In this monumental task I’ve undertaken, of interviewing the characters who populate my deck of Tarot, I haven’t yet had to come to the administration building. I show up at Headquarters. It’s a bright day, with a light breeze; I almost hate to go indoors, into the cool marble lobby of the building.
“Top floor,” says the neatly coifed receptionist, handing me an elevator key and pointing to the restricted-use penthouse elevator.
A thrill of excitement makes my breath catch. From the street outside, you can see the penthouse area — a two-story expanse of glass and balcony, hiding untold mysteries.
The elevator ride is slow and smooth and uninterrupted. When the doors open, they reveal a glassed-in garden. Soft padded benches and water fountains peek out from between tall potted trees and mounds of layered planters. Long vines hang from ironwork or climb wooden lattices. No other human is there, but the sparrows that have found their way inside fill the space with soft fluttering. Butterflies are ubiquitous. A hive of bees is protected in one corner. After walking the perimeter of the garden, I decide to settle in on one of the padded benches and wait. Far away, far below, the sounds of the street reach the garden only faintly: the call of one friend to another, a hawker of Italian ice, an organ grinder, the wings of pigeons as they roost in the corbels outside.
The sunlight drops through the leaves of ficus and cherry.
Above the glass roof, a shape slowly manifests. The clouds tease the outline, obscuring, then dissipating. The light shines from within it. The shape is as long as the roof itself, overwhelmingly vast and yet as light and insubstantial as the clouds around it. Long, sharp, platinum gray, with a gilded handle, it is a Sword hanging over me. I am dreaming, now, lucidly dreaming. Consciously, I know that this is why I am here — to hear the words of the Ace of Swords.
The words come not audibly but as words in my thoughts: genderless, deep, and smooth.
THEY SAY that words cannot capture the Truth, that the Truth lives, but words are dead, no more than cages for clouds. I say this: the words carry their own clouds of meaning. Words, set free into the world, have life of their own, as they animate the associations and connotations that vary from reader to reader. Commit yourself to finding exactly the right word, every time. The word shapes the truth as others will experience it. Every word carries the weight of history. Every word carves its mark into the future. Words echo with the stories of those who have used them before; if the nebulous idea of a philosopher cannot be fully captured in a word, the idea does not exist; the word matters more than its referent.
That is why you, writer, must respect the responsibility of your pen. You lay down words that will be read and re-read, repeated, quoted; each word helps to shape human thought. Know this power in your hand. Draft freely, but edit relentlessly; I am the Truth, and I am not a toy, but a sharp and powerful sword with which to cut through ignorance and lies. I am the power of the Word.
When the image fades, I fall into another dream, this one of a whirlpool in the ocean; an ancient Charybdis, a vortex with no bottom. I am spinning, spinning, and above my head I see an oar held out against the sky. I reach up to grab it, but it is sharp and cuts my fingers; it is no longer an oar, but a sharp and bloody sword. Still, I’ll choose the pain in my hand over being sucked into the black hole of the whirlpool. The sword lifts, hauling me up out of the water and onto dry land. A pirate stands there, grinning, with blackened teeth and smoke in his hair. For one terrified moment, I think he has been waiting to kill me. Instead, he slaps me on the shoulder, congratulatory. “Good choice,” he says.
I wake up.
Searching for truth in words is dangerous. Religious texts promise it, self-help books claim to have succeeded, even textbooks work on the assumption that they can deliver, at least, the truth of facts. Still, we pour out more words, questioning, clarifying, correcting. It seems we can never quite reach the truth with these words. And yet, we can appreciate the ephemeral beauty of their meanings, like our own skin, shed and replaced in total every seven years. I am not the same collection of cells that I was when I last saw my childhood friend, and yet she knows me instantly.
These and other thoughts roll through my mind as I rise up out of the dream. Awake now in the rooftop garden, I can see that the sun has crossed the sky. The elevator doors stand open, waiting for me. The birds have quieted. I must go. This was the interview I was supposed to have, and while I don’t fully understand all that happened, I will go back to my office and write it just as I experienced it; the truth of these things come not from my cogitating and analyzing, but from recording, faithfully, every word of the story.