How Tarot Helps Me Out of Writer’s Block

To put it plainly, I’m stuck.

I’m in the middle of a creative rut that’s equal parts writer’s block and quarter-life-crisis. All the pressure I’ve been putting on myself to write the perfect story and to keep a quality blog has driven me to a place of inaction.

Recently, I started wondering about what I can do to drag myself out of that place. I used to think that the way out was forcing myself to work harder, but the only things that ever got me were sleepless nights and migraines. Now I realize that the best way through an impossibly huge task is by taking baby steps. (Credit where credit is due: this revelation is 100% my therapist’s doing. So thanks for the wisdom, Dr. R!).

I can’t expect myself to write a whole novel overnight. I can’t expect that all my blog posts will be perfect and garner hundreds of likes when I’ve only been at it for a month and a half. But I can start taking small steps towards those goals. So I began asking myself what exactly I could do to feel like I’m making progress. My therapist suggested I start by thinking about doing the challenging thing, but that isn’t what I need—think about writing all the time. Then I remembered what I used to do before I fell into this spell of inactivity.

In the past, whenever life became too confusing, I’d turn to the cards.

When I first started reading Tarot, I had a tendency to use the cards to dwell on or reevaluate situations and feelings already in the past. Over and over and over again. Shockingly, that did not yield any results. I was using the cards for rumination, instead of treating them as the useful tools that they are. Tarot cards, I now realize, aren’t meant to tell us how many children we’ll have or when we’re going to die (according to a “card reader’ who does readings in a dingy Boston apartment next to a Subway, I’ll have three kids with the dark-haired love of my life and die in my late 80s).

The most effective use for Tarot cards is in trying to gain clarity about a situation. The cards can reveal the universal forces at work around us. They can help us see obstacles we might be blind to. And, yes, they can hint at our future. We might not get our one true love’s initials from a reading, but we can gain a better understanding of what holds us back in love.

In writerly terms, a Tarot reading won’t hold all the answers. I’m sorry to report, Dear Reader, that I have not found the one true cure for writer’s block. But the cards do bring clarity. They help me understand the reasons for my lack of motivation. They help me see the forces at work around me that I couldn’t see before. In short, they are not a solution but a small step in the right direction.

So, Dear Reader, what do I want you to take away from this post? Part of me wants to tell everyone to get a Tarot card reading. (A reliable one, please. Don’t make my mistakes! The last thing you need if you’re suffering from writer’s block is a lady in a headscarf charging you 20$ to tell you how you’ll die.). Part of me wants to encourage you to learn your own cards (less risk of being ripped off). But, in truth, this isn’t about the cards. Not really. It’s about the slow and unsteady path to creating and about the small steps that get us there.

It doesn’t really matter whether our journey starts with just thinking about writing or a deck of cards or a moonlit ritual involving palm leaves and incantations (don’t ask). What matters is starting. What matters is that we find our way back after falling off the path—no matter how many times we have to do it.

Tonight, Dear Reader, I’m lighting a white candle, saying my prayers, and reading my cards. It’s not a novel, and it’s not an award-worthy blog post, but it is a start. I encourage you to take a small step today too.

Love,

Miss Breathing

My Favorite Things: Summer 2019

Shorts have given way to jeans, school buses are back to making morning traffic even more hellish, and supermarkets have started filling their aisles with big bags of candy. Although we’re still a ways away from the Autumnal Equinox, it’s safe to say summer 2019 is already over. As an autumn lover, I’m more than ready for my favorite season to properly begin, but, as I get ready to say goodbye to summer 2019, I feel I should highlight some of the things that brought me joy this summer. 

I’ve decided to start a new tradition here on Miss Breathing. Every month, I’ll try to draw up a short list of some of my favorite nerdy things. These aren’t necessarily new things, just things I’ve been enjoying lately. I want this to be like Oprah’s list, but way nerdier. A way to spread the geekish love. 

So, without further ado, here is my first ever list of favorite things. I hope you enjoy!

Books

Blogging For Writers by Robin Houghton: Books about the internet are a bit of an oxymoron, I’ll admit. They can easily become outdated, and this one is no exception. That being said, I found it extremely useful in the process of starting this blog. Basically, without this book, there would be no Miss Breathing. 

In one of my earlier posts, I spoke more in-depth about my love of rules. I love having guidelines and roadmaps, and I was lost when I decided to start Miss Breathing. Then I found this book while browsing at Barnes & Noble. It is specifically meant to help writers and authors create a space for themselves on the Internet. It touches on everything from the basic technical aspects of starting a blog to what type of content gets the most reads. It’s been a huge help, as evidenced by the millions of sticky notes and highlights on my copy, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking to start a blog of their own. 

