On how Writer’s Block Never Occurs when One Does Not Have Time to Write

Monday, May 20th, 2013

 (I admit, this blog has been slow of late.)


In my ignorance, I used to think my mom-friends had tons of time on their hands because they did not spend eight hours a day at a job that contributed to the GNP. I used to think things like, “She just has one kid; how much work can it be?” Of course, on some level, I must have known: I put off having children until I was 38 mostly due to time constraints.


Since my last post, nearly two months ago now, I’ve spent a lot of time organizing poetry and reading years and reams of words. I learned how to make a table of contents and to use section breaks in a document, to make left & right pages, and the use of having at least a dozen styles. Then I realized I ought to spend some time organizing my blog entries and seeing what I have got for a book for tarot— as that is really the point of this whole exercise. I seem to have hit a wall in terms of writing, but everything else is just procrastination.


In working on the book, I have to ask myself: What is the purpose of this book? What makes it different from every other companion book out there? I answer: The purpose of this book is to give myself an outlet for my writing. The purpose of this book is to explain my worldview through the framework of the tarot deck. The purpose of this book is to immerse the reader in myth and adventure, evoke laughter, provoke self-examination, and provide yet another way to view the cards. The difference is my insight, my brilliance, my refusal to conform.


I started doing everything in order. The Lovers was the first card for which I had not done an entry. Slightly ironic, I suppose, considering the previous (almost-finished-but-possibly-never-to-be-done) project. Who are The Lovers?


…To Be Continued…

(I promise)

The Lovers — Love Poetry & Tarot Readings

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

As we all know by now, I am supposed to be writing a book about my tarot deck. I love writing. I also thoroughly enjoy cooking and going for long walks and keeping my daughter happy. I have a few things I must do now and again, such as washing diapers and dishes and maybe some dusting on days when a blue moon falls on an odd-numbered Monday in May. Occasionally I sleep.


So I said to myself, “You know, Jess, you’ve already written plenty of stuff that no one’s ever going to see. Why don’t you just make a book of that?”


And I said to myself, “That’s a great idea!”


I’m not sure if I was aware at the time that it was a procrastination technique. It is a great idea! Here you go:


I have years of poetry behind me. Reams of it. One of the most delightful things to write is love poetry, or poetic love letters. I could put it together in a little book, match the poems with three-card readings in which The Lovers is modified by two other cards that would describe the flavor of love in the poem, and I could call it The Lovers— Love Poetry & Tarot Readings. So I began.

Lovers Jean Noblet Marseille

 image from the Jean Noblet Tarot


I chose a number of poems then gave them all three-card readings.  Now I am trying to decide how to order them. Meanwhile, I get nervouser and nervouser because— well— these are all virgin love poems. So few of them have been seen by eyes aside from mine! Plus, I have no idea if they hang together well enough to form a book.


Whether or not anyone would actually purchase— let alone read— a book of love poetry is beside the point. I suspect maybe I would give a copy to Martin and a copy to my bestest of friends and then it would just be available on Amazon for random strangers to stumble across in the same manner that one stumbles across a needle in a haystack or an eyelash in a football field. Why, why have I spent my life writing poetry if not to share with the eyes of others? Is poetry merely a masturbatory form of writing?


In my 20s I went through the existential phase of “I write, therefore I exist.” Those things that are written are the things that make history. It was my method of self-manifestation: my Alchemist holds a pen.

Question: If a writer writes and no one is there to read it, does the writer exist?

Answer: Objectively, no. The human who writes does not exist as a “writer” in the eyes of “writer”-label givers unless the words that were written are read.

Someone wrote to me recently: “You would make a good writer.” To which I respond: “You would make a good reader.”

Enough of this existentialism.


Following is a sampler of the most diverse (not the best) of my love poetry and their associated three-card reads. But who would read this stuff? I mean, really. Who would read? Gosh, I hope nobody is reading this…


*   *   *


Expecting W___ in Oaxaca

(Lovers, Star, Knight of Cups)


This country is another world.

My bed is full of chocolate crumbs.

My patio crawls with cockroaches.

On the day you arrive

And ring the brass bell

Before the green gate,

I will sweep the tiles free from ants

And wash between my toes.


*   *   *


Two Verses for P___

(Lovers, 7 of Blades, 2 of Cups & Lovers, 5 of Blades, 4 of Blades)




I did not seek your kisses, mister.

