Sometimes you just have to leave a tiger behind

Posted on October 14, 2013

After my panel at Wordstock last Sunday, I had a conversation with a writer that touched on some themes we all struggle with in some way. This particular writer was feeling uncertain about how much time she had left on earth and therefore panicked about how much writing might go undone.

I have such compassion for this writer, and for all of us. We all stand with the enormity of the unwritten at our backs as we blaze our small glimmer of words onto the page in the small allotment of hours we are given–or we take–in these wildly unpredictable lives we live. I think of this tension as a kind of chiaroscuro–the unwritten as negative space giving shape to the words that come forward in the light of our writing. We need both the shadow and the light to find our way.

A few years ago when I decided to give up a business I had spent 15 years building and become an employee at a marketing agency, my agreement with myself was that my creative writing life would go on hold. All of it. The teaching, the blogging, the authoring of books, the poem writing. This felt in a way like telling my heart to stop beating. But I looked at it as a kind of hibernation–a wintering of a part of my life so that I’d have my resources available for another primary part. My priorities were very clear. I let go.

Which brings me to the Queen of Wands–the card I am almost always presented with when I pull tarot cards. We pull the Queen of Wands to teach us about transformation. Her story is one of shedding selves. With each wave of reclaimed self, the Queen of Wands changes hair color and companion animal. She goes from blond to brunette to redhead and is accompanied by panther then cougar then tiger. When she makes her final crossing of identity, her companion animal can not change with her. She must leave it behind to remind her of where she’s been, that when we embrace the new, we must let go of the old.

I distill the Queen of Wands’ story (and all of ours) to this one simple truth: Sometimes we have to leave a tiger behind. This is what the courageous writing life demands of us. We will not get it all done. We will not end up the person or writer we thought we were becoming. We will lose hair and friends along the way. We will accept what comes. We will release what is leaving. And we will write our small flicker of light into that darkness because it is what we are here to do.

I can feel that tiger pacing the water’s edge, the Queen’s hair blowing back in the wind.

This summer I quit my job, resumed my business, and committed to a new path of writing and teaching work that is taking me deeper than I have ever traveled.

I miss the tiger. I bless the tiger. I trust it to its destiny, and myself to mine. I write.


  1. Christi Krug
    October 14th, 2013 @ 11:19 pm

    Thank you dearly for this, Sage. You ease my tiger-goodbyes.

  2. Sometimes you just have to leave a tiger behind : Path of Possibility - Christi Krug
    October 15th, 2013 @ 2:51 am

    […] See on […]

  3. Sage Cohen
    October 15th, 2013 @ 6:06 am

    I’m so glad to hear it, Christi. The tiger-goodbyes are sometimes the trickiest of them all…

  4. Ed Batista
    October 16th, 2013 @ 7:44 pm

    Fantastic post, Sage. Thank you. I’m struck by the dynamism in your own story–a few years ago you left behind your business and creative writing life and now you’ve returned to both. It reminds me that learning to let go and leave things behind is a really useful life skill and at the same time very few choices we make are permanent. (Well, nothing we do is PERMANENT, but you know what I mean.) For me the lesson is the importance of fluidity and the value of the unexpected–concepts I grasp much more readily in my work than in my personal life!

  5. Sage Cohen
    October 16th, 2013 @ 8:53 pm

    Thank you so much, Ed. Yes, very often our lives are cyclical, and what we release comes back to us on another shore, in some other incarnation, somehow…Fluidity is such a resonant word for me on this topic. It is an aspiration of mine.

  6. Niya C. Sisk
    October 21st, 2013 @ 3:09 pm

    Sage, this post speaks to me in a wonderful way. Recently, I left two tigers behind. I left 2 first draft novels, a short film script and other works for a year of painting. I felt at the time that I was committing a crime. Now as I gather back around these works it’s very clear what is calling me and what can be stock piled as soul food and learning (which now I appreciate a lot more than I had). The other tiger was stuff. Letting go of material items. A refreshed perspective is possible with letting go. Thank you for this amazing post. When I read your words, I’m so comforted and inspired.

  7. A Message for Writers and Artists: Why Stopping Should Not Stop You - Christi Krug
    October 23rd, 2013 @ 5:44 am

    […] on, “I know myself. I know I can’t not write.” Sage takes this even further when she explains on her blog that she gave up much of her writing life for over a year – a stretch that would convince many […]

  8. Sage Cohen
    October 25th, 2013 @ 3:32 am

    Niya, You don’t do anything small, do you? : ) I love what GRAND tigers you left behind. I feel lighter just standing in your tailwind!

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