Let’s Talk About Love by Claire KannAlice is an asexual college student who, after a nasty breakup, decides to stop trying to find love. But then she meets Takumi, her kind and handsome new coworker, and she has to figure out what it means to be asexual and in love.

Asexuality is seldom discussed (like at all), so it was incredibly refreshing to read a book about a bi-romantic, asexual Black woman trying to figure out romance. This novel doesn’t just skirt around the topic of asexuality. Rather, it explicitly explores asexuality in the context of a crush, which in itself is remarkable because it goes against the erroneous idea that ace people inherently want nothing to do with love or romance. While asexuality is different to every individual ace-spec person, this book is a great introduction to the subject for those looking to know more.

So, while I found the prose a bit stilted and clichéd, I’d be remiss not to include it in my favorite things of the summer. I dog-eared and underlined so many passages. This book is important, and it made the slower moments and imperfect writing style worth it. I don’t just recommend this book—I urge you to read it. Whether or not we personally know an ace-spec person, we all have a lot of learning to do on the subject, and this novel is a great start. Bonus: it’s also a cute story with a happy ending! 

Red White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston: The First Son of the United States and the Prince of England are sworn enemies, but all that changes when they are forced to spend time together and their true feelings begin to come to the surface.

Let’s get real: if this isn’t one of your favorite books of 2019, it’s probably because you haven’t read it yet. What can I say about this exquisite book that hasn’t already been said? It’s steamy, humorous, ambitious, and full of heart. 

I’ll admit I went into this with a good amount of skepticism. The premise seemed so ambitious to me that I wasn’t entirely convinced it could be pulled off. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. McQuiston not only excelled in creating lovable, rounded characters and an alternate reality you’ll want to live in forever. The writing is witty and full of literary insights that make it stand out from other books in the romcom genre. The romance was so touching and well developed and beautiful; I have never been more satisfied with a romantic plotline in my life. I cannot recommend this book enough! It was a delight through and through, and I know it will stay with me forever.

Television

Sex Education (Netflix): The sexually repressed teenage son of a sex therapist and his smart-but-misunderstood classmate start a sex therapy clinic at their high school. 

I can’t believe it took me so long to watch this show! (Except I can totally believe it because it has been a ROUGH year, and I haven’t even found the time to catch up on some of my favorite shows yet). From a writing perspective (fun fact about me: I actually majored in Writing For Film & TV), this show is excellent. The story is original, relatable, and expertly paced, and the character work is exquisite. I love a coming-of-age story that takes its subjects seriously the way “Sex Education” does. 

One thing I will say about it is that a lot of people have recommended this show to me because they think it has great asexual representation, but this is simply not the case. I don’t fault the show for this since it’s more of a mistake in interpretation than mishandling on the showrunner’s part. Regardless, I thought I would clarify where I stand on this. My disappointment that the protagonist is not asexual but sexually repressed due to emotional trauma is mostly because people already conflate asexuality with sexual trauma, and the two are not at all the same thing. But, as I said, I don’t believe the writers’ intention was ever to portray an ace character, so I do not fault the show with this. 

That being said, I think this show does a lot for other underrepresented groups. It handles socially taboo subjects such as masturbation, religion and sexuality, and abortion in an open and unique way. It’s inclusive and respectful of the marginalized groups it portrays. 

Between the wonderful performances and the superb writing, this show is sure to steal your heart, make you laugh, and maybe even inspire some tears. 

“La casa de papel” (“The Money Heist”), Season 3 (Netflix)A group of criminals comes together to pull off the biggest heist in Spain’s history.

This was one of my most anticipated releases of 2019. My mom and I have always been big on Spanish dramas, even before they became popular on streaming platforms (this basically meant leaving my laptop logged into illegal websites overnight because it took twelve hours to download a forty-five-minute episode). I’m thrilled about the recent growth in interest for international programming (I could dork out over the globalization of media for hours), and “La casa de papel” is just one of the wonderful rewards we’re reaping from this. 

This show features some of Spain’s most talented actors playing one-of-a-kind characters in unique scenarios. All of the performances this season are to die for, but then they always are with this show. I was especially blown away by Alvaro Morte’s performance, but I’m biased because I’m completely in love with him and his character, The Professor.

