La Conchita, T.C. Boyle
This tale of a certain type of delivery man who encounters a mudslide gave me nightmares. You have to be
Recently, my friend Suzi took me hiking near New Milford’s Lake Lillinonah. It was the day after a brutal storm had torn through the area, and as we ascended a steep hill in the shadow of a cliff, Suzi noticed a chunk of the mountain had come loose: massive ledges of rock had tumbled onto the trail. Because the air smelled of freshly-broken trees and earthworms and the exposed earth was wet, we surmised it had probably happened within the last twenty-four hours. We laughed about how violent the moment must have been, and, since she walks her dogs there every day, she was glad she hadn’t been there when it occurred.
This fascinated me. I’m a USGS geek. Earthquake alerts are delivered to my e-mail, and lately, my inbox has been getting hammered: a 7.0 hit Haiti on January 12 and rocked the Ryukyu Islands on February 26; an 8.8 creamed Chile on February 27; a 6.3 tore through Taiwan on March 4. And let’s not go into all the fore- and aftershocks and anything below a 6.0. Although scientists insist that this recent activity isn’t abnormal, it’s hard not to wonder if something extraordinary isn’t going on.
An earthquake happens when “blocks of earth suddenly slip past one another. The surface where they slip is called the fault. While the edges of faults are stuck together, and the rest of the block is moving, the energy that would normally cause the blocks to slide past one another is being stored up. When the force of the moving blocks finally overcomes the friction of the jagged edges of the fault and it unsticks, all that stored up energy is released.” In other words, everything’s in gridlock until the amount of energy becomes overwhelming and it is forced to move.
This phenomenon isn’t exclusively geological; it happens in people’s lives. Consider Tarot Card Number 16: The Tower. The card’s artwork depicts people leaping from a stone tower buckled by a violent lightning strike. While the card’s literal interpretations vary slightly, my favorite is from The Lord of the Rings Tarot Deck & Card Game: “That which has been built on bad foundations will be reduced to rubble.” Some may recall similar wording in the Bible’s Matthew 7:26-27: “But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
I’ve spent years reading tarot professionally, so I’m no stranger to The Tower card. In my experience, it means the client is in denial that something in his life, like a situation, isn’t good for him; he’s getting signals, but ignoring them, so the client is in stasis. But the pressure is building up—and eventually, something will shatter or destroy the situation for him.
An excellent example of a Tower moment is in a favorite short story that appeared in The New Yorker: TC Boyle’s “La Conchita.” In it, a man damaged by a relationship has become selfish, angry, and unhealthily obsessed with his career. He ignores all the signs signaling him to change. So the universe hurls a cataclysmic mudslide in his path, fouling his most important day—and permanently destroying the emotional front he’s created for himself. He emerges from the rubble a selfless individual who can now confront his painful past.
Tower moments are almost always messy. What’s helpful to keep in mind is that surviving one is a lot like surviving an earthquake: when it’s all over, we have to climb out of the rubble and rebuild. And when we do, usually what we’ve built is stronger.
 United States Geological Survey: http://www.usgs.gov/.
 Specifics on the Haiti quake here: http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/recenteqsww/Quakes/us2010rja6.php
 Specifics on the Japan quake here: http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/recenteqsww/Quakes/us2010teb2.php
 Specifics on the Chile quake here: http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/eqinthenews/2010us2010tfan/
 “According to the US Geological Survey, the earth usually has one magnitude-8 or higher earthquake per year, some 17 quakes between 7 and 7.9, and roughly 132 earthquakes a year with a magnitude of between 6 and 6.9 – like the most recent quake in Turkey.
“The recent earthquakes are not abnormal in frequency, scientists say, but have received more attention because of the loss of human life.”
Stephen Kurczy, “Turkey earthquake kills 51; scientists say earthquake frequency not rising,” The Christian Science Monitor, http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Global-News/2010/0308/Turkey-earthquake-kills-51-scientists-say-earthquake-frequency-not-rising
Lisa Wald, “The Science of Earthquakes,” United States Geological Survey, http://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/kids/eqscience.php
 Peter Pracownik, Terry Donaldson, and Mike Fitzgerald. The Lord of the Rings Tarot Deck & Card Game. (Stamford: US Games Systems, 1997).
 To read the entire phrasing, visit Bible Gateway: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+7%3A24-27&version=NIV
 You can read TC Boyle’s “La Conchita” for free here: http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005/12/12/051212fi_fiction