I did not try to learn the way

your whiskers feel upon my neck

And be this as it may:

That I take pleasure in your touch

and would not mind the chance

to explore your navel

to see if I can find the universe inside,

I would give back all knowledge

of your affection

For the pure and simple freedom

found in unencumbered friendship.




The world was so loud in my ears that day,

I could not hear the words you said.

Your lips moved, your body moved,

shirtless, around the cab of that red truck—

but I did not heat the words you said!


I only heard the words you meant to say:

“Get away,

get away—




*   *   *


I was wanting to kiss someone.

Do you like kisses?

I can send you some.

(Lovers, Alchemist, Page of Cups)


Send me your lips. Send me

the teeth behind your lips,

send the tip of your tongue,

the whiskers on your cheek.

Send an earlobe, the nape of your neck,

some fingertips.

Send the side of your nose,

and I will press mine against it.

I will place my fingers on your neck,

my thumb light against your jaw bone,

my lips on your mouth,

and I will press against your teeth.

Your rough cheek on my smooth cheek,

your hand on my back,

your fingers, the back of my head.

Send breath, and breathe against me.

Send a heartbeat,

and let me place my ear against your chest.

Send me all of you for kissing.

I will kiss.


*   *   *



What is this



Tarot Riddles — Tarot of the Absurd

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

[continued from yesterday’s post]

After purchasing my first deck,

I sat down to learn the meanings of the twenty-two Major Triumphs in order to compose

The Tarot Riddles.

The riddles are not intended to describe the image on the card; they are to describe the essence.

This was my first understanding of the tarot deck. It was from these riddles I began to illustrate

The Tarot of the Absurd.

The Tarot Riddles


Download The Tarot Riddles, print them out, cut them up, & put them in order as the Tarot of the Absurd is ordered. The first ten people who take their time to do this will earn themselves either (1) two cute little magnets OR (2) the offer of free shipping on a deck of cards/ $5 off international shipping. (Are there even ten people who read this blog?) And if you just want some cute little magnets (Strength & 7 of Cups), I’m selling business-card sized magnets for $2 each. Any questions? Anyone wanna try? Anyone? Anyone? Hey! Spread the word!


Origin of the Species — Tarot of the Absurd

Saturday, December 22nd, 2012

I did a woodcut print a number of years ago (to be posted in one week) called, “It was Raining Out.” In the image, a boy pulls a girl by the hand. He points to a ladder which leads to the attic. In the attic, there is a trunk. Outside, umbrellas fall like rain.


*    *    *


It is the attic, the endless attic where all toys go when they are outgrown, where the works of years past are laid to wait for the minds of future generations. There, the treasures are endless.


When it rains out, the boy and the girl sneak into the attic, close the door, and open an old wooden trunk, origin of all adventure. In the trunk lie the treasures of the mind, for it is filled with papers— letters, photographs, journals, cards— papers covered in writing and images.


One rainy day, the boy picks out a small carved wooden box. A box within a box. He opens it. Inside are slips of paper. On each piece, writ with fine fountain-pen script, is a terse aphorism: a riddle.


The girl takes the one on top and reads it aloud. “…”


“A riddle,” says the boy. “But what could it mean?” He takes the next, reads it. “…”


“I wonder how many there are” says the girl. She dumps the papers and arranges them in a grid on the floor to count. “Twenty-two.”


*    *    *


The problem was, I had no basis for filling in the ellipses. I had never seen a tarot deck. I knew there were twenty-two pictures. I knew there was a fool. I didn’t think the sixteen faces and forty numbers were actually part of the tarot deck. I had some research to do.


I went into a store that specialized in tarot decks and went through their albums of sample cards. Nothing caught my eye. They were all 78-card decks and none of them were special. At last I found a little hand-written booklet with a red lion on the cover and the words, “Twenty-Two Keys of the Tarot.” THIS was what I was looking for.


“Do you have the deck for this booklet?” I asked the clerk.

“It’s somewhere in the back,” he said, disappearing through a door beyond the bookshelves. When he returned, he handed me a small white box. “Just one,” he said. “It’s been here for ages. There’s no price on it.”

“May I look?” I asked. I was filled with that nervous sort of energy that happens when everything is absolutely right. It made my hands shake as I opened the box flap, and I was too jittery to see anything beyond the print quality (real ink on real paper) and the hand-written date. The deck was exactly 20 years old. “How much?” I asked.

“Name your price,” said the clerk.

