Monday, August 29, 2011

Can You Embrace Your Obsessions? Fool's Journey, Week 15

{To our readers on the East coast, we extend heartfelt wishes for weathering the aftermath of Hurricane Irene in as much comfort as possible. Hang in there! We are all rooting for you.}

Have you ever been writing along and taken a turn or two you didn't expect, pulled by one of your characters into a place you didn't plan to go and maybe didn't want to go? I suspect that if you write by the seat of your pants, rather than follow a detailed outline, this is more likely to happen. This suspicion might be false, based as it is on a certain level of envy I have for people who can write a whole novel using a detailed outline (and the assumption that they therefore don't get pulled off their planned path). But I can see how it might happen either way, and if you have had this experience, did it perhaps lead you into dark, murky territory that was difficult to navigate honestly and intelligently? Did the direction your character took you make you unreasonably angry, arrogant, dismissive, or scared; or just horribly uncomfortable? Ah, my writerly friends, that is, of course, where the good stuff is.

Tarot's Fool is about to demonstrate this point, by running straight into more 'good stuff' than he ever wanted to deal with in his lifetime.

He's just left Temperance, who blithely assured him that he, too, could learn to mix fire and water, and achieve alchemy, if he truly understood the power of opposites to create wholeness when properly blended together (Fool's Journey, Week 14). He doesn't doubt Termperance's truth, but mastery of such a thing is no small task, and it's really not part of his plan for achieving his quest. He'd much rather go the direct route, without the mumbo jumbo. (He's very tired from all his valiant questing, and has already grown greatly as a person on his journey. It would be really nice if the remainder of the path led straight to the Golden Fleece.)

He rounds a bend and stops in his tracks, so frightened by what blocks his path that he can hardly breathe. The Devil, winged, horned, and hooved, sits on a black pedestal, wearing an inverted pentagram as a crown. A naked man and woman stand before him, chained to the pedestal.

Staring, the Fool sees that the Devil is half goat, half god, and reigns over a massive black mountain. The naked people are engaging in every indulgence imaginable: sex, drugs, food, gold, drink. The Fool wants to turn and walk away, but he can't. He edges closer, and as he does so, his own earthy desires rise within him. Lust, passion, greed, obsession.

The Fool summons all his strength. "I refuse to give in to you!" he roars at the Devil. He digs his heels into the ground.

The Devil looks at him curiously. "I'm only bringing out what is already within you," he says. "Such feelings are nothing to fear, or to be ashamed of, or even to avoid."

"You expect me to believe such a thing?" the Fool responds. He gestures at the man and woman. "You say that even though they are enslaved?"

The Devil mimics the Fool's gesture. "Take another look."

When the Fool looks closer, he sees that the chained collars the man and woman wear are large enough that they could slip them off over their heads if they wanted to.

"They can be free if they wish to be," The Goat-god says. "It is true that I am the god of your strongest desires, but what you see here are only those who have allowed their base, bestial desires to control them." He points up to the peak of the mountain behind him. "You can't see those who have allowed their impulses and aspirations to take them to the top of the mountain."

"How did they get past you?" the Fool asks.

The Goat-god once again gives him a curious look. "Inhibitions can enslave as easily as excesses. They can keep you from following your passion to the highest heights."

The Fool realizes this god is not Satan, but Pan. He is a creature of great power, the lowest and the highest. He is both a beast and a god. Dangerous, but also the key to freedom and transcendence. Getting past him, scaling the mountain to its peak, is a matter of understanding that and using it well: embracing this knowledge, going for the gold by letting go of inhibitions, and then carrying the good that comes from that up the mountain. Once you have embraced your obsession and understood it, it no longer stands in your way, and neither does the Devil.

Whew. I need just a little break here so I can find my hand-painted paper fan and cool off a bit.

There, that's better.

