Thursday, April 29, 2010

Pet Cards

I recently acquired a tarot deck for my collection called Tarot Cards for Cats illustrated by Kipling West. West’s cats look like pleasant, approachable and intelligent creatures. This got me thinking about my own cats and tarot. My cats are not always the storybook kind but there is a card for each of them.

Alice, a dramatically marked Maine Coon of the “fat crayon” variety and the biggest, toughest creature in the house, is extraverted and mild mannered despite her nickname "Alice Malice". Alice came to us one Christmas season when she wandered into a friend’s house during a party; the friend was highly allergic to cats, so her humans rescued everyone involved and brought her home. Alice's favorite toys are full boxes of tissues, Tinkertoys and her siblings who aren't as happy about being prey animals as Alice thinks. She is paws-down the Alpha Cat in the house and her reign is a relatively mild and optimistic one since her purpose in life is to luxuriate at all costs. She is fond of her spa time when her humans are in the shower and can be found spread out upon the bathmat. At nearly 25 lbs, she is an enthusiastic eater. Alice loves the cocker spaniel, giving him spontaneous hugs, baths and other nervously unrequited attentions. Alice is a catnip lover, a connoisseur of blends from exotic places. She is also a bird-lover, attracted to all things musical. In her own contribution to the musical world, she is the loudest snorer in the family, even snoring while awake at times. Often others will remark on the little flute-like noises she makes. She prefers to sleep at the top of the cat tower or, basically, anywhere she likes. She adores men, especially her male human, often alighting with delight (hers) in his lap. Alice is very best friends with the only male member of the cat cast, Tony, who approaches but cannot match her weight. Alice's dream is to be a spa resort spokesmodel and to lounge by the water; she would also enjoy learning to bowl. An 8-lb ball should be about right. Alice's card is the Queen of Pentacles.

Peepers, a pale Siamese-ish 9 lb “alley point" with striking blue eyes, is a shy girl prone to snooze in linen closets. She came to her home as a beach bunny from the Seal Beach Animal Shelter after her previous owner was unable to care for her. A cat of discriminating tastes, she bit the first interested prospective caretaker before surrendering herself into purrs in her current owner’s hands during the interview. She has become quite a lap-kitty in her maturity, a pleasant change from her originally self-imposed isolationist stance, but likely one of a practical nature as most laps in the house are warm. Peeps, as she is known within the family, seeks balance in life including retribution for wrongs done to others. A few years ago, when Binket was a kitten, the kitten squalled when she got stuck at the door. Peepers flew out of hiding and promptly beat the dickens out of the dog, an innocent bystander unjustly accused of abuse. To avoid further fallout from this traumatic incident, we have never told Peeps that it was in fact her male human who had made the baby cry. Peepers’ favorite toys are those which are sparkly and crackly, lightweight and easily lost. In her heart of hearts, Peepers would rather be an only cat of a quiet, elderly, dogless couple in a home with light-blocking window treatments and plenty of linen closets. One of her principal forms of communication is through her tail, which can assume the pose of a question mark when curious, can lash like a whip at the guilty and can point at right angles to an empty food dish to alert authorities to an imbalance in the distribution of resources. Peepers' card is Justice.

Eleanor a/k/a Ellie and Elly-Belly is a sensitive 5 lb touch-me-not with a very feminine long black and white tuxedo coat with no undercoat. She hails from the Benicia-Vallejo Humane Society. She is the most vocal of the five cats. There are several deep-seated reasons for this. One, her previous owners had her declawed and so, being defenseless, she screams at just about anything. If you are familiar with the Warner Bros cartoon character Pepe LePew and his very, very reluctant girlfriend, Ellie is that girlfriend. In spite of her declawed state, Ellie is voted most likely to slip out the door to explore the back yard although she is easily captured or convinced to return to the safety of the house. Two, whether it is her own kitty-psychology or some pheromone phenomenon, Ellie is the Omega Cat. All the other cats recognize her less-than-zero status and will either chase her until she screams or in rarer event drag her around like a well-loved teddy bear. Ellie loves the cocker spaniel also. However this love is spurned by the usually generous and patient dog who will at most greet her purring and rolling with a soft low rumble of warning to stop doing that before everyone is embarrassed. Ellie also adores her male human, usually standing solidly on his torso, kneading his tummy in ecstasy with her tail closest to his face. Last, and certainly not least, Ellie has the oft-remarked-upon habit of leaving a strong-scented “perfume” reminder on objects made of soft cloth or comfortable pillows in the night. For her consistent role of self-imposed victimization, Ellie’s card is the Eight of Swords.