“Ten dollars,” I said, knowing nothing about anything. I wasn’t the sort of person who bought things. The clerk nodded, rung me up, and slipped the deck into a small brown paper bag. I walked home, glowing brilliantly like the sun in the heavens.

The Two Moons of the Tarot of the Absurd

Friday, May 11th, 2012

Jes Shanahan

Artist: Jessica Rose Shanahan


Strange things happen by the light of the Moon.


The Moon shines light on the inner demons of the unconscious—
giving life to the shadow self’s distorted vision—
a moon-shadow landscape of illusion
where dream and reality swirl— undifferentiated—
where the self wanders bewildered and aimless—
anxious and mad— into the arms of deception.


When illustrating the cards in this deck, I incorporated the meaning of the card with a few traditional symbols together with a few symbols of my own into an illustration that attempts to embody the concept of the card intuitively. The conveyed meaning is based largely on posture and human expression rather than on the basis of occult symbols. What allowed me to do this relatively freely was largely my ignorance of the sacredness of symbols in the occult tarot. However, artists invariably have personal symbols that come through in work. Thus the cards— like any work of art— are not devoid of symbols. The symbols are merely different. My goal was to offer a new way of looking at looking at an old idea.


When illustrating the Moon I thought, What is the most deceptive thing? My conclusion was that the most deceptive thing is a creator who brings something into this world and endows it with the faith that it will be loved and cared for and protected fully— then from within the realm of confidence of its creation, the creator becomes destroyer. I illustrated this as a mad mother consuming her own child: the ultimate deception. It is a disturbing image.


This action can be seen overtly in cases of child abuse. However, it also occurs small-scale in every-day relationships. We let people down. Despite our best efforts, we are imperfect mothers, friends and lovers. We deceive and destroy even our own selves. This inevitability begs the question, Who is more greatly deceived in this relationship: the creator or the destroyed?


Upon becoming a mother myself, I find this image more and more disturbing and have found it necessary to deceive myself anew. Thus, I drew a second Moon. The second Moon contains not only the illusion that my creation will have the ability to wander into the wilds unarmed and sleep with the wolves, unharmed, but that I myself will be the perfect mother, able to produce such a miracle. This comforting illusion occurs when we refuse to take off the veil of deception and witness reality.


Unfortunately, although this is the more comforting image, the refusal to see reality ultimately does more harm than good. Facing the truth of one’s destructiveness allows us to better our actions. Choosing some comforting illusion allows us to be lead blindly by our own inner demons into the deception of dreams.


Which Moon you choose is up to you. I leave them both in the deck.

The Fool — Tarot of the Absurd

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Jessica Rose Shanahan ‘If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.’ —William Blake


Zero is the cardinal number of the empty set and the additive identity of real numbers. It is important in field theory and it is part of every basic algebraic structure by definition.Without zero and the ideas contained in the notion of identities and inverses there would be practically no modern mathematics and physics.


The occult tarot and other metaphysical systems use allegorical significance of numerals rather than mathematical significance of numerals. Metaphysics uses the notion of identities and inverses in a philosophical manner to describe abstract concepts undefinable by means of mathematics. Mathematicians define a (seemingly) completely different set of abstract concepts using the same symbols.*


‘Only two things are certain: the universe and human stupidity— and I’m not certain about the universe.’ —Albert Einstein


The greatest problems in communication occur when people agree on the symbol used but cannot agree on the abstract concept defined by the symbol. Symbols in and of themselves have no intrinsic meaning: in every case, the meaning of the symbol is defined by the viewer. In order to facilitate communication, we try to agree on the meaning of a symbol.


At times this meaning is dictated by society. A large red octagon with a white outline means “stop,” although nothing intrinsic to red-octagon-with-white-outline implies “stop.” It is merely the meaning we have given a rather arbitrary symbol in order to help prevent accidents. In a city, choosing to believe that the octagon is not a symbol for stop may result in injury or death. On a deserted road, the octagon quite often takes on the meaning of “look both ways.”


‘The wise through excess of wisdom is made a fool.’ —Ralph Waldo Emerson


There two kinds of people (there are many kinds of “two kinds of people”): those who define symbols and those who more-or-less follow definitions. Definers-of-symbols are often great thinkers and philosophers or at least great leaders, however—


“Any fool will make a rule, and any fool will mind it.” —Henry David Thoreau.


