A Palimpsest

A Palimpsest

Dear Writers,

Recently, as global tragedies and deep personal sorrows duel daily in my head and heart, it’s been hard to hear my voice.  No, it’s been hard to find anything I want to say – any thought that can muster enough energy to form words, especially words on the page.   Form itself has been a challenge for me: finding a form that can hold me and help me sift through my experiences so that they can transcend navel-gazing and touch others.

Serendipity has come to the rescue.

Serendipity as in: the message on a tea bag.  The focus of a 5Rhythms class.  The sight of two small, brown, side-by-side birds sitting on a tree branch in an ice storm, with only each other for shelter. Which is to say, being in the present moment for long enough to let the universe offer a gift to quiet the din inside me.

The latest gift comes from Sherri, who is in residence at Hedgebrook at the moment.  She mentioned a novel to me, and later asked me to help her remember another, and in both cases, I encountered the word “palimpsest.”  As many of you know, who know my work, I am preoccupied with the everchanging story of “Who am I?” and in particular with memory as the main tool we use to tell and retell the narrative of who we want to be.  In my three books, I have done this against the backdrop of history – which has at least some form of documentation of fact, however twisted – but now my focus is my parents, our family, a topic for which there is surprisingly little evidence.  Our personal history is very much like a faded manuscript, reminding me that I did not pay enough attention to the stories until the people who lived them and could tell them were gone. 

But “palimpsest” gives me so much freedom. The fact that there is a word for rewriting on top of what was once written: it is the same concept I have been working with, of “re-memories,” but the word evokes an image, and the image gives me form.  It gives me permission to more fully imagine on top of fragments of memory. In some cases, to make things up completely, knowing that my reader will understand what I am doing, but also knowing that new story is informed and shaped by the one that lies beneath it, because, how can it not be?  It’s like an elaborate, ornate Wordle: when you have a vowel or two to work with, there are so many possible choices, but a palimpsest offers more freedom to try them all.

The spirit of a gift is that it must be given.  I’m assembling the writers for the new Grove retreat, and I’ve promised them that we will be creating our workshops and offerings to meet them where they are in their own struggles, successes and goals.  So here’s an opportunity, perhaps, to work with a palimpsest:

What is the underlying story for you?  Perhaps something you don’t remember, or will never know, or that you can’t make sense of?  Or one that you are bored of but can’t stop writing, or that you are so tired of hearing from someone else’s perspective or voice?  It could be a chapter, poem, or scene that isn’t working. It could be the story of your surroundings, environment, culture, belief systems.  A page from an old journal. It doesn’t even have to be words: it could be a musical score, a mathematical proof, a drawing.

Identify it. Maybe even let it fill you. Then let it go and begin a new story on top of it.

We’ll be doing this at the Grove.  I’m thinking dance, word clouds, art supplies. And Sherri (who is in the woods so I get to speak for her) might also be inverting this relationship to the underlying story by using mythologies and fairytales to pin down and understand what is free-floating in our stories now. More to come in April, but for those of you who can’t make it, or who encounter this message out of time and space, I leave you with the image of a palimpsest, the beginnings of a prompt, and the freedom to start writing on top of the old story and see what happens.

Happy writing, everyone!



(And if you want to find our more about our April retreat, The Grove, jump to this page or follow the links from Write With Us and Retreat on the menu above.)


The Star: Tarot for the Day

The Star: Tarot for the Day

Hey writers and creative souls,

Sherri and I are preparing for our new in-person retreat in California April 24-29th.  When we first dreamed it into being, I was excited about the deep play and the joy that even the prospect of being together again brought to my heart.  Apparently, that resonated, because on the basis of a single email, one-third of our 12 spots are spoken for.  So don’t sleep on this if you are interested in joining us!  Here’s a direct link to our retreat page.

Today, I want to offer you a quick tarot card for the day. As many of you who have worked with me before or scheduled personal readings know, thus far I have exclusively worked with Rachel Pollack’s Shining Tribe Tarot*.  It’s a deeply spiritual and optimistic deck, which does not ignore the challenges and difficulties we may be experiencing, but helps us see how they may be unwound. We will be using this deck at the Grove retreat in workshops and evening card pulls for instant inspiration.

But for the first time, I am sharing a card from a different deck – also by Rachel Pollack, in collaboration with Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean – called the Vertigo Tarot, which draws from characters from the Vertigo DC comics, including The Sandman.  It is the antithesis of the Shining Tribe in its darkness; for a long time, I was actually afraid to buy it.  But in the words of Gabrielle Roth, founder of 5Rhythms (and we’ll be doing some somatic practices and dance at the Grove which are very loosely inspired by her powerful creation), “There is no way in unless we embrace the dark.” As we are about to mark two very dark years of Covid, I am excited to share with you the the beauty and release that I have personally been finding from that embrace.  

Enough with the preambles.  Let’s talk about The Star.



