Friday, July 29, 2011

This Film Is Not Yet Rated

I’m glad I lived, although it’s possible that some things will never be the same. We had a family reunion, you see. It’s my husband’s family. Their roots are in West Cork, County Cork in Ireland, specifically the magical and wondrous Beara Peninsula and a lot of them have either lived in or are related to people who lived in Butte, Montana. If you know Butte, you’ll know it’s less magical and perhaps more alchemical than Allihies or Castletownbere.
Picture Postcard Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

It all started…well, no, that’s not exactly right. But Cousin Margaret (“Mike” to some but she let us know that she’d rather be Margaret since it was, after all, the name given to her at birth) had pointed out to us that she was now the head of the family and that we needed to host a family reunion. This is what happens when you stop in on your relatives during an otherwise innocent vacation to Florida.

You go out on a seashell hunting trip and come back with an assignment to bring people together from all over the world. I was starting to think that creating a scallop shell with a calico pattern out of spit and sand might be easier than organizing the rels. This isn’t to say they aren’t the nicest people in the world. God love them, they are. And through my sister-in-law’s diligent attack on dusty documents and available ancestry sites, there are even more of them than I ever knew. But just getting a large number of people to converge near a single spot for a single weekend has logistics, I mean logistics, people! There’s a lot of stuff to do.

I’m a novice at this. I’ve never hosted a family reunion. Well, not entirely. One time I got most but not all of my brothers and sisters to meet me at my father’s place in Missouri. I made everyone t-shirts, we had dinner, then entertained the residents of the retirement home with our musical renditions of just about anything we could think of. People threw dollar bills from the balconies. My siblings’ children or their children did not attend. It wasn’t that organized. I just thought Daddy would be jazzed about seeing almost everyone. That’s actually the only time my father, those siblings and I had ever been together under one roof, I think, unless everyone was there for my grandmother’s funeral. That’s Grandmother McCord. We aren’t much of a get-together family.

My husband’s family, however, actually like each other most of the time or at least they think they do which is better than most people manage. This is not to say that there wasn’t the danger of police helicopters, rescue transports or a S.W.A.T. Team involved or even just a trip to Urgent Care for stitches. Happily, none of that happened.

I had been to just one of my husband’s family reunions before and it was with the other side of his family. We had planned to go to the reunion in Butte anyway and ended up making it also our honeymoon. To my mind, this shows the pluck of the bride. I love adventure. It was over the 4th of July and we saw the parade, stayed two nights in the Copper King Mansion, a truly cool B&B, and a few nights in the high-rise section of the Finlen Hotel which I adore in a way that’s hard to explain. It was sort of like The Shining without Jack, atmospheric without being oppressive. We also spent a night in a “motor-hotel” cabin in Choteau which was actually much scarier than the Finlen since the owner said we could stay in the cabin, but “don’t open that door.” I didn’t. I regret that, not opening the door, I mean. And it snowed on July 1. See, I thought, silly me, I thought it was summer so I didn’t bring a winter coat. But it was still a wonderful time, the reunion, the Butte history, the horrifying Berkeley Pit and its toxic water and some good antiquing. But I didn’t have anything to do with the organization of the reunion. It was my only template for what people might expect.

John, his sister Tessie and I did try to get an early start. We interviewed the local hotel and found out that the rooms and catering were something like a king’s ransom and decided we could do better with something more affordable for everyone because getting here was going to be hard enough. So we put it together in pieces. We picked a weekend, mostly because it was Tessie's birthday and in the summer when people with children were more likely to travel. We decided that we would have a picnic on the rugby pitch since there’s grass, trees, water, electricity and, well, since we already lease the field, it’s all ours. We sent announcements. I started collecting old pictures of Butte and West Cork. Tessie continued her deep and productive dive into family history, coming up with long lost and delightful Margaret O, a different Margaret from our Florida muse. Margaret O’s wealth of family information, pictures and enthusiasm manifested itself at the reunion with a truly stunning slide presentation about the history and connections and even the story of poor Ann who was lost in a blizzard after work and found a couple days later up on Big Butte, bless her heart. Time passed.