So what is to prevent us from redefining the entire set of symbols and numbers used in the occult tarot? What is to prevent us from introducing an entirely new set of symbols and numbers to please our fancy? Nothing, other than the fact that this habit tends to frustrate communication. Historically, this has been done time and time again. Each religion defines its own set of symbols and defends this set’s concepts as true.


‘Those who wish to appear wise among fools, among the wise seem foolish.’ —Quintilian


In illustrating my own deck, I needed to determine which symbols meant something to me, which symbols meant nothing to me, and which of my own personal symbols I thought significant enough to introduce into the deck. Unfortunately for those who favor such correspondences, my thought patterns prevent me from incorporating the symbols of astrology, runes, quaballah, numerology, and other commonly associated esoteric systems into my deck. This can make my deck difficult to “read,” if one is used to working within “traditional” tarot systems. I apologize. For me, the endeavor of creating a deck was a beautiful journey of personal exploration and artistic expression. I am grateful to all who adore the fruits of my labor. Thank you.**


‘The fool doth think himself wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.’ —William Shakespeare


*I am neither a mathematician nor a metaphysician.
**Today’s undiscussed question was, “When will my baby be born?”

The Faeries’ Oracle — 44. Lys of the Shadows

Saturday, February 18th, 2012

Brian FroudArtist: Brian Froud

Author: Jessica MacBeth


Interpretation: Healing the shadows. Addictions. Bondage. Self-esteem.


I have now been keeping this blog for a (mere) two and a half months. Done with illustrating cards, the next step is to write about card interpretation and illustrative thought-process. I need to reveal those things which remain occulted in my mind. Today I am using Brian Froud’s Faeries’ Oracle. I had some issues with the deck last time. With that in mind, I ask this pack of fey, “If the goals of this blog are to create a daily entry about a one-card tarot reading in order to facilitate the writing of a book, what is the purpose of reading from non-tarot decks, decks that do not inspire creative writing, and decks that I simply do not enjoy looking at?”


“Good question,” says Lys of the Shadows. I like her.


Lys deals with addicts. She tries to help people develop true self-respect and self-esteem by inspiring practical help for those who need it most. “Take a shower. Brush your teeth. Go out side into the sunlight,” she says. Taking care of one’s self is the most basic sign of self respect. This may be obvious to most of us, but for those living in the shadows of society, they are not easy actions. The best time to deal with addiction is before it happens, when action is merely habit. Lys is brisk with me. “Look at your habits,” she says.


I have this habit that I generally do what I say I am going to do— in general a very good trait. I also have a habit of trying to distribute my attentions fairly— again, not a bad thing. Lest you think I am a conceited self-righteous snot, I acquiesce to having a slew of bad habits not relevant to this discussion.


From the start I have wanted to write a book to go with this deck. Each of my major arcana cards began as a terse aphorism of my own divination. The book will not be the kind that retells the same-same tale of what each card means. I want the book to be one of poetry and short story— an amusement in and of itself. I want to show how my world-view is portrayed each image. I never wanted to change the tarot deck. Its mythological history is too amusing for that. I merely wanted to give old cards new, vibrant personality.


Thus, I have illustrated the Tarot of the Mythology of Me. Mythology becomes absurd when one takes it too literally, too seriously, or too fundamentally. I have spent my life admiring and amused by the mythologies of others, slave to none, faithless to anything outside my own imagination. Endless and beginningless a thing as mythology is, it is liable to take on each aspect of everything around it. Wading through ancient mythology requires hip boots, mental stamina, and a sharp machete.


In asking my question of Lys, I ask for permission to streamline the writing of the Book of the Mythology of Me. She says: “Eliminate what you don’t need. When something has ceased to serve its function— when action no longer brings you closer to your goal— move on.” Thus, with her blessing, I drop this deck from my lineup. I will do likewise with others that cease to serve me in the future. My goal is to write a cohesive, amusing book. These entries are my notes.

The Hermit — Tarot of the Absurd

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

[I have been in NY City for a few days. I had a wonderful time. I am now re-united with my computer and scanner.]


Artist: Jessica Shanahan


I love this image. You can click on it to make it bigger and see each individual hair in the Hermit’s beard.


This is how I make my pictures:


I spend anywhere from a few days to a few years trying to figure out what a card means to me.


I rack my brain for ideas on how to represent the meaning of the card using lovely curved lines and zero colors and two dimensions.


I draw a sketch in pencil on a piece of scrap paper. Again, this can take a very long time.


I scan the sketch into my computer and import it in Adobe Illustrator to use as a template for a vector graphics illustration.