Number 17 in our life’s journey through the archetypes of experience and transformation, the Star comes toward the end of the Major Arcana; specifically it signifies a rebirth after our act of willful destruction, the Tower, in which we burn to the ground all that imprisons us, suffocates us, does not serve us.  The Star has always been one of my favorite cards, and in the Shining Tribe, Rachel evokes a peaceful Persephone in her image, suggesting spring, nourishment, new life and escape from the underworld. In the Vertigo Tarot, the image (associated with Venus) confronts us with more than battle scars: her head and arms have literally been blown off. She has given everything, held nothing back: we see her pure spirit and essence in the flakes of gold that rise from her body, and her grit and courage in the fact that she can and will still offer the liquid gold she came with, even if she has to bind her vessels to her body.  To me, this is the warrior, the pandemic survivor, the wounded healer, and also the advocate, the truth-teller, the witness. The one who embraces the darkness to release the light. As a writer who has focused on World War II and Hiroshima in all of her books, perhaps I should not have been as surprised as I was at how much assurance I find, how much recognition there is, in the terrible beauty and power of the Vertigo Star.

Some prompts, then, that can be used for your personal journal, your creative project as a whole, or to be applied to specific situations, scenes or characters in a story you are working on:

  • When you put it all on the line like the Vertigo Star, what are you giving up or letting go of? Maybe these are expectations, or habits, or maybe they are fears that you only think are keeping you from harm. And what do you set free as a result? What new beliefs are possible, what feelings? When you have risked it all, what new risks are you now able to embrace?  Or perhaps there is an actual battle – a character or a person who needs to be confronted. What is the truth that will sustain you and keep you from straying off your path?
  • If you are resonating with Persephone, what have you emerged from? What are you here to celebrate or instigate?  Also, notice her youth; she is the daughter, the maiden, she is bringing the spring. You might look to a younger self or earlier time for the seed of your inquiry or story. Though the dark isn’t evident in this card, Rachel points out in her description that Persephone still means “She Who Shines in the Dark.” How does that touch you? What images does it evoke?
  • The Star bring a gift. What is the liquid she is pouring into the world? What nourishment, knowledge, what alchemy does she offer? What do you offer?  What do you give yourself?  What does your story or voice give to the world?

My suggestion is to sit with one of these questions that resonates with you, or if none do, pick the card that attracts you and look at the image for a bit, then ask your own questions about the image, and then begin a free write.  If you need a way in, start with “What if?” What if the gift is… etc. See what comes up and how specific you can get.  If you find yourself launched in a new direction or diving deep into a scene, go with it.

Happy writing!  And don’t forget, Sherri and I would love to see you at the Grove.  We will send a teaser on what she will be offering soon, so please subscribe to our mailings (at the bottom of the contact page) or watch your inbox!



*The Shining Tribe Tarot: Awakening the Universal Spirit, created by Rachel Pollack, comes with a detailed book that describes the nuances and the inspiration behind each card. If you want to know more, or have your own Tarot practice, I strongly recommend it. Similarly, Rachel wrote the text to the Vertigo Tarot (out of print), which highlights the differences between the images and the “traditional” interpretations of the specific cards. My descriptions here, and interpretations of the cards and how to use them, are my own. 

Tarot for the Day: Ten of Stones

Tarot for the Day: Ten of Stones

My preoccupation, lately, has been about my path. What is it, really? The question comes out of rupture: just the latest in a list of personal and societal ruptures that we have all been dealing with, for much longer than just the no-good-horrible-very-bad year of 2020. For me, this rupture came out of nowhere; it will move me in space and strip me of most of the basics that I have come to associate with my life for more than a decade and a half. But it also revealed to me, immediately, how much strength, support, kindness and love I still have around me and within me to forge a new path.  Or, perhaps, to understand that all the trappings of daily life that I’d gotten used to were not essential to the path I am on.

Of course, I am not alone in this.  I have been wanting to pull a card for the community in transition, in upheaval, in hope. I thought about pulling it on Thursday but was frankly too overwhelmed by all the gratitude emails filling my inbox.  Then, I did not want to detract from Native American Heritage Day, or Small Business Saturday (if one has things to buy, this is the year to support small stores). But Sunday seemed to be a day without a directive affecting millions, so I pulled it today, with the question, “What is the Path?” and the answer is: 

The Ten of Stones

I associate this card with wealth, completion, achievement and security.  As the last “minor” card in the suit of stones, it indicates that our path toward manifesting our lives has been traveled, and we have arrived at success.  But because this is the Shining Tribe deck, the card also points to spiritual wealth, a profound value in what life has given you, and the ability to transform through sharing your prosperity with others. That transformation, honestly, is something that has always scared me: in the image on the card, human footsteps lead into the rocks but come out as bird tracks. Not only do we not sit back and enjoy our luxury, we may become something entirely other: perhaps evolved, or awakened, but unrecognizable to ourselves.

