Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Echo Location

I spent last weekend in the lair of the Bat Queen. Well, in her neighborhood at least. I’m lucky enough to live within a short drive of San Francisco and was able to attend BATS (the Bay Area Tarot Symposium) again this year. The Bat Queen is none other than Thalassa in her super-heroine identity; like all Supers she has a daily disguise.

Each year, Thalassa and her good friends from the Daughters of Divination, some of whom are sons but designated as honorary daughters, produce an intimate little party for 300 or so all about tarot. As in past years, we meet at the Unitarian Universalist Church to immerse our six senses (this is tarot after all) in our favorite Liberal Arts study, the tarot. The walls of the building are mostly raw concrete and echo with the oooo’s and ahhh’s of happy tarot enthusiasts. A pleasant inner courtyard provides benches for resting and side conversations.

This year I successfully tempted tarot artist Beth Seilonen to come out and sell her exquisitely drawn and colored hand-crafted tarot decks. Well, it was more than that. When we were talking about it, she mentioned she was working on a Tarot of the White Bats. Perrrrrfect! I squealed, and urged her to make it a deck of 78 instead of the 22 major arcana only. It would be a BATS-travaganza! Beth and I later reflected on the crazy idea that she would start in July on a deck of 78 cards for an August event. And yet she made it!

I have to say it was fun and instructive for me to be treated to a view of the inner workings of creating a deck by seasoned artist. Along with the original artwork, Beth prints her own cards and does her own finishing, including the personally decorated boxes for each deck. I had had an inkling she might need a workspace and had cleared off a long table for her in the guest quarters. It turned out to be utterly necessary. She came earlier in the week and settled into a routine of lamination, trimming and assembly. She had ordered boxes to be delivered to my house and together we found fun decorations, “bat bling,” we decided.

Saturday we arrived early to get Beth’s table set up, easily making the time for the start of the vendor mall. Beth had brought a wide array of her work, with examples from her more whimsical and comedic decks and also from some with a distinctly darker theme. Pardon me while I gush just a minute, but there are many tarot decks out there that are in the cold/dangerous/sexy/ dark themes. Beth’s work isn’t the only lighter note in the symphony of tarot art. Baba Prague’s Baroque Bohemian Cats, Carol Devall’s Cirque de Whimsy Tarot, Lisa Hunt’s Fairy Tale Tarot, the Ator Tarot and even Tarot of the Magical Forest come to mind in the light-but-serious tarot theme. I’m sure I’m leaving someone out unintentionally. But I like Beth’s work because her characters’ feet are close to but often not quite touching the ground in a spiritual sense. And I still shudder at my favorite Isabel Snail Tower. The lighter touch is so welcome in a heavy world.

But of course, BATS is much more than the glorious vendor mall, yummy as it was, including the Millard Fillmore Memorial Garage Sale, sans garage of course. I picked up an open Dragon Tarot for my friend Andy who is a dragon fan. I found a copper bracelet with images from the RWS which had predictably turned my wrist green by the evening. I idled by the lovely leather-works booth and its sturdy, practical and beautiful tooled cases for tarot decks; and he does custom work too. I took a card. I caved to temptation at The Tarot Garden and bought a couple of must-have decks, although I have to say I held back with remarkable restraint overall. I really do want to go on vacation sometime this year!

What I really come to BATS for, though, is the wonderful opportunity to hear experts in the field and talk with other readers, students, teachers and collectors of tarot. My star-studded BATS experience included Leisa ReFalo, Mary K. Greer, Rachel Pollack, Marcus Katz and Mike Hernandez along with the incomparable Thalassa. I met with folks I’ve seen from Tarot Collectors Forum and Aeclectic Tarot. We discussed preferred card sizes, Majors-only decks v. Majors and Minors, publishing and printing, finishes, to trim or not to trim, variations on the tarot, what worked for us and what did not. Thalassa’s husband Rydell Downward treated us to his characterization of Arthur Edward Waite at the mixer after Saturday classes, sitting at our table and testing the mettle of those of us who thought we were celebrating the Golden Sunset with a libation with patter about the Golden Dawn Society and making us all laugh. In addition, a wondrous reading answered with the many voices of the tarot the question, “How goes the night?” Why, it went down smoothly like a cold beer or warm cabernet and baklava!

