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I just have a few more Volume 2 revisions and rewrites to make this weekend, and then I’ll be ready to move on to the next phase of the publication process.
You’re going to ask me “how do I know that the revisions are done?”
The short answer is that I made a list of everything I wanted to revise.
The longer answer is intuition.
In non-self-publishing news, I’m thinking about moving from Seattle to Cedar Rapids. This is where I should explain that it’s close to my parents and there’s a community arts scene and the cost of living is much more affordable and the Iowa Writers House is nearby and I just wrote two whole books about growing up in the Midwest and etc. etc. etc.
But this is what I want to tell you instead.
For the past few months, I’ve been carrying around this feeling that I finally named “evolving,” because I didn’t know what else to call it. (Also, I am well aware that evolve is an action and not an emotion.) It’s hard to describe—which is to say that some of it is very easy to describe, like the urge to purge my social media of all the people who aren’t actually part of my current social/professional circle.
(You know the joke about how our phone numbers represent the places we lived in 2008? In my case, my social media accounts represent the person I was in 2013.)
Anyway, evolving made me prickly and disinclined to do much besides work and read, and if you’re thinking “that doesn’t sound like the optimistic and cheerful Nicole I’ve been experiencing in person and online,” I will remind you that we contain multitudes and my optimism will always be part of me. Or at least I hope it will.
(My favorite jokes are the subtle ones.)
And then I went to the Safeway to get a roll of quarters so I could do laundry and I saw a copy of the Seattle Times that had a front-page article about just how much it costs to live here (we are now the third-most expensive city after New York City and San Francisco) and in that moment I knew I was going to leave Seattle.
I wasn’t even supposed to be in the Safeway that afternoon; I had gone a few days before to get groceries, and I did the thing where I paid with debit and asked for an extra $10, and then I asked if I could have it in quarters, and both of the register clerks were out, so I had to come back.
Then I bought a tarot deck.
Specifically, I bought Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven’s Prophecy tarot deck, because I still haven’t been able to get the Raven Cycle out of my head, it’s like all I want (in addition to all of the other things I want) is another five days to read the whole thing again, and even though I had thought I was a person who was VERY UNINTERESTED IN THIS KIND OF THING I got my deck and opened the book that came with it and read this:
To me, [stories] are the soul of tarot. Every spread is an opportunity to shape our current life events into a story with ourselves firmly installed as the hero at the heart of it. Stories are a way of imposing structure and control, and tarot is a way of imposing structure and control on our own spiritual growth.
And I was like yes, this aligns with my heart.
(Also the part where Stiefvater writes that this particular deck is about being an artist.)
Having the deck first felt like having a toy, and it’s been a long time since I’ve actually had something in my hands that I could play with. I took the unshuffled, straight-out-of-the-package deck and asked it to show me my card and I pulled out the Queen of Coins and laughed, because I am currently the Queen of The Billfold and also please see that ACTUAL SPREAD OF COINS AT THE TOP OF THE POST.
Now, obviously, that’s a very literal reading of the Queen of Coins, but I didn’t know that then. The cards showed me what I needed to see at the time—or, if we’re going to get technical about it, I pulled out a card and gave it a personal meaning, but I do not want to be technical about this.
What I want to do is tell you that I played with the tarot deck like it was a toy, and then I figured out that it was one of those toys that could make you cry. Or guide you towards emotions that you might have been avoiding. Or help you draw connections between ideas.
Or, in my case, help me realize what all of this evolving was for. What could happen when I came out the other side. What I should move towards—and what I should move away from—to get there.
(Again. The subtle ones.)
I’m not going to share the full spread I did—or the question I asked when I did it—because that is way too personal. But I will share three cards I recently drew. They represent past-present-future, and you don’t need to know the more nuanced meanings of these cards to get the jist.
I used to play the piano—like, at the concerto-competition-winning level—and one of the reasons I am excited to potentially move to a place where I could rent a better apartment or an actual house (or eventually buy a house) is that I could have a piano again.
I know that if I move into an apartment I’m likely to have to get one of those headphone-capable electronic pianos with the weighted keys, the kind of piano that comes with apps and firmware updates, and I was trying to figure out why I felt so badly about my piano being a computer, because I certainly don’t mind my Kindle being a computer, and I won’t mind that whatever used car I end up getting will also be a computer.
So I was watching YouTube videos of people playing these pianos, listening to the just-like-a-real-piano sound and appreciating that somewhere, a real pianist created all of the actual piano samples that were shoved into the computer, and then I understood why I didn’t want one.
When you play a real piano, you’re playing both the instrument and the entire room. You are choosing how to touch each key to make it sound in a specific way that is unique to the space and how well you’ve warmed up and how recently the piano has been tuned and even what the weather is like outside. It’s magic in the Lev Grossman sense, and it’s worth noting that he was also a musician.
But you can’t mentally work out all of those circumstances before you sit down to play. (Some, but not all.) You have to listen, and you have to use your intuition.
I’ve been reading those essays and interviews with Philip Pullman, all the ones that say La Belle Sauvage is the best new book ever, and I keep thinking that I don’t want to know what happens to Lyra.
The end of the His Dark Materials trilogy is perfect. Not just because I have this like-an-animated-GIF memory of where I was and what I was wearing when I cried over Lyra and Will. (There have been exactly three books that have made me cry: The Last Battle, The Amber Spyglass, and The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 2: 2004–2016.)
The ending is perfect because Lyra learns that it’s going to take her “a whole long life” to learn how to read the alethiometer, and as a reader who also experienced childhood prodigity that faded into adult have-to-work-for-it, my automatic response was to think of Lyra working—and then to think of how I might work, in my own whole long life, towards similar wisdom.
I don’t want to know what Lyra did next. I want both of us to keep working.
The question Lyra asks at the end of The Amber Spyglass is, honestly, “how do I make art if I’m just an ordinary person after all?”
It’s also “how do I interpret the symbols on this emotion-reflecting, future-predicting toy?”
The answer is work.
And love. ❤️