I was kind of hoping that I wasn’t in charge, you see. I know I have this project management background and all but the last thing I wanted was to Be In Charge of other people’s family events, denying them the right to enjoy that privilege. It seemed presumptuous and piggy. So I held back. But I created an event logo and with my husband’s rugby connection, got t-shirts made, green of course because of the Irish thing. Time was drawing near and all of us on the committee, including Cousin David, his lovely and talented wife Wendy and their gorgeous and kind daughter Leah, were getting a little nervous. A lot of focus went into photographs. This is a photo-focused family so photos, especially the old ones that belonged to those now passed and perhaps fallen into obscurity, were a huge topic of interest.

Knowing this photo-fanaticism, I hired my friend Erica Shaw as our official photographer and videographer. You can check out the trailer of her DVD that’s in progress on my Facebook page. But we had logistical things still outstanding, like securing the hall for the non-picnic times, and settling on exactly how we were going to feed people.

It all fell into place, in spite of the nerves, freak-outs, panic attacks, and people who I’m sure will resume talking to each other really soon. The Raymond Victor Band showed up and played music at the picnic. My friend Andrew entertained the kiddies. We flew kites, ate hotdogs, beat a clown piñata into submission (yeah, I hate clowns), had birthday cake, some pizza, a pasta dinner and even cleaned the church hall up before 4 pm the last day. We lived! Ta-DA! Little Marina was crushed that her mighty blows on the piñata were not the winning ones. I’m hoping that’s the extent of the permanent scarring from the event. That, and I don’t think my knees or ankles will ever recover. I think I need more rest.

Truly, though, it could not have been a better 10 of Cups Happy Family Reunion in my opinion. We came, we saw, we talked, we hugged, we laughed, we cried. But most of all, we are NOT doing it again. I mean, I love you people, but it is so someone else’s turn!

Best wishes!

** ** **

And seriously, if you want a fabulous event memory, contact Erica Shaw:

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Since my husband and I hosted his family's reunion last weekend together with his sister and their cousin, I'm exhausted but still thinking about family ties.  I do, of course, plan to write about the family reunion, keeping with the tradition in blogging, if there is such a thing, that no topic is safe from discussion via a blog.  However, until I can gather my wits...or was it just the one wit?  Until I can gather myself back together, this is a reprinted column previously published in Aleesha Stephenson's lovely Timeless Spirit eMagazine, November 2010.  I hope, if you have not already, you will take advantage of the free subscription.

Mom married late in life and had my brother and me eleven months apart when she was 41 and 42 before there were a lot of special medical processes to assist with late in life babies. She was overjoyed to have children. It was her lifelong dream. She had tremendous insecurities about her own looks and attractiveness, so two happy babies with big blue eyes were a miracle to her.

It didn’t matter that I didn’t have hair for a year or so; she taped bows to my head until my first wispy, then thick blonde hair grew in. She marveled that I spoke complete sentences at 9 months then realized the downside of an introvert mother raising an extravert child.

“The reason you talk in your sleep,” she explained, “is that you just didn’t get everything said during the day.” Most of the time, she adjusted as much as she could to having a chatterbox child. She was curious and eager about childhood mental development. One of my earliest memories is sitting in my high chair in the kitchen telling “Banana Stories” with her.

“If I had three bananas,” she held up her fingers and drew bananas in yellow chalk on our chalkboard on the kitchen wall, “and you ate one of them, how many bananas would I have?” I giggled uncontrollably at the thought of the delicious naughtiness of a possibly purloined banana and answered. I never tired of Banana Stories or the stories of her childhood. I became her confidante, her sounding board and sometimes her only friend.

Over time I realized my mother, despite her delight in her children, was almost constantly depressed. She held onto what was painful in her life like clutching a knife at the blade or gripping broken glass. I knew the stories of her pain so well that it was almost like being there. Her first grade teacher made fun of her drawing of a 4-legged bird. Her mother always dressed her sister in blue dresses and she got brown ones. Her college professor held a tuning fork to her head to prove it was a vacuum. She was flashed on a train. She was humiliated by her parents, her sister, her teachers, her first boyfriend, her friends, her friends’ families, her bosses.

Picture Postcard Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

Of course, she persisted in life. She had a journalism degree from a respected university. She was a reporter and an editor. She was a WAVE and worked at decoding secret messages. She was a wiz at Blackjack. She started her own business as an antique dealer. She loved baseball.

She told me in a matter-of-fact voice more than once that the more intelligent you are, the more suicide seems like a good option. The smarter you are, the more you realize how hopeless everything is, she explained.