Our strength, our success, our security…it’s not about what we built.  It’s about preparing ourselves to let go.

As writers in the world, I am guessing there is something in my personal experience that you can relate to. And of course, for you, the card may be an acknowledgment that you are doing well, and that you have created something wonderfully successful.  For all of us writers on the page, a couple of ideas for the work that this card raises:

Revision: Is there a transformation in your work, one that comes at a time when the reader might think that they know and recognize the end in sight? Are you coasting toward the expected finish line, or is there another level of understanding that you can kick your resolution into?

Visual Association: Think about a scene, or some aspect of your work, where there is a major change, transformation or epiphany. Then take the elements of that idea and correlate them to the elements in the image on the card. What is the barren landscape (the hopelessness or danger of the current situation?) What are the rocks? (The magic, the talisman, the possibility, the power that only the character can see?) What are the hidden clues – perhaps embedded in the text but not yet fully revealed – that will transform the potential (the suggestion of threads of light on the left side of the card) into the multicolored strands of pebbles on the right? And lastly, what kind of bird will emerge?

Happy writing!

Rituals of Release

Rituals of Release

So I pulled a Tarot card today.  This one, for us, in preparation for our virtual convening, The Grove.  Honestly, I was hoping for something inspirational, something like The Star to indicate rebirth and a new beginning.  I know – and I say it all the time – that there are no “good” cards, or “bad” cards, especially in the Shining Tribedeck, but in times like these, times when I feel like I am long past being able to process or accept one more curve ball from the news or my community, I will forgive myself for wanting a little bit of reprieve.

But the Tarot knows what it needs to say.  Today’s card is the Nine of Birds.

Like the Star, this figure emerges from the realm of the dead – in this case, a burial mound.  She stands at the entrance, accompanied by the wisdom of the owl, and equipped with a weapon which both and urn and a scythe.  It’s a barren image, of grief and death and sorrow. 

BUT.  Isn’t that where we are now?  Haven’t we been literally been surrounded by it for longer than we can fathom? One of the key messages of this card is that we are in the doorway, and we have our protections and defenses.  But to move forward we have to process and acknowledge all our feelings.  We have to accept our losses, and empathize with others’ suffering.  

This is a card that calls for rituals of mourning and release.

I don’t know about you, but I am tired of shouldering all the burdens, fighting all the battles, and feeling so stuck in the process.  

So the Nine of Birds, of course, is the Star’s shadow self, and a great plug for our intensive, creative, restorative gathering coming up on October 24-25thThe Grove.  Four teachers and ten hours of rituals and techniques to clear away, reach for, and gather what you need.

And for those who aren’t coming, I encourage you to find a ritual for release.  Clear a space where you can feel safe and let out something you have been holding.  For me, these feelings immediately start my creativity swirling.  If you need a more specific exercise for your creative project, imagine (possibly for your character if you have one, and if not, just embody a watcher/voice) the moment when “you” have risen out of the land of the dead, when the effort has been expended and all the emotions have surfaced – the moment that is too full to hold back anymore.  Don’t forget, if you are writing a story, that quite often our characters don’t actually know what they want – they often fight against what they need only to arrive at the place they thought they didn’t want to be in.  So this is a great moment for a narrative.  It’s unstable; it needs to be embraced or emptied or it needs to explode. This might be the emotion right before or right after a major climax.  On the other side is the new world, a new epiphany, a new possibility.  We can’t see it yet, but it’s coming.

Come to The Grove if you can. Sign up for updates from the Two Trees Writers Collaborative if you want to hear more about our upcoming offerings.  Stay safe and happy writing.

Dear Writers

Dear Writers

Dear Writers,

I have been thinking a lot about community lately: what it means to be a community of writers. To hear each other, to hold each other up, to stand in each others’ darkness unafraid, to turn up the volume on each other’s voices.  This year, perhaps because I lost my father this summer, and I am breaking my ties to my childhood and my first home, I am thinking about the families we choose. The ones we create.

And I am grateful.  For my families – all of them. And my writer friends, who never cease to amaze me with their fresh perspectives, their soaring optimism; who remind me that what I have always thought was axiomatic is actually just someone else’s opinion.  In these dark times – when so much of that darkness has fallen on us personally, not just as a society, and as a nation struggling to be – I am still grateful.  And I am optimistic because of you.  Because of all the glorious love and courage you scream out, dance out, whisper into the blue skies of the Big Island when we are together.  And in dog-walking Brooklyn.  And beneath the icicles of Vermont, and on the shores of Port Townsend, or Useless Bay on Whidbey island,  or wherever I have encountered you.

You writers.

And so, today – Giving Tuesday – for one day only, I am giving back.  Doing my part to facilitate a community of writers on the island that is my childhood home.  Elena and I are giving a $200 discount to any writer who applies to join the 2018 retreat on Tuesday. So if you want to join us for our third year, NOW is the best time.

Looking forward to hearing from you.