Binket is a hardy 7 lb short-haired calico with an in-your-face temperament and no respect for authority. Dubbed “No No Bad Cat” by her ever-patient humans, she spent much of her youth trying to catch paper going into or coming out of personal printers and running up the antique quilt (now in shreds) which used to hang on the wall just to prove her cleverness. Binket came to us from a cat rescue group in southern California complete with a roaring case of ringworm which she shared with the entire family before all were cured. Despite her physical beauty and diminutive size, she is a ferocious gladiator in her plan for world dominance. Voted least likely to become a lap cat, Binket does have a soft side, one she views with obvious discomfort. Ellie is her favorite friend, due in large part to their immediate acknowledgement of dominance and submission. Binket relies on Ellie’s superior fashion sense and grooming while Ellie fawns over Binket’s talent for cruelty and torture. Binket and Ellie can often be found companionably snoozing in a large basket in a sunny window when Binket isn’t mopping up the floor with the ever-willing Ellie. Binket has a soft spot for any small puffy thing resembling a cotton ball usually called Puff Baby in various incarnations. She fancies herself a romance-thriller writer and will play out scenes where Puff Baby is in terrible danger, lost under a door perhaps, and in need of rescue. She is perhaps working out some of the trauma of her kittenhood having been rescued from the Boeing plant in her youth. And a romantic she is, for she adores without reservation the cocker spaniel, often cooing to him, rubbing herself on him and otherwise seducing the equally smitten yet polite dog with her charms. She and the dog are the inter-species scandal of the neighborhood. Binket’s dark side is most clearly demonstrated by harboring an intense hatred of the much larger, much slower and good-natured Tony. She expends much energy attempting to kill him. Formerly the Alpha Cat, she was forced to give way to the sheer weight and superior strength of Mighty Alice, but hatches plots daily to recoup her throne. For reasons that should be obvious, Binket’s card is The Devil.

Tony is an unsuspecting dark mackerel tabby of 15 lbs. Tony came to us from the Benicia-Vallejo Humane Society when his owner made a fateful side-trip on her way to a rugby game. Tony’s big heart and affectionate manner would melt even the heart of a rugby team owner. A lookalike for B. Kliban’s Cat, Tony has a smallish head with a smallish brain to match, green eyes (one of which has a stripe), a large pendulous butter-colored abdomen, small feet and a heart of gold. Curious about his unusual shape, more turtle-like than cat-like in some ways, his humans consulted specialists to make sure of his health. The vet pronounced him normal, if “funny looking,” and speculated that his parents were probably peculiarly shaped cats also. Tony is a lover, not a fighter. He is best pals with the cocker spaniel who recognizes his sincerity and gentleness and enjoys the company of Alice when she deigns to visit the northern borders of her realm. Because of Binket’s clear intent to murder Tony, he tends to stick to the safety of the north side of the house making his home in the bedroom, bathroom and office. He is fond of sleeping in soft round places like the muffin shaped pet beds or his person’s arms. He is always first to greet his person as she steps out of the shower, eager to reminisce to the scent of freshly washed hair. Tony’s favorite toys are his Stuart Little mouse and Mike Fink the Flat Mink, late of the fashion section of the Church Mouse Thrift Shop on the Plaza in Sonoma. He started out being an infielder, playing a great game of fetch with a soft ball (as opposed to a softball) but soon tired of the annoyance of having to bring the ball back. He is very much the companion cat, often jumping into laps and onto shoulders, assisting with paperback novels as they are being read, attending in the bathroom, coming when called and even placing items of jewelry in shoes so that they will not be lost for long. He is quiet, peace loving and down to earth by nature, his midsection preventing much climbing and exploring in the aerie reaches. Tony’s ambition is to sleep, eat and snuggle with his female human as much as possible. Some less charitable within the household might call him a “Mama’s Cat.” Tony’s card is the Page of Pentacles.