Even as a small child, alarms, healthy alarms went off in my head when she would say this. She had praised me for my intelligence, rewarded me for it. I wanted to be smart. It was fun, fun being me. I wanted her praise. But I did not want to die. My mother had an encyclopedic knowledge of the world and voracious urge to learn more. She explained that the requirement for being a truly good journalist was to know everything. And I watched her every time she posited the correlation between intelligence and suicide, Chatty Cathy made silent at these times.

Picture Postcard Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

Must I choose between being stupid and alive v. being intelligent and dead? And of course, was she going to succumb to her idea of the ultimate intelligence? Was she the realization of the Queen of Swords reversed: bitter, sad, so focused on the negative, denying her own empowerment, hopeless, angry, constantly disappointed with herself and the rest of the world? Was she the embodiment of the 8 of Swords, the limitations of her own thinking imprisoning her? Was she also the 5 of Pentacles, always feeling on the outside, rejecting all comfort of religion with her professions of agnosticism, citing her favorite Biblical moment identifying with Doubting Thomas?

You never know the gifts you will give others, especially your children. In spite of her enduring and passionate negativity she had given me a few gifts, one consciously. “Just remember,” she told me, “Nothing, nothing diminishes you.” I don’t know exactly where this ray of hope came from within her. Perhaps she, like any ferociously protective mother, sought to sacrifice herself to her demons but save me.

Picture Postcard Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

An in her terrible Sphinx riddle connecting intelligence to suicide, she gave me another gift, unwittingly. She cemented my identity as separate from hers. I could not agree with her. I realized the limitations of logic, especially hers. I could not be diminished by her depression. I could not be dragged down into the hell of her sadness. Sensitive as I was, aware of spirit as I was, I was given such an important gift. I was able to separate myself from those near me.

Being a tarot reader, I hear and sense some amazingly wonderful things but also some horrors beyond the most frightening movies or books. Some tarot readers ask each other, “How do you separate yourself from your sitters or from a reading? How do you keep from falling in a hole with them?” Even if they survived an “identity crisis” in childhood like I did, I recommend exercises to maintain sense of self.

Take time away. Do something linear and tactile like wash the car, walk the dog, pull weeds. Meditate. Be conscious of your own boundaries and revel in them. They distinguish you, in more than one sense of the word. Soon, the paradox we live in, of being all connected, yet all separate in this life will settle in comfortably. We are spirit and matter. Both are important.

You’ll find the gift, the legacy of learning from others’ lives. Nothing diminishes you, either.

Best wishes.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Simple Wedding

A friend of ours is getting married this weekend. Her Facebook profile picture looks like a case of high blood pressure and she’s young, too. She wants a simple wedding.

Tea Tarot
(c) Copyright 2011 Marcia McCord
I really like the guy she plans to marry. He seems a hardy sort, the kind of guy who could tough it out with an enthusiastic, talented, opinionated, close-knit crowd like her family. When she started bringing him around, I thought, OK, that’s the one. It wasn’t immediately a sure thing and to be fair, I didn’t read any cards about it. I just looked at him and felt he had staying power. It helps that he’s cute as a bug, too. OK, cute as a big bug. Wait, that doesn’t sound right either. Anyway, the guy is nice looking, real looking, real sounding. He hung in there. Yup, staying power.

The bride and her sister aren’t quite like Night and Day opposites. They are more like Twilight and Dawn. They both have a little Show Biz in their blood although the bride is said to be “a little shy.” Shy is an interesting term. She certainly has her own opinions and her own likes and dislikes. She dances flamenco. She’s no doormat. She just isn’t loud. She’s like Twilight when the heat of the day cools a bit and the night birds call.

I’m something of a shirt-tail relative. The bride’s family, especially the bride’s grandmother just adores my husband for all the right reasons. They have been sweet to me since I met him and I really enjoy their company. So we get to be half-family of the bride. It’s really an honor.

Naturally when the Aunt of the Bride asked us if we would help make the wedding decorations, we said yes. If there’s something I can do to make the simple wedding happen, I’m thrilled to. I had a simple wedding. At least, I think so. That day happened so fast and I was so grateful for my friends and family. But I also know what it’s like to have your wedding start out simple. Then stuff happens.

