Wednesday, December 26, 2012

All Is Calm ... Now

Really. All is calm now. Stress is notorious at Christmastime. There are always articles published to help people get through the expectations, the sharp memories, the family dinners, the little disasters of the season. We weren’t prepared for this one, though.

Each year we spend Christmas with our friend Geraldine and her family. They are a fun, talented, happy, growing family. Earlier this month we spent an evening at Gerry’s decorating her Christmas tree. Our Christmas tree is usually not a tree at all, but an oscillating fan on a stand with a wreath on it. Over time, the wreath has gained a few items like a couple of crocheted stocking-shaped ornaments made by my sister-in-law, a squirrel with a San Francisco Giants t-shirt and this year’s addition, a fluffy white owl that had been part of the packaging of a present. Inside the wreath is a handmade clay nativity plaque with angels dangling stars over the manger scene. Everyone is smiling. It’s a scene of joy, the joy of Christmas. It’s not the usual Christmas tree. We even make fun of it. After all, who puts their presents under the Christmas Fan?

We all become children for a minute at Christmas. We like to surround ourselves with what we love, like the 9 of Cups in Tarot. But other things surround us, too.
We were speculating that there’s an increase of television advertising for prescription anti-depressants at Christmas. It seems like in the “season of giving” we are more inclined to think about what we haven’t got, too. I miss my mother, my old kitty, seashells on the Gulf Coast of Florida, the parts of all the places I’ve lived that I liked, no matter how bleak. I think about my friends in faraway places whom I have not seen in too long. I hope I will see them again. What if I don’t?

I can fall down deeper into this whole in the whole “what if” chasm. What if I had clicked on the “Sell” button and had been able to pay off the house? I hesitated, afraid my husband would be sad or angry with me. He means so much more to me than a house payment.

What if I had taken the job teaching 7th and 8th grade at the little Catholic school in southern Illinois? It was a huge decision at the time: Do I take a teaching job to make use of my college degree and fulfill my idea who I might be? I went for the bucks instead, a higher paying job utilizing my typing class from high school enhanced by a glossy diploma for a B.A. in English. Foregoing teaching for the business world led to my degree in computer science, my move to California, meeting my husband John. At the time, I only compared salaries: $5,000 per year to teach, $8,000 per year to type. The math seemed simple, if a little disappointing. And it has led to this wonderful life.

What if I had said yes to the proposal from a precious high school love, who purchased a new car and drove it from the dry, high plains to the humid hills of Missouri to convince me? I said no because I was afraid. I was afraid it would go wrong, that our youth and foolishness would burn up something sweet and good. My path had taken me a different way. I made a lame excuse but it was still no. It was the right answer, I know now. So often you don’t get to know if a choice like that was right and I am grateful now to know. He has had a remarkable life with children and grandchildren and adventures he would not have had with me. My life has been full of adventure too, adventures of a different kind. And we did both find the right ones for each other.

I could get stuck on the fact that my family isn’t particularly close. We are divided by geography, our parents’ choices and our own strongly held convictions, a stubborn streak we all consider character that is likely genetic in its intensity. We are politically opposite, opinionated on guns, money, crime, loyalty, tradition, care for the needy and perhaps even how to build a fence and why. But I revel in the closeness we do have, what I have worked hard for since I was a child, bent with the grim determination that love will, TOO, conquer all, darn it. And we have all learned what topics to tread lightly on but it is only in my generation’s greying age that we have learned better how to take those light steps, when to say something and when to just let others be. In those light steps, we have been able to cross barriers that were too bitter for earlier generations. We have made progress.

I love the beauty of an old-fashioned Christmas and love the images of more than 100 years ago showing Santas and angels, holly and ivy and mistletoe. These are the images of memories of what might have been, what approaches my memory of the Spirit of Christmas: that kindness and hope can, for a moment, heal the devastating pains of loss, the ache of unfulfilled wishes, the confounding of the illusion that if you work hard you must succeed, the outrage of loss of control.

With the flood of memories and near-memories, it can be hard to realize that this Christmastime is the important part. It’s fine to remember, but don’t get lost there. It may be a movie you can play over and over again but you can’t step into it and be there. You’ll lose today which will become the new memory to regret next year. That’s why healers so often recommend to “live in the now.”

Christmas Eve I rose from my reverie to dress for dinner at Gerry’s house. I was partway there, nearly ready to put on my long red dress when I stepped into the kitchen and glanced into the dining room.

Quincy, our rescued cocker spaniel, lay asnooze on the red oriental rug. But something was wrong. All around him were strewn the remains of a one-pound box of chocolates. Wrapping, brown papers and half-eaten chocolates along with what had been the long narrow cardboard box dotted the dining room floor. Perhaps seven chocolates were left. Quincy was breathing but otherwise still.