This show is also brilliantly written–it’s smart and fast-paced and impossible to predict. The writers had a pretty big challenge ahead of them this season since the original heist had wrapped up neatly by the end of season two. Needless to say, they more than delivered with this new plotline. I don’t want to spoil the show for anyone, but I highly recommend you add it to your Netflix list. (Side note: watch it in Spanish if you can! Even if you can’t understand the language, I recommend subtitles over dubbing with this show).

Music 

Happiness Begins by The Jonas Brothers (Album): This should come as no surprise to anyone who follows my blog. I’ve been a faithful Jonas fan for over a decade now, and their comeback ranks among one of my favorite things of 2019. 

This album, the Jonas Brothers’s first since 2009, is an absolute triumph. There isn’t a bad track in Happiness Begins. The Jonas Brothers have managed to create an album that at once evokes nostalgia in old fans and expertly taps into current musical trends. The result is 45 minutes of sheer joy (except for Hesitate, which will make you cry in the most delicious way). Some of my personal favorite tracks are “Strangers,” “Trust,” and “Rollercoaster.” (Although, if you have not already done so, I recommend listening to the whole album top to bottom). 

Unplugged Rock (Playlist by Apple Music): As I get back into the groove (musical pun not intended) of writing, I like to listen to music to help me concentrate. Finding the perfect writing music is a never-ending quest and one that has become increasingly challenging now that I my phone company made the switch from free Spotify to free Apple Music. I’ll admit I’m not loving the service as a whole, but this playlist was a gem of a find. 

Featuring Tori Amos’s acoustic cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Alanis Morissette’s MTV Unplugged version of “You Oughta Know,” this playlist is great for both attentive listening and easy listening. I play it when I’m writing, when I’m doing mini photoshoots for my bookstagram, and sometimes even when I’m driving. It’s a short but versatile playlist, and I’ve been beating it to death this summer. 

Well, there you have it, folks! I hope you enjoyed this list. See anything you like? Let me know in the comments! Hopefully, this tradition sticks, because I’m excited to keep sharing my favorite things with you! 

Love,

Miss Breathing

A Writer’s Journals

I got my favorite journal in Venice when I was seventeen. Had we known that the pretty, Italian leather journals and customizable wax stamps were a staple in all the large Italian cities (an obvious tourist trap), maybe we wouldn’t have stopped in that Venetian shop. But it was our family’s first time abroad, and Venice was the first city we visited.  After a full day of seeing me stare longingly at displays on store windows, my uncle caved in and offered to buy me a journal. 

Inside, the store was heaven. It was dimly-lit, as if by candlelight, and wooden shelves covered the walls from floor to high ceiling. The scent of leather-bound books was intoxicating. I deliberated for at least a half an hour, trying to choose the prettiest journal to take home. Eventually, I picked a blue-green hardcover with a leather spine and a set of thick strings holding it shut. 

Some of my favorite journals. Featuring the Venice one (the second from the top).

At first, I was scared to use it. I’ve always been a little superstitious, and I kept holding off on writing on the new journal until I could find something important enough to write about. I brought the journal with me to Boston when I started college that fall, and I christened it by writing a crappy little poem about some boy I never saw again after the first month of classes. I’m no poet, but the moment felt just right regardless. I was sitting under a tree in the Boston Commons, the leaves had begun to turn, and there was the slightest nip in the air. It was my first autumn, and arriving in Boston for the first time had felt like coming home. It’s hard to explain, but that moment sitting in the Commons felt like a (happy) conclusion, like everything in my life had led to that small moment. 

A small sampling of my journals.

It gradually became easier to write in the journal. This was notable in that I had never before been able to keep a journal; I had tried countless times, and I have shelves of evidence at home. But, little by little, I began to fill the pages of that journal with everything from haikus (all of which suck) to opening lines to character descriptions.

Years later, as a junior in college, I had a scriptwriting professor who gave us a grade for keeping what he called a writer’s journal. According to him, a writer’s journal is different from a regular journal because it’s not about reflecting or documenting; writer’s journals are meant to be a place in which to document anything that might lead to stories. At that point, I had already learned to carry my Venice journal around with me everywhere I went, and I found it extremely validating that someone had thought of a name for this. My favorite journal was a writer’s journal. 

On the last day of my junior year, we were having class in the Boston Commons when I felt the sudden urge to write a poem. I have to reiterate, I am no poet; however, the need to write these words down was strong. I stuck around after class, and I sat on a solitary stretch of hill to write. The words flowed out of me until they filled every corner of the very last page. I thought it absurdly fitting that both the first and the last thing I wrote in the first journal I ever filled was a poem inspired by the Boston Commons. 