The cocker spaniel asked not to be named to protect his privacy. A rescue himself from the Furry Friends Rescue, we have only recently begun to deduce that he has been placed with us as part of the Federal Witness Protection Program since he refuses to have his picture taken or published. He is a gentleman of refined manner and obvious breeding who has taken great pains to be gracious to his ill-bred but well-meaning family. Negotiations with him for an exclusive interview are pending. Once those have been completed and approved, a profile and card will be published. Until then, eager readers, we must give him his cherished anonymity.

Please donate to the pet rescue group of your choice and, if you can, provide a forever home for a little someone special.

Best wishes.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Ghost Hunting with the Page of Swords

One of my guilty pleasures is ghost hunting. I’m definitely in the casual hobbyist category, so if you’re looking for a treatise on technical expertise in ghost hunting, you will definitely need to seek other sources. But I’ve stalked a spook or two in my time.

First, it helps to have some of the tools to hunt ghosts. This is where the “geek” part of the mystique comes in and, in fact, a make-it-or-break-it point for people who aren’t scared by the whole topic at the outset. The arsenal of cool tools for ghost hunters starts to look like the clubhouse for the Lone Gunmen from the X-Files television show: racks of gadgets with meters and wires, surplus batteries, hats with lights, cameras of all kinds to pick up regular light, infrared, heat signatures, full-spectrum cameras, and recording devices of all kinds.

This is the haven of the Page of Swords, who seeks the truth through observation and listening and uses passive energy. He may ignore truth initially, especially if it is handed to him, but he holds onto it just the same. He may have truth in his hands, but still look for more.

The Page of Swords often gets a bad rap as a guy you can’t trust, maybe even a spy. He may or may not be on your side. He’s not ready to say yet. He hasn’t made up his mind because he’s still in observation mode. Who is the Page of Swords? What does he want? What does he know? What will he do with what he knows? Can you trust him? Even if you’ve known him all your life, do you know him at all? Sometimes I think of him as being the Skate Board Kid who is a little angry, a little withdrawn, a little rebellious (not to characterize all skateboarders as the same, oh, please) who isn’t going to settle for what he’s been told. He has to find out for himself. He grows his hair his own length to see what that’s like. He doubts authority and therefore appears to be anti-social. He’s looking for the truth, but his own way. He may not even be very skilled at looking for the truth, but that doesn’t really matter because all the evidence he gathers is helpful to him somehow. It may point out flaws in his method, prove a new tool to be useful, debunk a myth or provide that something that drives him to seek further. He’s a work in progress.

In maturing, he finds that the more he learns, the less he is sure of what he knows. At some point, this may make the Page become bitter and abandon his search, or it can be the fuel that keeps him seeking, despite advice to the contrary. And so often our society thinks of those who continue pursuit of this knowledge as being rebellious and immature people who have not yet concluded their search is fruitless. Ah, but is it fruitless? And in that gap, in that possibility, there is room to continue the search for truth.

The amateur ghost hunter need not pump thousands of dollars/pounds/Euro into a thermal imaging camera to get some rewarding results. A tape or digital voice recorder can capture EVP’s or electronic voice phenomena, to my mind one of the eeriest pieces of evidence possible. An inexpensive digital camera can capture still photos. For a little more money, web cams can be set up. Some hunters like to use a Tri-Field Meter or EMF meter to measure electromagnetic fluctuations. And, for the even smaller budget, some people even employ dowsing rods. Of course, if you are the Page of Swords and your Dad is, say, the King of Coins with a soft spot for you, Dude, get that thermal imager!

All these methods have flaws of course. And yet that’s the romance of the hunt, in a way. Trying to hear, see or touch something that might be there, just out of reach is the fascination. It’s something of a hunt but the distinction is important. The hunters aren’t actually trying to catch a ghost, like a trophy to hang on the wall. In fact, there’s a strong argument from experienced paranormal researchers that you probably don’t want to bring Casper home with you. The hunters are actually much more aligned with the X-Files theme. For them, The Truth is Out There, or in a place reputed to be haunted. Their quarry is The Truth. Because we don’t know, not like we know lions and tigers and bears oh my! exist. If we have had our own experience with the paranormal, we know. But where’s the proof?