Writers who are not afraid of going to their own dark places (or go there in spite of the fear) are the ones who can write those riveting scenes that have you cringing in recognition, eyes wide with horror at the ugly truth. Those are good. But the great ones go farther: they're about the state of grace that comes after the dark places. That state comes from respecting the ugliness, the obsession, because it's true; making the effort to understand it; recognizing its validity in their own lives; embracing it; and moving beyond it. If you've ever read a great writer who has embraced his or her obsessions so effectively that s/he can make readers empathize with any character, you can bet that writer has worn the yoke of chains, discarded it, and climbed the mountain.

Links to Fool's Journey posts:  0—The Fool1—The Magician2—The High Priestess3—The Empress4&5—The Emperor, and The Hierophant6—The Lovers; 7—The Chariot8—Strength9—The Hermit; 10—Wheel of Fortune11—Justice12—The Hanged Man13—Death; 14—Temperance

My interpretation of The Fool's Journey as it applies to the writing life is my own, but the journey is long-established from a variety of sources. Those I've relied on most heavily are: TAROT BASICS by Burger & Fiebig, AECLECTIC TAROT by Thirteen, and EVERYDAY TAROT by Fairfield


  1. Linda--I just love these posts! There is a fine line between ambition and obsession. It takes strength to get by temptation and channel it into something productive--to change the ugly to something beautiful. Thanks for a perfect morning read.

  2. I once wrote a character into one of my novels that I didn't plan. He then took over and told me what happened to him when he was a child. I still don't know how that happened, but the chapter was shocking, stunning, amazing and somewhat scary. Wish I could channel other characters to be so bold. Great post!

  3. That's so true, Julie! Strength is the magic ingredient that gives us the courage we need.

  4. I love that, Em! Sometimes it seems that we have no control at all--they just come and get us. (If we could control that--make them show up, that would become an obsession for sure.)

  5. Very well said. Going to those dark places, understanding them, and using them isn't easy but it makes our writing so much more powerful!

  6. Absolutely, Heather. There's a direct relationship between our level of discomfort in facing these dark places, and the power of our writing. Just goes to prove that writers really must be masochists!

  7. The devil totally freaks me out. Thanks for hand-holding us through the encounter!

  8. He is totally freaky, Lydia. Some people love that. I'm not one of them, but I'm working on it! He IS pretty darned interesting.

  9. Hmmm, interesting post! Very thought-provoking.

  10. Considering your profession, Laura, I'd love to know what thoughts it provoked! Seems to me it's all about understanding how to dig deep and take big, meaningful chances without losing your mind (or body or soul).

  11. Linda, this is fascinating. And in alignment with my journey... perhaps it's time to let go and fly!

    We may think we don't have inhibitions, but they're always there. "Take yourself out of the writing..." I'm hearing those words, but in essence we're putting our deepest selves into the writing. Those dark places our characters journey can heal and move us forward... free us from the chains of the past, and makes our writing authentic.

  12. That's what I'm thinking, too, Karlene. If it feels uncomfortable or scary or otherwise seriously challenging emotionally, we're knocking at the door. Who knows what might come up for you as you're flying over the Pacific this week? (Just take mental notes so you can fly the plane, though, okay??)

  13. I just wanted to say hi from the Campaign trail. I also co-blog with a wonderful group of ladies over at the Divine Secrets of the Writing Sisterhood. Best of luck in the Campaign!

  14. Hi, Mary! Just joined the campaign today, and haven't had a chance to hop around. Headed to your blog now. So glad to meet you!

  15. Hey Linda, I'm in your suspense/thriller campaign group. Very creative posts using the tarot to convey your point!

  16. Thanks, Jocelyn! Haven't gotten to the suspense group yet, but am headed to your blog right now! Nice to meet you.

  17. Hello from a fellow campaigner in the thriller/suspense group.

    I can relate to that. My characters often drag me into places I don't want to go. It does often leave me feeling like I need a cool down and a break.

  18. Hey, Doralynn, so glad you dropped by, and thanks for the comment. I'm slowly getting around to all the Campaigners in the groups I signed up for (emphasis on slowly, unfortunately!). So nice to meet you. Off to check out your blog.