When I started writing this, Dear Reader, I intended for it to be a brief and practical post about the usefulness of keeping what my old professor dubbed a writer’s journal. I didn’t mean to get into overly-sentimental detail about my one journal, but I suppose this kind of discovery is what the blog is meant to be for.

My current writer’s journal has a full family tree for the character

I won’t try to preach to you about the importance of keeping a writer’s journal since I’m well aware that the process is different for everyone. But I will say that writer’s journals take many forms–I’ve seen everything from an iPhone Notes document to an actual piece of crumpled notebook paper kept in jeans pockets. And I can personally attest to the usefulness of journals kept specifically to jot down and expand upon creative ideas. Everything I know about Anne Marie and her family started out as a few lines in my current writer’s journal. At first, it was a handful of descriptions of things I found inexplicably alluring: a Cuban restaurant, a homemade carrot cake. It wasn’t until I began asking myself, “what’s the story here?” that I could flip back through the pages of my own writing and begin to connect the pieces. Writer’s journals, I’ve found, really work for me. I urge you, Dear Reader, to give it a try too. 

Yours,

Miss Breathing 

I Miss Breathing

Dear Reader,

I am writing this from rock bottom. Well. Technically, I’m writing this on my MacBook Pro, from the comfort of an IKEA desk. So, safe to say my idea of rock bottom is fairly cushy.

The thing is, I’m unhappy. Plain and simple. I don’t have my shit together, and I never have. I just graduated from college with a degree in something I’m not even sure how to love anymore. I have no job and no real prospects. I just had to defer acceptance to my dream master’s program because I’m too sick to move to New York. I moved back into my old room in my mom’s house in a Florida town no one’s ever heard of, and I can’t stop reading my tarot cards about a guy I’m not likely to ever see again. I know things could be much, much worse, but damn if it doesn’t suck to be where I am right now. It’s a little hard to sound optimistic when everything is a muted shade of grey.

Earlier in the year, at that point in the semester where you still make an effort to keep up with assigned readings, I started reading “To Kill A Mockingbird” for a class. I’d been meaning to read it since the ninth grade (as if somehow my old English Honors teacher could telepathically sense I was reading classics and write me an encouraging note on Facebook Messenger about enriching my education), so I actually made an effort to read it. I’m big enough to admit I didn’t finish the novel. But I loved the 250ish pages that I did read. (I promise I’m not just saying that). I knew I really loved the book about two chapters in when Scout says,

“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”

I am not exaggerating when I say that reading that made me cry (blame my period or my antidepressants if you like—I do!). I imagine part of this is because I share Scout’s feelings for the written word. The way I love bound books and loose pages and typed words and ink stains is, for me, as natural and primal as breathing. But that’s not all it was; when I first read this line, I was struck with a strong sense of loss. For the first time in a long time, I could not remember what it felt like to love things so deeply. To put it plainly, I missed breathing.

Several emotional breakdowns later, here I am. Determined now to recover my love for living. On a mission to find my lost love of breathing. Hence the name Miss Breathing. It’s kind of catchy, no?

But what exactly is this blog about? Like all great stories, mine starts with a quest: I’m going to write a novel. It won’t be perfect, but that’s a feeling I’ll need to learn to sit with. The process will be messy and the road bumpy. I’m riddled with insecurities about this project, and, more than anything else, I am absolutely terrified.

As I find myself standing still at the starting line, I keep thinking about one of my favorite tarot cards. It’s card number seventeen of the Major Arcana: The Star. It’s a card of good fortune, signifying universal powers at work in your favor. The Star says you can do anything, be anything, if only you put in the work and believe in yourself. The drawback? Nothing you do seems good enough to put out into the world. So now you’re standing there, all this creative energy alive inside of you, and absolutely nothing to show for it.

I’ve lost count of how many unfinished stories, scripts, poems, and novels I have. I used to think that if they weren’t perfect, they weren’t worth it. But the truth is I’m not writing the next American classic at twenty-one. It’s just not happening. That doesn’t mean I don’t have stories to tell. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try.

This blog signifies a lot for me. It’s going to serve as a documentation of how I get my shit together. It’s the place where I’m going to vent, share, rejoice, and moan about the process of writing my first novel. It’s going to be a writing blog. It’s going to be a self-care blog. It’s going to be a mind-dump. It’s going to be completely imperfect, and I am learning how to be okay with that. I’m going to share this crazy, messy, ugly journey out of rock bottom with whoever wants to read along. I can’t promise much, but I can promise it will be interesting!

I hope you’ll tag along!

Yours,

Miss Breathing