For nearly every piece of paranormal evidence presented, there is someone who can find a reasonable scientific explanation. Nearly. And then there are those tantalizing exceptions. Worse yet is when you’ve had an experience of your own. Well, worse or better, it’s hard to say. It’s worse because you know something happened to you but you don’t know exactly what. You can tell people and they might think you’re crazy. You can keep it to yourself and it will gnaw at you. But if you didn’t have a large group of people experience exactly the same thing, it’s just a personal experience. And if you did have a large group of people experience the same thing, well, there’s that delusion of crowds thing. So unless you actually caught it on untampered film, corroborated by other recording devices and have some physical evidence left that proves…well, what? Tough, isn’t it? What you’ve got is a great story that some people will believe and some people won’t, no matter what. But it can be better too because it happened to you.

So, OK, yes, I have had my own paranormal experiences. I think they were ghosts or hauntings or some kind of paranormal thingamabob. No, I can’t say for sure, Nobel Prize winning scientifically sure, that I bagged the Big One. I was startled, not scared, each time. And like many moments in life, I didn’t have my camera or any other recording equipment with me. But each time was pretty interesting. So I like to learn about other people’s experiences. And I would like to capture some evidence, in that casual hobbyist sort of way.

It’s a passive “sport.” It takes patience or more accurately persistence. You wait. You listen. You watch. You review hours of recordings. You do what you can to eliminate “pollution” during the hunt. You do what you can to eliminate anything that could be explained by any other means in the review of evidence. The hunt isn’t about you; you’re just there to get evidence.

Absolutely the most difficult part of it is just getting approved access to a place where purported paranormal activity is happening. Think about it. Are you going to let just any Page of Swords into your house when you’re having a weird problem? Oh, and “purported” is a very important part of the whole deal, too. Filtering out the crazy kid stuff stories from the reports from people who honestly think something is going on they can’t explain is hard too. Access is easier when the hunters band together under some organization for legitimacy so they don’t just look like scruffy kids with techno-fever. Since the Page of Swords is not particularly a joiner, these organizations tend to come and go.

People aren’t cards or archetypes though, so those dedicated paranormal researchers who have maturity, a sense of spirituality, and a need to assist people with their problems, whether their haunted location is overburdened with stray electrical emissions, noisy plumbing, curious rodents, anxiety-ridden occupants or something much more interesting, have a much longer lasting calling to find The Truth at last. And to you I say, “Good hunting!”

Best wishes.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Leaving St James

I have had so much fun with Facebook. Just last week I connected with a friend from grade school that I hadn’t spoken to since…oh, dear this is entirely too revealing! Well, I hadn’t spoken to her since my family left Florida when I was in the 6th grade. I always thought Patty was one of the prettiest girls in class. She had soft curly light brown hair and lovely freckles and a smile that made you trust that the entire world was going to be all right in spite of everything.

Our most memorable time together was actually my second television appearance. Now that I count it up, I think I’ve probably had my 15 minutes of fame already. As I said before, I think that’s just fine really. They caught me during my finest hours back then already, things happening for the best and all. Patty and I were selected to be among the angels kneeling by the manger in the Christmas choir concert televised locally in Orlando. We were selected, for reasons I cannot quite pinpoint, to kneel silently and still, in adoration, wearing pastel angel robes, wings and halos. We were in truth seldom silent, seldom deserving of halos and seldom in need of wings to fly about. My mother, however, was bursting with pride.

My first television appearance had a strangely spiritual context also. It seemed unlikely at the time. I had just that week turned 6 years old. My neighborhood playmate Roxanne and I were treated to an appearance on the Popeye Show with Captain Bob. When Captain Bob dutifully interviewed me in front of the entire broadcasting audience in central Florida and asked how old I was, it being my birthday and all, I panicked and said, “Five.” After all, I had been five a lot longer than I had been six.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect on the Popeye Show but being quizzed about my age wasn’t it. I really wasn’t prepared for the reaction I got from pal Roxanne’s mother who picked us up from the show. She told me I was going to hell for “lying on television.” She was serious. Apparently lying on television is much worse than lying to your mom at home, at least according to Roxanne’s mom. I wasn’t sure about that. What I was sure about was that Roxanne’s mom was a nut and that God wasn’t going to send me, whether I was 5 or 6, to hell for making a mistake, fer goodness’ sake. I was also sure that, having regained my composure from being momentarily star-struck, I was not going to give Roxanne’s mom the benefit of my opinion as freely as she had given hers to me. I waited to share my experience with my mom, who agreed with me on both counts. Moms can be really good that way. We concluded that some people’s interpretation of God was just too limiting to be realistic and thus began my first small taste of fear and loathing in the name of religion. I concluded not to belong to Roxanne’s family’s denomination, which shall be nameless here in the spirit of good will and open-mindedness. It wasn’t that I would not have them, per se, but the certain knowledge that they would not have me. Best not to go where you’re not welcome.

