best