My husband and I decided to get married one evening about 2 am one June 2. Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? I was on midnight production problem call. My team was working to fix it and preferred to suffer through it with them rather than leave them feeling alone. Computer problems can be like that. Since we were up anyway and since John was hearing only my half of the conversation, our own mumbles drifted and we agreed we would marry.

The next morning, I made sure I hadn’t been dreaming and excitedly starting The Planning Phase. Simple. Simple was what we wanted.

“Wouldn’t it be cool,” I suggested, “if we had the ceremony on the ferry in October?” We had met on the ferry and it sounded like such fun.

John hesitated.

“Seriously,” he squinted, “how long to you want to be nervous? I was thinking something like the end of this month.” So that’s what we did. We put a wedding together in 24 days. I made lists. Date, determined by the first opening at the Court House. Rings, special order Celtic knots from Jewelry by Da’oud whose work I had seen at the Renaissance Faire a while back. Dress. Rats. Gotta get a dress.

“C’mon, sweetie, we’re going to buy a dress!” John really likes to participate in the whole process and I wasn’t about to leave him out of the dress thing. We went to Nordstrom because, well, because John wanted to. They had sale racks.

“Our goal here today,” I announced, “is to find a dress that will do. Not the Barbie’s Dream Wedding dress. Not the perfect dress. Not even a dress that could be worn to something else. Just a dress that will do.” John grumbled in agreement, not convinced of my speed-shopping concept. There it was, on the sale rack, $67, the will-do dress.

“This means,” I giggled, “that the bride’s colors are salmon and, Honey, what color purple would that be? Well, anyway, salmon and cream for the background.” One pair of cream color pumps from the Nordy’s sale rack completed the ensemble. Dress, check!

Cake. Well, our friend Barbara wanted to be in charge of the cake. Fine, I thought, as long as she doesn’t put pornography on it. She had a vision of Irish shamrocks cascading down a couple of tiers and had a heck of a time with her limited knowledge of Spanish explaining that to the Mexican bakery nearby. Flores verdes? They thought she had lost her mind.

Flowers. OK, I went small on the flowers too, a wrist corsage for me. Our friend Rosie wanted to do the flowers for the reception. She used to be a florist until she got an extreme allergy to being a florist. I knew she’d do a nice job for the tables.

Reception! Eeek! John wanted to do the reception. We liked our friend’s little restaurant in a less traveled section of town and so we went with an afternoon dinner and some cases of wine.

The guest list grew. And grew. As it turns out, we had scheduled our wedding the day before John’s cousin’s lovely daughter was to be married. So most of his relatives were in town. It was too short notice for my best friend in Missouri to fly out or most of my relatives, but my father and step-mom were coming. Daddy wanted to know what I wanted for a wedding present.

“Just wear your Colonel’s uniform for me,” I said. I had had a long, long history with my family never showing up for any of my rites of passage. Just having him there and showing off his Air Force colors was going to be the biggest treat for me. I could hear him blush all the way from Missouri.

The rings didn’t show up until just after 10 AM the day of the wedding; Plan B had been the gumball machine at the 7-11. I was a wreck but they fit perfectly. We drove to Fairfield. My friends came. The wind blew. People took pictures. We drove to the restaurant. We ate. The wedding guests helped because the extra wait staff never showed up. Cousin Margaret kept hitting her glass with a spoon. We ran out of wine. I think. The cake had pigs on it, a bride and groom pig and a little flying cupid pig overhead because Barbara thought John would get married, “When pigs fly.”

“I never said that,” John muttered. We got a lot of flying pig presents.

Everyone went back to our backyard for the party after the party. We took my Dad and step-mom to their hotel. It was 7 PM and I was completely exhausted. I announced my retreat. This pig had flown.

John followed immediately thereafter. We slept like logs, like tourists, like the dead. We lost the gift certificate to Chez Panisse. We realized we had not invited some key people to the event and forever regret that. We got up at 5 AM to take my father and step-mom back to the airport. We went to David’s daughter’s wedding the next day, then flew to Montana for John’s family reunion for our honeymoon, something we had planned to attend anyway.

As I was folding, tying and fluffing paper flowers for the wedding this weekend, I thought about the 4 of Wands. No wedding is simple, no matter what we where-do-I-sign brides wish for. At some point, though, it becomes a point of stability and it all comes together somehow.