Flash forward a couple of years and there Patty and I were kneeling in poker-faced adoration, pretending to be angels, while Sister Maryanna waved her black and white flowing habited arms rhythmically about in front of the choir leading Handel’s Messiah. One thing they don’t tell fluffy-haired children pretending to be angels is that the Messiah is a fairly long concert. Patty and I really had had no idea what we were in for. Robes, wings and halos were the trappings of show biz for us, the perks. The harsh truth soon made itself known. The hard surface of the floor and our knees, however padded by baby fat and pastel robes, begin their slow conjunction. Without warning, Patty fainted dead away, falling out of camera range. She made a crash loud enough to be heard above the choir, I was told. The drama!

Having panicked once in front of the camera, and been damned for it to boot, I was bound and determined not to let that happen again. With steely resolve, I continued my angelic vigil while the choir sang, Sister Maryanna flailed, Patty was dragged off set and the cameras kept rolling. My natural instinct to rescue my friend was overridden completely by my need to prove, once and for all, especially in front of the plaster likeness of the Baby Jesus, I was worthy of televised steadfastness and honesty of performance. Take that, Roxanne’s mom!

Of course, my first words to Patty now nearly half a century later were, “Patty! Fellow television angel!” To which she replied, FB style, “Marcia!!! were you kneeling there with me when I fainted on tv???? is this really you??” I was gratified to know that that day had been as remarkable for her as it had been for me.

My family left Florida and all its wonders when I was in 6th grade. It was a difficult journey for all of us. It threw our whole family into a years-long depression, lamenting the loss of childhood, lush wildlife, the ocean beaches and my beloved school. We had moved to New Mexico, not the romantic spa-towns of Taos or Santa Fe or even the cultural mixing bowl of Albuquerque, but to the windy, gritty eastern side called the staked plains, to a spring that had dried up some 70 years earlier, to a place where the nearest park was a set of sand dunes resting over caliche limestone also known as "hardpan." In a postcard back to one of my grade school friends in Florida, like a castaway's message in a bottle, I wrote, “Great beach. No ocean.”

That great uprooting did much to shape my character. Like many character-building opportunities, it was in many ways joyless to say the least. My new schools in New Mexico, touted to be excellent, were approximately two years behind academically from my school in Florida. Only sickly elm trees grew in my new town, hated for their oozing Dutch elm disease. The only wildlife of any interest was the “horned toad” or horned lizard, and it was endangered. My new classmates, in their “West of Texas” south midlands dialect, made fun of my “British” accent. My family struggled to maintain any cohesiveness and often failed.

Taking me out of my warm nest in Florida, however, was ever so essential to my path. Like the 8 of Cups, sometimes your path leads you away from the things you love to a lesson you would never learn had you stayed in your comfort zone. I have never felt truly at home anywhere since leaving central Florida. My first visit back, however, was some 30 years later.

I drove to my former home near Lake Conway, its outer walls still sparkly blue, its grass still wide-bladed and cool in the summer’s heat. I drove to my old school, abandoned for summer. I got out of my rental car, hugged a tree near where I used to play and cried. I stood on the steps, stared at the coquina rock walls and knew I was now forever on the outside looking in. Clearly, it is no longer my home now, either.  I am on my path. 

At least one of the lessons I learned is that you never truly lose what you love and home is a place you carry in your heart. It is easily lost if you define it so narrowly as by geography. It is easily found in the joy of reuniting with a fellow friend-at-halos who knelt with you wing-to-wing on the hard floor while all your little world watched you pray.

Best wishes.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Waking Up

You wake up one morning and *bam* like one of Emeril’s recipes you’re suddenly a year older. I know I should be devastated, if I am to believe in the American Dream. There isn’t exactly a list of things I’m supposed to aspire to but being young, rich and thin are among them. “Crud-hoppers!” as one my high school classmates used to say. Strike three and I’m, well, I’m different from the perfect formula. We make much of being “PC” or politically correct, but I’d like to explore the “AD” or American Dream for my birthday.