A laugh caught in my throat. It would have been funny except chocolate can be deadly to dogs. More than a chip or two can cause pancreatitis and death. We woke Quincy up from his stupor and walked him around.

“He looks like he swallowed a Studebaker!”

My dismay grew as he waddled unsteadily on his doggy pegs, his stomach distended on both sides and tight. John started making calls and found a vet hotline. One household remedy involving hydrogen peroxide and a turkey baster and some serious walking around the backyard later, and Quincy gave up most of what he had gobbled down. I had momentarily panicked, remembering there had been a ribbon on the box, then realized I found it in the debris I had swept up. When John and Quincy came back upstairs, the dog had resumed more or less ordinary canine proportions and was wagging his tail. He resented the indignity of the home remedy, still snuffling from the bit that went up his nose.

We watched him for a while longer, then went to Christmas Eve dinner a little late, barely in time for the present exchange and happy to have cooling leftovers with the family we adopt as our own. We all tired earlier than usual this year and retreated to the comfort of home.

This morning we woke up to the goldfinches fussing over the feeder. Quincy was snoring loudly like any other Tuesday. We all went out to Christmas fan and unwrapped our presents, just a few because we agree we don’t need much. Sitting here I realized that I got my dog for Christmas, my dog, my cats and my loving husband. All is calm. Now.

Best. Christmas. Ever.

Best wishes.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

It's Beginning to Smell a Lot Like Christmas

One of my friends passed a Chanel No. 5 poster with Brad Pitt on it with something extra added to the “inevitable” slogan. It was too funny, but if there’s anything that will get girls to buy their own Christmas presents, it’s a picture of Brad Pitt. Maybe Johnny Depp would work the same magic. Thanks to Thelma and Louise, the cougar set likes to think of themselves as holding the possibility for a few special moments with a talented young man like Mr. Pitt or Mr. Depp. But of course, the idea here is to sell perfume, especially as a Christmas present.

My friend went on to say, with other friends chiming in, that she felt, in spite of the persuasive Mr. Pitt, the scent in question was … let’s see, she didn’t actually say “motor oil.” Well, you get the idea. It’s not her favorite.

Disclaimer: I happen to love Chanel No. 5 whether Mr. Pitt is pitching it or not but I seldom wear perfume at all because of the number of people who dislike (or worse, become ill due to) any scent other than fresh-out-of-the-shower. Even some shampoos can make you think the underlying base for fragrance is skunk oil. I tend to buy all my shampoos based on scent because, after all, I have to live with me all day.

One of the great benefits of knowing HUBS-1’s great Aunt Ann was that she was the queen of finding good homes for bent-box goodies like Fleur de Rocaille and other exotic treats. I was showered with little bent boxes with otherwise perfectly good expensive French perfumes while still in the good graces of the first in-laws. I got hooked on the whole Caron line and had to pay up or go cold turkey when the divorce happened. My favorite was Infini. Apparently the name didn’t guarantee the longevity of the product because I don’t see it offered any more, reflecting, I suppose, the relationship.

Perfumes have such a sales pitch. Even Fleur de Rocaille is advertised, “Fleur de Rocaille is recommended for romantic use.”

Huh? Well, I wouldn’t put it in a casserole. What exactly, for a perfume, is “romantic use”? There are still a lot of unanswered questions out there to be explored.

I also liked another Chanel product, Chanel No. 19. I’m no expert nose like my husband, John The Only Good One. But if I were pressed to say so, I’d say there were more flowers in Chanel No. 19. My opinion also included that this is a perfume for winter only, that it smells good with wool and snow and other things part of those days when your breath freezes before you like a rack of ice cubes. In the summer, I felt it was more like a floral sledgehammer. Now that I live in the eternal springtime of northern California, there is no wintertime that makes this scent right for me. It is shelved.

Old perfume turns into something bad, too. It browns. It caramelizes. It decocts to something less pleasant than its original intent. Timing is everything. Gather ye rosebuds… and rose scents where ye may and all that. When perfume gets old, it becomes a lot more like rotten leaves preserved in alcohol. I know this. Don’t ask me how.

In the discussion with my friend, some people hated Chanel No. 5 whether it was fresh or fermented, but we all agreed that perfumes are an intensely personal thing. I’m not so sure scents say so much about your personality as they do about your body chemistry.

I was cooing over Chanel No. 19, in winter of my youthful and experimental content, so much that I insisted my friend Sally try it. (You remember Sally from the time travel dream? That Sally). Elegant, I thought. Sophisticated. I had received compliments on it, after all.

