On emerging from the void
The Wild Unknown, The Wheel of Fortune, and paying attention
This is a long one, so bear with me. It’s been a while since I wrote something substantial.
Earlier this week, I was on the beach. On my own but surrounded by people, which is often the case when I venture out in nature. I was in Southern California with the purpose of visiting family, but through a few serendipitous circumstances, found myself completely alone for two days. It was the longest stretch of time I’ve spent by myself since I was in COVID quarantine back in April.
On 8/8, we reached a magazine production milestone: a completed draft of the entire publication! I liked the date, the double infinity signs. It reminded me of our logo for The Rebis, a lemniscate snaking its way around the backside of an R.
The next day, I barely worked. I spent a lot of time just existing. Thinking. I set out for the beach at sunset. I had no intention of coming up with a concept for this newsletter. I had no intention of writing anything this week, or even the week after that.
I’ve been prioritizing the final stages of print magazine work, things like paper options, printer research, and distribution planning. As the magazine nears completion, I’ve been in close collaboration with Xaviera, our creative director and the artist behind all of our branding and illustrations, and Patricio, our designer who’s working on the magazine layout and formatting. (I’m in awe of their work, and think you will be, too.)
This means I’ve been moving slowly on other pieces of building out a publication: this newsletter, social media posts, website updates, returning emails. I have a few interviews with deck creators in the pipeline, but I’ve been feeling stretched thin creatively, and couldn’t extend my focus beyond anything but the print work. I have made peace with this ebb and flow, for the most part. Especially given that I’m the only editor, and I’m trying to carve out time for pleasure and rest along the way.
But there was a small part of me that longed to be deep in the creative flow state of channeled writing. The physical world receding from view, just me and the alchemy of language. My fingers stretched across the keyboard, typing violently — the way I’m doing now. It’s been a while since I felt that delicious rush of words pouring out. I have no shortage of ideas for what to write about: how Death became one of my favorite cards, why I don’t interpret reversals, the eroticism of hands shuffling a deck. Partially formed thoughts, half-written poems. Ideas safely tucked away until they’re ready for the world.
But more often than not, they don’t ever feel ready. Why don’t I write more? I’m being honest when I say that I enjoy doing the behind-the-scenes work (editing, strategy) and prefer to feature other people’s writing rather than my own. Hence a magazine, where my only original writing can be found in a very brief editor’s note! But I have also been sensing that fear of being seen drives some of the withholding. I’m deeply curious about this side of me. And lately, I have been choosing to confront it more.
On the beach, I had two decks: the Rider Waite Smith deck and The Wild Unknown Tarot by Kim Krans. I haven’t been pulling cards from The Wild Unknown recently, despite loving the nature and animal imagery. Instead, I’ve been rotating through The Hollow Valley Tarot, Lioness Oracle, and Somnia Tarot. (This might be the right time to disclose that I own over 20 tarot decks, many gifted to me over the years by people I love, which makes handling them so special.) For some reason, before leaving for the airport to fly to Southern California, I pulled The Wild Unknown off my shelf and shoved it deep into my bag. It was time to get reacquainted.
I sat in the sand at sunset. I didn’t have a specific question or prompt, but secretly hoped I’d get some clarity on next steps for creative work. I left it open-ended, shuffled, and pulled a card: The Wheel of Fortune.
I did the only thing that felt appropriate, which was to laugh out loud. Of course. The Wheel of Fortune is the central theme of the print issue of The Rebis. I hadn’t studied The Wild Unknown’s version of the Wheel in a while. Rather than a traditional wheel or compass, it depicts an intricately connected web, with sticks bound by colorful threads. Night above, day below. A reversal of what you might expect. I sensed that despite spending the last six months thinking about the Wheel, there were still lessons the card had for me. This is one of my favorite things about tarot — its ability to make you pause, evaluate further, take a closer look.
I was struck by the chaos of the illustration, with overlapping threads loosely woven. Branches askew, there is an implicit wildness to the card. But stare at it for long enough and you’ll begin to settle into the disorder. It requires acquiescence, acceptance. Sitting with discomfort. Something that doesn't come naturally, but that the world demands of us these days.
As I traced the web on the card (which bears a striking resemblance to a dreamcatcher), I was thinking about the essay that Bay Area-based writer and artist Maria Minnis wrote for the print issue of The Rebis, “The Wheel is a Dream Weaver.” (Yes, you’re all getting a little sneak peek here!). In it, she poses the following:
“Most of our ancestors lived with their questions far more than we’re used to. When we have a question, we might look to Google or Wikipedia. There’s a distinct type of comfort in living within the confidence of knowing. As the internet offers us more information, the more we might demand answers to expand our knowledge. But there’s a distinct type of expansion when we get comfortable with not knowing. What might it mean to embody the not-knowingness of those who came before us? And what could that say about the ways we visualize our collective futures?"