For one thing, it’s not AD to like your birthdays because in the rules of AD, “Old is Bad.” Oh, and “old” is defined differently by everyone I meet. I remember talking to an employee of the student radio station I worked at my first two years of college for some reason. I was the ripe old age of 25 or so and the teeny-bopper I was speaking to said, in all innocence, “Oh, you mean a LONG TIME AGO you worked here?” Yes, whippersnapper, I snarled, a whole 5 years ago, more than 25% of your entire life.

AD also says that “old” happens to other people. If you don’t believe me, just go to one of your high school reunions. That tall, rangy, shy redhead you dated for all of 3 weeks has been replaced by a short, round, jovial father of a number of children. The only thing remaining of that underripe hippie you knew is the smile. But, no, dear, YOU haven’t changed a bit.

I had actually grown used to being teased about being the youngest. When I got a reprise of the measles while working at my first job out of college, my co-workers smirked that I was still going through my childhood diseases. When I lectured on antiques and gave an identification seminar similar to Antiques Roadshow at the local junior college, the students were stunned that a 27-year-old was the teacher. It seems with antiques, it took one to know one in their eyes. By the end of the class, they accepted me even though I was the age of their children for the most part.

Strangely, in spite of all urgings to the contrary, I rather like my birthdays. I figure I was going to be this old this year anyway, so wottheheck, enjoy. As I said to my sister, it’s the right side of the ground. I’d rather be here than, well, I’m just sure I’ll have lots of company wherever I go later.

I remember getting ribbed about going back to college to get a second bachelor’s degree and being an “older student.” I wanted to do something more than office work, something more than to depend on being someone’s favorite for getting something interesting to do and certainly more than hoping to marry some guy for his money. I wanted a little financial independence. When I applied to the Applied Computer Science program, they asked for either an SAT or ACT score. My school in New Mexico didn’t do the SAT, so all I had was that ACT score. But I had to laugh at them asking for it. Did they know how long before then I had taken that test? I was approved and got my degree, even though I felt like the Old Broad of Computer Science. Even then I had said I was going to be this old this year anyway. And that was 25 years ago.

I did meet my goal of getting something interesting to do and a little financial independence. It’s nowhere near requirement 2 of the AD, nothing like rich. I have worked hard to maintain my loathsome plebeian second rate status and I rather like it. I can talk to just about anyone, at least in the manner that a cat may look at a king. My husband and I like to say that people go on cruises or to luxury resorts just to get away from people like us. We say that with satisfaction and perhaps a little pride. There is so much obligation that goes with being truly wealthy. One must either be difficult and famous or else be open-hearted and generous in a very public way. I prefer to be difficult only with my dearest friends (you know who you are) and aspire to slip into anonymity as open-hearted as any great benefactor. I prefer to give myself to others, which is my only treasure. I love my work, both the Day Job and my tarot reading. They are vastly different from each other and yet stem from the same urge to be of some assistance where I can. I suspect not having all those public appearances and obligations gives me time to fulfill those urges. I’m good with that.

And, horrors, I’m not thin. I was thin once. People say that like they mean they started out thin. That’s not what I mean. I was always a strong, healthy kid. I was the arm-wrestling champion of the junior high two years in a row, not exactly the honor making me the most datable girl in high school. I grew up quickly, physically, so that my brother’s friends’ transition from intense interest in baseball to a more intense interest in getting to second base took me a bit by surprise. I did the yo-yo diet thing that young girls do but stopped well short of anything drastic like bulimia. I was used to thinking of myself as a Big Girl. But I was thin, once. When my first marriage was failing and I was so terribly angry about that failure, the effects turned inward. Basically, I failed to eat for about two years and this coincided with persistent insomnia. It’s remarkable how much weight you lose when you don’t eat and you don’t sleep. I got down to a very fashionable size 2 and my father started complaining that I had to stand up twice to make a shadow.