Without actually drenching Sally in No. 19, I did convince her to try it. Wives, not all of them old, will say that you should wait a few minutes to let the perfume blend with your own body heat. They omit the body chemistry part, which is most likely the single most important ingredient.

While on me, No. 19 evoked a certain winter cottage in Doctor Zhivago, on Sally the scent was disappointing to say the least.

“Gah,” we both said together in disgust as if we could spit the smell out of our mouths. “It’s like… like… wet newspapers!”

Thank goodness the stuff washes off eventually. I was sorely disappointed. I had always thought and still think of Sally as being more interesting and beautiful than I am with a mane of just the right shade of red hair and dainty hands and feet and a laugh that can light up an entire room. I’d nearly asphyxiated both of us with my experiment. I let Sally pick her own perfume after that.

My perfume mania started to wane about the time that my first marriage struggled. The bloom was off more than one rose by then. It was Christmas time, glorious winter when one can wear silks and wools and boots and gloves and perfume to light up the frosty days. It was midnight mass at St. Kevin’s.

St. Kevin’s was a disappointment as a church to me, frankly. I like my Catholic churches gussied up like winter and this one looked positively Baptist to me with its cement-block walls and stark d├ęcor. Give me a good old Gothic full of pillars and marble and statues and candles. God and all the saints are older than I am and I don’t want to visit them in a place that’s—horrors—about my own age.

But, Kevin’s does pack ‘em in on a Christmas Eve there in snowy Illinois. I was sardined into a pew with my then-laws, feeling faintly panicky and making sure I knew where my nearest exit was in case of spontaneous combustion or whatever.

Cold as it was that winter’s eve, with all the body heat in the place, every drop of perfume had its chance to reach maximum potency. It was if the Ace of Cups had heated the liquid refreshment, recommended for romantic uses, to a rolling boil like the 8 of Wands. There was no turning back.

Victorian Trade Card Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord
 The well-dressed, well-perfumed woman in front of me in the camelhair coat with the fur collar (Fox? Possum? Raccoon?) began to fan herself in distress. All of us were dressed for the cold and gradually steamed in the rising heat. And, because we’re in church and it’s Midnight Mass, for crying out loud, no one can get up and leave because everyone will be certain that you’ve gotten a roaring case of the flu or food-poisoning from your mother-in-law’s cooking or you’ve just remembered you don’t qualify for mass due to a great sin of scandalous proportions. Any reason is likely to get you talked about for years and naturally your goal for the evening is to get God’s grace and get out of there.

And there’s Mrs. Possum-Collar fanning Estee Lauder’s Youth Dew at me while I’m packed so tightly in a pew that if I died I would still be sitting upright. We’ve got an older priest, bless his heart, who wants to go slowly through the entire lovely rite with elaborations and a few trips down memory lane. Well, it’s a wonder the only thing I came out of it with was a strong aversion to Estee Lauder anything, asthma and the sense that perhaps I didn’t fit into the then-laws’ family after all. Somehow, I lived.

But why, when I smell Estee Lauder perfume now, do I always thing of concrete blocks and opossums?

Merry Christmas and best wishes!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Moon Ship

So there I was, sleeping like there was no tomorrow and I stepped into a dream, no, THE dream. It was not one of those one-liner dreams. Sometimes those make me wake up laughing. It was not one of those short stories with a distinct beginning, middle and end with well-developed characters. No, this was beyond that. This was more than a novel. This was the Dune series of dreams, unabridged.

It seems we had finally perfected time travel, well, perfected is a peculiar term. What we had done was make it reliable enough that the general public could schedule trips with various carriers, like airlines, who occasionally ran sales in competition with each other. There was a trip schedule. There were “hub” timeports, places where you could make connections to less-well-traveled times/places.

With the normalizing of time travel, the vacation industry really boomed.

“Go AnyWhen!”

Advertising slogans plastered billboards and internet space. Somehow, regular people like you and me, and since it was my dream, especially me, could afford to go places, excuse me time/places where/when you weren’t. There was that whole "two places" temporal anomaly thing, but the carriers were in charge of making sure that you didn’t get into trouble.

Oh, the butterfly effect was taken care of, too. Unlike the sci-fi stories that show how traveling to the past and accidentally killing a bug change the entirety of the future, that was covered. It was part of the technology, taken care of just like that.

It was a lot like the normalizing of airline travel. You figure most of people-dom felt that not only could humans not fly, they probably shouldn’t. Still, there were always a few agitators who ignored the rules and kept trying to come up with a workable design. True, there were a lot of failures, some with tragic consequences. Gradually, we were convinced that what first seemed like a miracle, then a wild luxury only for the ultra-posh was somehow no more remarkable, through the wonder of marketing to sell on volume, than catching a cab, bus or train.