I place points on the apexes of curves and pull vectors that approximate my hand-drawn curves. This takes one day or many, depending on the complexity of the image and how many times I edit it before it approaches completion.


Because one of my goals is to have as few points as possible, I go through a prolonged period of removing points that I have placed. I use no pre-formed “shapes” (squares, circles, stars, etc.) and, with few exceptions (see the hanged man), I do not cut&paste or re-use any of the images I have drawn. I am obsessive. However, my images are drawn by a human (me) and I want them to look that way. Another goal of mine is to reproduce the feeling of pen&ink.


Each image goes through a lengthy editing period— from a few days (rarely) to a few years (way too often)— before I say “enough!” and call it done. Many of the pictures have changed substantially since I began the deck. My style has become more refined and detailed. That is what happens when a project takes so long.


Because the pictures are drawn in vector graphics, the originals can be blown up infinitely large without losing definition. There are no pixels. Often times, when I am drawing an eyeball, it will take up my entire computer screen. That is how close I work.


The purpose of this blog is to gain a better understanding of the cards
that I might better be able to explain the images in my deck
and someday write a little book.

Six of Blades — Tarot of the Absurd

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

Jessica Rose ShanahanArtist: Jessica Rose Shanahan


Interpretation: Leaving a storm for calm waters. Change of thought or place. A journey through the watery mind. Attempt at harmony. Finding understanding. Rite of passage.


A man in a boat on stormy seas has lost his oars. He surfs a great wave as daggers fall from heaven. But it is not a hopeless situation. His eyes are the eyes of a fish, eyes that see through confused waters. His hands are webbed, like fins. On his head he has a swimming cap, and on his arm, the tattoo of a blade. These blades are nothing new. He is prepared for this and knows more than he thinks he knows. He will not sink. And when he swims, he’ll find a message in a bottle.


The only thing that could hinder him is baggage. One cannot swim with too much baggage. A stubborn, clinging mind will never change. To swim, he needs to let his boat go, to let his baggage go, to keep his mind clear, to keep his aim focused. To read the message in the bottle he needs to use both hands and leave all else behind. It is easier to find harmony in simplicity than in chaos.


The purpose of this blog is to gain a better understanding of the cards
that I might better be able to explain the images in my deck
and someday write a little book.

13. The Journey — The Wildwood Tarot

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Artist: Will Worthington
Authors: Mark Ryan & John Matthews
This card corresponds to the Death card in the Marseille Tarot.
“The first step is to ask the initial question,” write the authors. “This is the most overlooked part of any divinatory system… the act of asking focuses the mind. The desired answer or even the real question itself may be buried so deep in our own subconscious that we need the help of Tarot to reflect our own unknowable truth.”
The truth is, I have not been asking a question other than which card will it be? what will it show me? When I pull cards for this blog, I am not searching for insight. I merely seek the ability to understand the cards more thoroughly. But if I want to get a better answer, I have to ask a better question.
This deck has caught me unawares. The book is extremely well written. I do not just want to jump to the card and see what it means. I want to read the book, understand where the authors are coming from, and move from there. I am the sort who reads instruction books cover-to-cover. I hope my book will be so enticing to others.
From the book—
It is time to face the inevitable, to let the bones be laid bare and acknowledge the deepest aspects of your fears and desires. Do not fear change, because this is also a time of purification and realignment. This change may seem extreme and destructive, but old crops must be cleared for new growth to thrive and static or sterile modes and concepts must perish. A celebration of the past or an acknowledgement of the passing of  one part of life may be required. Let the threads of the old slip from your fingers with joyful remembrance and enter this time of withdrawal and renewal with patience and calm.
I had trouble calling my death card “finished” for a long time. I was trying to illustrate death as something that begins in childhood and grows with life. Death is there all along; it is nothing new. I drew people of three ages dancing with snakes that grew with them, both the snakes and the people enjoying life. Death enjoys life. Over and over, death enjoys life. Still, something was missing. That something was death itself, a fourth stage of life, like the four seasons of the year. When I added the skull, death became complete. I was not afraid that death was part of life; I was afraid that death was part of death.
Here is a celebration. Before the birth of my child, celebrate the death of my self: my selfish-self: my self who wanted to be only-self for so many years and had “too much to” do to be devoted to another self. I think it would be a good thing: to say good-bye thoroughly to what I no longer need, that I might greet with purity what I desire.
I am excited for this death and birth of life.