This started another nightmare. I was barely separated from my first ex when all of a sudden men who had not given me a moment’s notice before came out of the woodwork and landed on the edge of my desk, men I did not like, men I was not attracted to, men I did like, men I was attracted to. And I became very, very angry at superficiality. I was the same girl as before, suddenly made different by a Barbie Doll figure. So THIS is what it was like to never know if the people who liked you liked you for that or for yourself. This unhappy state has over time remedied itself and I no longer fear friendship for superficial reasons, having traded Barbie for something more like Mrs. Santa Claus as a model.

So, all in all, life has worked in my favor. I’m no longer teased about being the youngest. I move about freely in the modest middle class, friend to rich and poor alike. And I am relieved of the burden of being lithe. Dogs, cats and little kids still like me. I’m no threat to my women friends and, since I have retired from arm wrestling, no threat to my men friends either. Even with a bad knee, I can still flirt with little old guys and feel confident of being able to outrun them. I’m not waking up to a 9 of Swords realization and remorse every day, thinking I’ve wasted my life or taken the wrong path. I know it’s not the American Dream, strictly speaking, but this life is my favorite birthday present every year. I think I’ll get up early this year.

Best wishes!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Son Rise

Today may be rainy, but I’m sunny on the inside. Happy Easter! I know it’s a difficult topic for some so I’ll treat it as gently as possible. For one thing, I’m not going to get into a discussion of what’s the “true religion” v. well, I guess, everything else. It’s not my nature to argue with people about religion. It’s too, too personal. I value my relationships with people who believe things that are different from my beliefs. I respect their point of view. I honor their beliefs. I wouldn’t want to offend them and I wouldn’t want to be offended by them. But I don’t think it’s too much to talk about beliefs in general, even though it may stretch into difficult territory.

I believe in love. I know that’s corny, but honestly, that’s the essence of it. And because I believe in love, I can’t believe in a lot of things that are done in the name of religion, like excluding or harming people because of, well, anything, really. The Golden Rule is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. But just in case you get a kick out of people insulting you or hitting you, if you prefer to be harmed or hated or worse, I don’t think the Golden Rule gives you license to treat other people that way. So one of the extensions of my belief in love is that I don’t think I have all the answers, I don’t think I’m right and others are wrong, and I don’t think I have the right to judge other people for their beliefs. I realize that by recognizing those traits in others and getting outraged over them is actually judging. And to me this is the conundrum of daily living.

I happen to express my beliefs in a fairly traditional Christian way but by no means do I believe Christians=good, Others=not. For whatever reason, my grade school experience at St. James in Orlando was such a positive one, that it converted me from “undecided” to Catholic. It worked for me. I didn’t have any bad experience with priests or nuns.

Oh, sure, we thought Sister Claire was scary, but that was because she was hard of hearing and yelled at everyone. Sister Goretti and Sister Ethelberga were formidable in their own way, but those ways were ways to be aspired to. Sister Goretti was one of the best short stops I ever met, even though she had to hike her habit up to round the bases after she’d hit an almost-homerun. Sister Ethelberga was the epitome of grace under pressure. I didn’t know any “knuckle-rapping” nuns.

My favorite nun in grade school was Sister Lawrence. She had a plain German face with straight but unlovely teeth and blue-blue eyes aided by steel-rimmed glasses. She was a nun after my own heart, having constantly bucked up against the “obey” portion of her vows. She had come in under difficult circumstances. Halfway through my second grade year, Sister Kateri left. She was young, beautiful, and bubbly without being egotistical. Sister Kateri was loved by the children and parents alike. Sister Lawrence came in to finish up the year. She was not as pretty, not as superficially precious or as outgoing. She was smart. She had to pick up the pieces. She had trouble with “obey.” She was my nun-soul-mate. I followed her around like a dog. I knew what it was like to be an outsider trying to fit in. I was the only non-Catholic in my grade until another kid joined our class a couple of years later. I understood problems with “obey” and “pray for your mouth.” These were my problems too.

The priests there at St. James were a little distant, happy to leave the education of the parish’s children to the Sisters of St. Joseph. But when they made an appearance, we were all excited. It was rumored that the Monsignor smoked and drank. This did not impress me much. My mother smoked. My parents had a drink every once in a while. Now, if they had told me that the Monsignor had scream-fights with people, I would have been terrified. But when I saw him, he always appeared to be just a little more uncomfortable being there than I was, but seemed pleasant enough and always wished us well. He had lovely dark red hair. Another priest in the parish came into my 3rd grade class and taught us rudimentary Spanish. I thought that was very cool, other languages ranking right up there with secret codes for me. A third priest visited on occasion and the thing that most impressed me was that he looked like Ilya Kuriakan (actor David McCallum) from the Man from U.N.C.L.E. only with dark hair. I contemplated the delicate issue of having a crush on a priest, even in grade school. But I decided it was harmless and so was Father Troy.