Leisa connected her seven-card spread astrologically. Mary showed us cartomancy in ancient art. Rachel helped us probe the mysteries of her Shining Tribe deck. Marcus gave us a hint of his upcoming book and helped us keep our heads from spinning while going through some exercises to hone our reading skills. Mike’s talk on the usefulness of tarot books in the study of tarot sparked some lively debate on Sunday, proving that not everyone had stayed up too late Saturday night. I had the chance to show a couple of people my Picture Postcard Tarot and received good, thoughtful feedback. I intercepted poor Rachel Pollack in the hallway for an autograph on my own copy of The Shining Tribe and reflected for a moment what a curious burden admiration is for the admired. And I admired them all the more. I think we all went away happy, informed and entertained and perhaps even a bit overwhelmed at the intensity of the weekend.

Best of all, there will be another BATS next year. Thalassa promises us that it will be two full days because 2011 BATS will be the 20th anniversary year of this West Coast tarot symposium. The venue will change to keep lodging and programs under one roof at the Holiday Inn used for this year’s block of rooms. And I’ve promised Beth that I won’t suggest that she create a full-length deck within 30 days. Really. But I’ll be there!

Great job, everyone. And rest easy, Bat Queen. Well done!

Best wishes!

Want more information about BATS? Go to http://www.dodivination.com/

Need a little more whimsy in your tarot life? Check out http://catseyeart.com/id72.html

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Inspiration to Quit

The Ace of Wands is a card that signifies energy. It’s the new inspiration, the new project, the start of something big. It’s not just an idea or thought but the urge, the surge of fiery energy that pushes us into something new and different. OK, yes and sometimes it’s that 2”x 4” that we hit ourselves over the head with to get our own attention. It’s the match that lights our attention, helps us warm to a concept. It’s the lightning strike of impulse. It’s the “grip” when you get a grip on things. It’s life force itself.

This Monday morning, it’s a cup of very strong tea to give me the jolt I need. I think I’m still recovering from Friday night’s Day Job festivities that didn’t end until 2 a.m. Saturday. At 2 a.m. the veneer of civilization had worn off for me and when the team, who had been working every bit as long as I had and more, asked for my input I blurted, “I AM DONE!” At least everyone laughed. I had voiced the common thread for the evening.

While a long Friday night like that can lower my I.Q. for an entire weekend, I did still find the energy to do some things I wanted to do. Saturday afternoon, I zipped over to ArtCentric in Benicia, California to execute a ceramics project that had stirred my imagination. While I was there, I was inspired to ask the owner about alternatives to a half-formed thought that been bouncing around in my head. Then I hit the office supply store for a couple of experimental Avery labels. And, since it was so close, I dropped into Michaels to solidify an artistic impulse which manifested itself into a Fiskars paper trimmer, very handy for future creative efforts too and perhaps just the solution to my label situation. Avery may make a million different labels but the size I am looking for is just a little smaller than what I found. Inspiration! Trim!

My father used to complain that I was burning my candle at both ends. Being a true fire sign, I was annoyed that there were only two ends to burn. I wanted to do more, not less. But my energy runs out like everyone else’s. It’s just when I’m done, like Friday night, I’m really done. An old boyfriend used to tell me I had two speeds, On and Off. Well, that seems clear.

Not all of my impulses are creative of course. I used to smoke. I can’t imagine smoking now, but I smoked on and off for almost 15 years. And then I quit.