“I think I’ll wear purple,” I mused, tying yet another paper flower to the white ribbon, laughing at my own “simple” wedding years ago and happy being the zany half-aunt of the bride.

Best wishes, Erin. I hope you dance.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Ace Up My Sleeve

I would say that I never thought I would ever be laid off, but even at the time I knew better. The signals were all over the company, all over the cards. I could smell it.

Now I'm not here to talk about specifics. For one thing, the terms of the agreement I signed in order to receive my very generous, as they go, severance package make it clear that I don't want to talk about the specifics. I was part of several waves of layoffs that over the years has restructured that company into something I probably would not recognize now. That's actually a relief. I had knowledge at the time of some of the inner workings and vulnerabilities that was vital to doing a good job while I had it but a dreadful burden to carry when I was let go. I harbored a secret pleasure that I wasn't in the first wave, cold comfort.

I was, of course, emotionally devastated anyway. Some of my team members who had been dedicated co-workers and sincere friends stood with me on the curb that day while I waited, tears streaming down my face, silent, desolate, hoping my husband would get there quickly so the awfulness of that moment could pass.

I think my friends were not sure I was going to get past it. It was touch and go. I was utterly focused on getting through it, past it and on to the next job. The trouble was that when hundreds of peers whose resumes are also pretty good were laid off at the same time, the local market was flooded with people who did essentially what I did if you don't look too closely at the details. It was a time when I had to reinvent myself and highlight what difference I could bring to a potential employer. I was willing to do what it took to get that new job.

First and foremost, I had to be re-convinced I had something special to give. I had worked hard to get a job that I loved as much as the one I lost. I had put myself through school to get a second college degree while still working a full time job. I had turned myself from a clerical drone into a programmer, then a database analyst, then manager and director with a credenza full of awards for business appreciation, customer focus and technology peer recognition. And then, it was over. It must have been my fault, something I did, something I didn't do. It couldn't have been the wheel of misfortune turning to the "I have no reign" position. It couldn't have been a volatile economy affecting a volatile business. It couldn't have been something like human error on a large scale. I was the cause of my crisis. Right.

My head was clear enough to realize that I needed help and one of the best benefits of my package was employment counseling. My work was cut out for me. I had to remake myself from the ground up. It wasn't just a resume refresher. It was everything, the wardrobe, the career goal, the boundaries of what I would give up and what I would not. It was gaining a perspective on the job market, how well I matched what people wanted and what I needed to do to adjust so I was not just a match but the best match. No matter what the cause of my crisis really was, I had to be the cause of my recovery.

Victorian Trade Card Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

I was relentless, 16 hours a day for months while the money dribbled away. Finally, after 10 months, when the money had just run out, I found the Ace of Pentacles. I got a job offer. I wasn't second best. I was the one they wanted. It was real. Many things made it less than ideal. The money was less than I had made before I was laid off. But it was better than $0! It wasn't a management job, but I had come to realize that I didn't want that. I wanted to solve problems that were hard for other people. The biggest compromise was that it was 400 miles from my home. But I could make it work and make my house payments. Slowly, things were getting better, at a pace only pentacles could appreciate.

It's been a long road, but that was years ago now. I was digging through a box to untangle a couple of chains and found 4 of my "Excellence in Service" pins, the only keepsakes remaining from that previous job. It was a little like reading love letters I had written to someone long ago, someone who didn't love me, someone I no longer loved. I loved the excellent service I had given and finally felt that the source of that good feeling was within me. It wasn't at a street address in the financial district in any city. That was the ace up my sleeve I had lost, momentarily.

The Ace of Pentacles is the new start of something tangible. It moves more slowly than "fire sign" people like me would like. It stays longer than you would expect. It is not just the search for wealth or chasing a buck, although, if you make it that way, it can be that shallow. It can be that deep too when it is the basis for stability, health and general well-being. No matter how high your ideals, how spiritual your path, how crisp your intelligence, how noble your goals, you have to cover the basics one way or another. The pursuit of money to the exclusion of all else, that's shallow. Reinventing yourself, regrounding, starting over, starting a new job, career, relationship, life, that's hard. Hard, but not shallow. Hard, but even if it goes slowly, suffers setbacks, gives you nightmares in the daytime, sticking with it feels like winning the prize you get to keep.

Best wishes.