Hop on a quick flight and spend the day in Los Angeles or Seattle or Albuquerque! You can fly back the same day.

When time travel got to this point, in my dream of course, I found myself in line for my little getaway with my husband.

We’re both readers so we had apparently agreed on a “somewhen” to go to together that was likely literary in nature. I wasn’t sure if we were meeting Geoffrey Chaucer or William Shakespeare, but whatever the destination we were positive we were not going to change history or more importantly make a new future.

Then, I got a call from work. You know, that kind of thing happens to me in real life.
I was answering my work Blackberry messages in Ireland. I was trying to debug an implementation issue on a Saturday morning at the Russian River. I sent status reports from the beach in Florida. I attended conference call meetings from the passenger seat over some of the more mind-numbing stretches of I-5. I performed production checkout from a haunted hotel in New Hope, Pennsylvania. Most remarkably, while in the middle of my father’s estate sale (yep, that tear-jerking task of sorting through and selling of the artifacts of my Daddy’s life), I got an email from my VP saying, “Handle this.” Handle this? While I’m doing something much harder than my Dad’s funeral? I handled it.

Even temporarily insane people can be productive.

"Ain’t it awful how work interferes with yer personal life?" my friend Sherry used to drawl, knowing how we make those decisions to work because the work is sometimes our life, like a family member. A really demanding family member.

I’ve been working with Lenormand decks lately, creating my Dust Bunny Lenormand and the Off-Center Lenormand. They are different from Tarot but they are used in cartomancy, usually for more of the “fortune telling” end of working with cards.

Getting the cards Moon (dream, intuition, imagination) + Ship (travel) would be a lot like having a time travel dream. Lenormand cards are always read in pairs. They are read nearly literally with their keywords with the first card being the subject and the second card being the modifier. My “moon-ship” was a travel dream of the wildest imagination.
 
Back to my dream: So I’m somewhere out of earshot there in the timeport while the Hubs holds our place in line and wouldn’t you know it? I miss my … flight? Transport? I’m not sure what we call this time travel event. I’m a little new to this.

But, hey, no worries. I can catch the next one. I do and catch up to John and we have an adventure. My dream conveniently skips this fun part so I don’t even know if we talked to Kit Marlowe or whoever. Work contacts me again—pretty amazing technology if your Blackberry works in the 15th century or whatever—and I have to go back on a separate transport from my husband. Wow, this was supposed to be a super-special vacation and it’s all interrupted. John catches his transport.

I’m in line for my separate transport when I hear, Marcia!! The voices behind me are my long-time friends, Mark and Sally. I didn’t know they had gone on vacation to the same time/place or I would have suggested we connect. And here we are standing in line together to catch our transport home. But we both notice about the same time that something is different.

“You don’t look the same,” Sally says, smiling and frowning at the same time. She’s as sweet as pecan pie, always has been. We were instant best friends from the first time we talked. “Are you OK?”

I figured my hair was out of place and then it dawned on me what was wrong.

“Hon, how old are you right now?”

“43!” she said, shaking her head like I hadn’t gotten enough sleep. I hadn't.

“Well,” I sighed, that explains it. “OK, I cut my hair and you guys have a lot coming up, but fer sher I’ll see you in about 15 years.” She and Mark looked at me with widening eyes and laughed in realization.

Those temporal anomaly resolution algorithms guarantee you won’t see yourself coming and going, but not that you won’t see your friends or family out of sync along the way. Time-lag, they call it.

We laughed and waved and I stepped into my transport. The now-familiar near-nauseous blackout thing happened that I had come to expect with time travel swirled around me and when I came to, I realized I was in a sleek black limousine.

“You feelin’ OK, miss?” the driver grinned. “I know a lot of people have the same reaction you do when they travel. Your suitcase made it just fine. It’s in the back.”

I blinked and looked out the window. Nothing looked familiar. I mean nothing. I wasn’t sure I was even on the right continent.

“Driver?” I asked, pretty sure I knew the answer. “What year is it?”

“2016!”

Well, fooey. I hope I get a free trip out this.

“Can you turn around and take me back to the timeport? I need to get back to 2012.”

Sure is good to be back.

Best wishes!

***

Images of the Moon and Ship are from the Off-Center Lenormand, now available from The Tarot Garden, while they last!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

For John: The 6 of Cups

I have no new thoughts
for you
today
only old
like rainworn stepstones
through a mossy place
sharp edges rounded
uneven traces.


Victorian Trade Card Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord
What is left looks like the softest pillow.
It was always there
comfortable now
with its cleverness and fear
eroded.

I have no new thoughts
for you
only old
like loveworn stepstones
whose roots stretch
a hundred miles or more to the center.

***

With love and best wishes.