I have been drawn to the idea of the unknown for my entire life, but rarely applied it to my own way of being. As a child and teen, I immersed myself in the mythology of the underworld, in the history of ancient mysteries and lost civilizations. I gravitated toward unexplainable events, unsolved crimes. But I approached the unknowns of my own life with anxiety and often crippling self-doubt. I overplanned. I overthought. I examined every possible scenario to reduce my chances of getting hurt. Ways of protecting myself that I had learned throughout childhood.
Through tarot and lots of therapy, this has started to dramatically shift. I’m a recovering perfectionist, learning to accept (dare I say, love?) my imperfections. I’ve been releasing expectations and relinquishing control. And I am more present because of it. Turns out, when you stop trying to map out every outcome, you create space to discover the beauty of what’s around you. This might seem painfully obvious to some but I’m giving myself grace around how long it took me to truly learn this and put it into practice.
Back to the Wheel in The Wild Unknown, back to the beach.
I let my eyes find the point of balance in the center of the card, red strings binding the four main branches together. A reminder that there is connection to be found, even in chaos. Even in the center of the void. You might feel lost, but there are plenty of threads to follow if you’re paying attention.
This illustration of the Wheel reminds me of the 3 of Swords, those same red strings wrapped around the sharp edges. The 3 of Swords is traditionally associated with heartache. I choose to interpret it as the strength that comes from living with pain, and the intimacy born from being vulnerable with others. How exposing the raw parts of yourself can bind you to someone else. (There is a fantastic Between the Worlds podcast episode featuring Jessica Dore’s thoughts on this subject, which I’m embedding below, for those who are interested in diving deeper.)
A simple phrase came to mind as I sat on the beach. “Pay attention.” To the places where threads overlap. To the spaces where sharpness meets softness. To the people around me, and the ways their paths intersect mine.
Pay attention. Then share my observations as a mechanism for connection. A very clear call to write more.
At that moment, I looked to my right where the sun was setting. I looked to my left where the moon was rising, nearly full. It seemed as though I was at the midpoint of their opposition. I started thinking about how it felt to be caught between the two cosmic bodies. One representing the unconscious realm, our instincts and emotions (the moon). The other representing our conscious minds, our outward identity and core sense of self (the sun). This tension between what’s buried within and what longs to be revealed is a big theme for me.
I’m recognizing that creativity flows when I’m able to oscillate in a rhythmic way. When I go down into the (metaphorical) well and climb back out again. The magic happens the moment I emerge and look around. It sounds pretty simple when I type it out like that, but I tend to get stuck at the bottom of the well, creatively and emotionally. My eyes adjust, I give in to the exhaustion of the descent. I convince myself that maybe no one else will care to know what I’ve discovered down there in the shadows. I’m trying to climb out regardless. Even if it feels more like a crawl at times.
As the sun went down on the beach, I tried to put all of this thought into action. I put my cards away. Carefully observed my surroundings. Watched the people around me. Watched the way the light hit the ocean swash. Watched a cloud float by. I suddenly felt like I loved everyone on that beach. I loved the blonde teen who wore a ruffled black and white gingham shirt that closely resembled the outfit my 5-year-old daughter wore two days prior. I loved the small child wearing a gold sequin dress running away from the waves. I loved the couple taking engagement photos, their arms twisting around each other. I loved the man walking alongside his two disabled dogs, both pups in wheelchair contraptions rolling through the sand. So many small, beautiful moments. So many ways to connect the dots between those strangers and myself.
As I was reflecting, two women sat down nearby to take in the view. One of them had a small tattoo on her shoulder which slowly came into focus the more I stared at it: the numbers 516.
It was surreal, and seemed too coincidental to ignore. 5/16 is my birthday. It’s also a verse from the New Testament, Matthew 5:16. “Let your light shine before men.”
I’m choosing to strip away the Christian context here, because I was raised culturally Jewish and never read the New Testament. As with tarot, I’m approaching this as “take what you need and leave the rest.” So I’m narrowing in on the words alone and not the historical or religious aspects of them.
Hearing the phrase “let your light shine” felt like a wink from the universe as I sat there on the beach thinking about all of this. Validation for paying attention, for noticing. A nudge to keep connecting to that spark, that inner flame, that soulful place where I generate ideas and values, words and feelings. And to share it with others, to get comfortable with being seen.
An invitation to emerge from the void, out of the well. Even if (especially if) I don’t know what might be revealed when I come to the surface.
The sun went down. I pulled a final card from The Wild Unknown. The 6 of Wands. A blue and black butterfly in flight.
There is so much hope in those outstretched wings, unscathed by the thorny thicket below.
A luminous creature, transformation at the very core of her existence.
Happy full moon, everyone. More to come soon.
I love you all,
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