I devoured stories of the saints, reading far beyond the whole Dick and Jane series. I cleared out my bookcase and created a shrine to the Virgin Mary, kneeling on the cold terrazzo floors of our centrally air conditioned house to pray and contemplate the lives of St. Bernadette and St. Joan of Arc.

I came to my Catholicism with no particular love of any other church. The First Methodist Church in Orlando was large, devoid of any interesting or inspiring artwork, but they did have a superior-tasting Sunday School paste. People always wonder what children get out of Sunday school experiences. My greatest Methodist moments besides the Sunday School Paste were my desperation to get out of a particularly beautiful but very scratchy raw silk dress which I refused to wear thereafter and getting my eyebrow split open on the fire door on the way out of Vacation Bible School. The Bible School lady was in hysterics over the blood streaming down my face which must have looked like a teen horror flick. I remember going to the hospital in downtown Orlando and waiting with my mother to be seen, then thinking that I could have waited since it was only a cut but the old man in the waiting room who was having trouble breathing really needed a doctor. I was stitched up by a Dr. Silver who was drop-dead gorgeous to my 6-year-old eyes. I now think it refreshingly wonderful to have gotten a 6-year-old’s crush on a cute, young Jewish intern after being laid open by the fire door at the Methodist Church. I have only fond memories of the scar above my eye. All of this had its inspiration but very little of it on a spiritual plane.

And yet I was a very spiritual child, well before my Catholic school or Methodist fire door days. One of my most profound spiritual moments was while I was still small, 5 or 6, sitting on a dock on a lake in rural Florida. It wasn’t quite Florida-hot, just a nice cool day. My Dad, my brother, and the Steinmetz brothers were out in the boat on the lake. The women were in the pine-paneled house up the long yard from the dock. It was nature-quiet. Lucky, the black and white springer spaniel, was sleeping near me as I dangled my legs over the water at the end of the dock, making wet doggy breathing noises, content in his easy assignment of keeping me company. There were birds chirping, just a few frogs croaking, the occasional bubble rising from the lake bed, the occasional swish of a turtle rising for breath or a fish chasing smaller fish. The sky was bright “Microsoft” blue with white fluffy clouds. Strung between the energies of my father beyond my sight on the lake and my mother equally hidden in the house, I was suspended as if in a hammock of their energy, safe and guarded by Lucky.

Looking at the clouds I sensed? saw? what I later would describe as a blue slide like a rainbow in shape stretching from northwest to southeast across the lake. It spanned the sky, a little darker blue than the sky, with its “sides” like a slide has an even slightly darker blue. I realized there were people on the slide, but they were shimmers of people who traveled on this bow, gliding as if they were on a great conveyer belt. I waved to them. They waved back. They were friendly even though they had places to go. I knew I could travel on that big bridge if I wanted to but was content to sit on the dock with my feet over the water and my hand on the dog. I knew I was connected.

And then, people, the ones I knew from the boat and the house, arrived and the “blue slide” was gone. I was left with a sense of contentment and happiness, no particular message other than love. So I believe in love.

My experience in Catholic school added to rather than replaced this profound spiritual experience. Saints, souls, life, love, beauty, kindness, and Big Blue Slides all became part of the sunshine of my life. I was in touch with the spiritual world in a way that changed my life for the better.

Recently I had an experience common to many who study tarot. In spite of mutual kindness and good intent, a niece and her family told me they could not bear to hear from me anymore because of their Christian beliefs and my work with tarot. I see no conflict between Christianity and tarot. Many, many images in traditional tarot are of Christian origin, so much so that my Pagan friends wish for decks that are as full of their own imagery instead. I can find Bible passages about different gifts as easily as they can find them about negative messages about what I do. The argument is moot. It does not matter. While this means sorrow for me, I accept that this is the path they must take in their lives and the one I must take in mine. And I still love them, just a little farther away than I did before. Because I believe in love and different gifts, just as sure as the sun rises.

Best wishes.