Writing and September 11th

Budapest Cemetery, December 2006, Photograph by Caroline Allen

This past Tuesday, the sixth anniversary of the World Trade Center disaster, I was talking to a friend about the anniversary and about being a writing coach. I realized as we were talking that most of my business stemmed from the events of September 11, 2001.

At that time, I had given up being a journalist and was exploring the metaphysical. For a while, I worked as a metaphysical counselor using the tarot. So many people came to me after the disaster, their soul in a tumult, because the events in New York City was sparking a personal revolution. Life was too short. No longer could they deny their creative impulses. No longer could I deny my desire to write and publish fiction. I believe my whole career as a writing coach, and the success of Art of Storytelling, and the fact that I finished my novel as quickly as I did, has been a direct consequence of the wake-up call that was September 11th.

In the forward to the book yes this journey is absolutely necessary, I write about being a tarot reader at a Seattle bookstore just days after the September 11th attack:

It is four days after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. I am in Seattle at the Fremont Place Book Company, setting up a rickety table in the back room. This is my first day of reading tarot cards since the terrorist attacks, and I do not know what to expect. I’ve spent the past few days meditating and have decided the best I can do for the 400 or so clients I see regularly is to be as grounded as possible. I think about the word grounded, how it was being used every day after the attacks on the news to describe air traffic over America. Grounded. Feet planted firmly on the earth.

My first client is a 25-year-old woman named Amy, a pretty graduate student with long sandy hair and Levis. I’ve never seen her before; she notices my sandwich board on the sidewalk outside the bookstore and walks in off the street. I went from international journalist to this rickety table in the back of an independent bookstore in Seattle – following your spiritual path isn’t always glamorous.

After grappling with my ego, I grew to truly love my life. My clientele are a cross-section of America — middle-aged men, articulate professional women, 19-year-old neo hippies. I considered opening a private office to see clients more formally and quickly rejected the idea. I wanted these people in my life – shoppers who saw my sign and came in on a whim. It gave me a chance to convert them to metaphysics, to push the nonlinear into a world that had gone so woefully rational.

The biggest question on my mind after the attacks was: How does the metaphysical fit into explaining the terrorist attacks, what does the event have to say spiritually? Instead of coming up with an answer to that question intellectually, I decided to remain open, to read tarot for clients and see what happened, see what the cards had to say about it all. I decided I would let the cards and my clients tell me how to interpret September 11th.

Amy sits in a chair that squeaks when she moves. It is one of the bookstore chairs and over the years, I’ve become used to it as a barometer of the effects of the reading – the more the person shifts and moves upon the seat, the more the chair creaks, the more I know I am hitting the nail on the head.

Amy wants to know what direction to take her poetry. I hand her the cards, ask her to mix them and to focus on her issue. I know the question will sit in the light of the World Trade Center attacks. I believe this close to the trauma that no question will really be outside it. Not for a while, at least.

She shuffles and hands me the cards. The first card I throw out on the table is the Tower. It is a card that perfectly represents the events of September 11th. The card depicts a tower exploding and people falling from the top. It is a card that means the bringing down of the established structure. It means forced change. It is a card of hard knocks. It is a card that represents the rocking of a foundation we didn’t even know we’d taken for granted.

For those who do not know tarot, it may seem like magic that such a card should appear (and appear often … few readings went without it for at least three months after the attacks). The symbols and pictures on the tarot cards represent archetypes, pictures from what psychologist Carl Jung called the Collective Unconscious. The pictures are the main characters of mythology – kings and queens, religious officials, princesses and knights. They are part of the Western subconscious. It is my job to interpret how those symbols are playing out for that person at that moment. We have the national and international scene, and how the Twin Towers incident is affecting the larger picture; but we also have the personal arena, how the explosions are changing each of us personally. How did the Tower figure specifically into Amy’s life.

I throw out 10 more cards. For me, the cards on the table become characters in a play, standing up and moving across the tabletop, speaking to each other, jousting, pulling strings. In Amy’s reading, for example, the Emperor stands on his head; and the High Priestess turn sideways, away from him, on her throne. The reading says Amy is ready to reject the male/linear interpretation of life, that she wants to write her poetry from the depths of what it means to be a woman. That somehow WTC triggered this need to explore the archetypal feminine.

Her chair creaks. She says that, yes, that is exactly it; up to this point she’s written political poetry and after September 11th she lost all interest. The structure that supports her political poetry seems to have crumbled with the Twin Towers. She says she only wants to write from her heart.

“While it’s still beating,” I say, nodding, pointing to the Three of Swords, a crimson heart with three swords piercing its core.

“Yes,” she responds, “yes. While I’m still alive.”



One thought on “Writing and September 11th

  1. It’s hard to sometimes look away from the spectacle of mordern North American living and find time, courage, and fortitude to do what you really want to do, and not what the culture wants you to do


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