Like a lot of teenagers, I started smoking my mother’s brand of cigarettes because they were “handy,” meaning I didn’t think she would notice if I took a pack of her Pall Mall Menthol Longs from the carton. I had pretty well convinced myself that my smoking wasn’t just to look cool but it probably was. I smoked instead of eating. I gestured with my cigarette for dramatic emphasis. I Bogarted my filtered cigs while playing cards in the university student center. Smoking was “normal” when I was a child. My mother always had one lit in the ashtray if not being actively smoked. But I also remember being horrified watching my father, who did not smoke, light a cigarette to use for 4th of July fireworks the summer I was 13.

I would stop for a while, then start again. One time when I was a reporter for the university student-run radio station, I had returned from a particularly unproductive student council meeting. I was annoyed that the student council had chosen to table discussion of anything meaningful in deference to some trivial topic. I roared into the radio station newsroom, headed for the teletype room, flung my coat on the floor and stomped on it. One of the DJ’s came out to see what the commotion was, a cigarette dangling from his lips. I looked up at him and glared, “Throckmorton, GIVE ME THAT CIGARETTE.” He did, without hesitation. He apparently could identify a dangerous animal when he saw one. He had no wish to be collateral damage. And I smoked again.

In my mid-20’s I switched brands a couple of times and landed on Arctic Lites. They were long, menthol and “lite,” that lie we told ourselves about a cigarette actually being healthier than another. I went on my first international trip, to Bermuda, and was scandalized by the ridiculously high prices of cigarettes there, $1.00 per pack. Arctic Lites had a peculiar manufacturing flaw that contributed to my quitting smoking altogether. About halfway through the cigarette, the burning ash would fall off. This happened at the least convenient times, most memorably into the skirt of my then-favorite dress while I was driving on the Interstate. My dress was ruined, of course, and chasing a wad of fire while you’re driving is something like having a bee in the car. I lived, at least, and no other drivers were harmed in the process.

Cigarettes were a crutch for me like they are for anyone who smokes. They got me through a bleak moment when I had agreed to help my landlord boyfriend clean up one of his student rentals. I took the kitchen and discovered the boys from last semester had left a can of frozen orange juice in the unplugged refrigerator freezer. By the time I got to it with my rubber gloves and cleaning potions, the cardboard sides of the once-frozen now long-thawed OJ were moving, seething, undulating with (God help us) maggots.

The refrigerator was next to an open window and all I had to do was reach in, seize the horror with my Playtex Living Gloved-hand, make a 90 degree turn and drop the thing out the window. It took me three cigarettes to get up the courage to do that. Mmmm, maggots. To this day, I don’t know how I did it.

However, the dress incident and others were starting to weigh more heavily on the “con” side of smoking for me. There were all the places I would not smoke. I wouldn’t smoke in my car anymore because of the falling ash trick. Even though we were still allowed to smoke in the office then, before it was banned, I didn’t want to smoke at my desk. I didn’t want to be the girl at work who set her desk on fire. One of the professors at the university had done that, solidifying his “Mr. Magoo” reputation. That’s all I needed, to be Magooed.

Finally, my eyes went bad. It wasn’t because of the cigarettes, of course, just genetics. I turned 30 and my vision deteriorated so rapidly that my optometrist started to worry I might go blind. When my eyes stabilized, I treated myself to those newfangled plastic contact lenses. And something about getting contacts and smoking just didn’t mix well for me. I started to count all the reasons and places I would not smoke anyway and figured out that the price of my cigarettes would pay for my contacts. Add to that, the incidence of heart attack and other bad things happening to most women who smoke takes a steep climb at age 30. Halfway through a pack of those unreliable Arctic Lites, I quit, never picking them up again.

Later, diagnosed with asthma, I was glad I didn’t prolong my self-destructive and expensive habit. I’ve come full circle and am now one of the folks who are horrified when people do smoke, although I still have sympathy with my smoker friends. I do remember what it was like.

A few years ago, I had the chance to be a judge at the local junior high science fair. One young man had done a survey to find out the most effective reason to quit and the most effective method of quitting. He had a personal stake in the study. His mother had agreed that once he found out the best way to quit and why, she would. This good kid, not particularly nerdy or scientific, was inspired by his love for his mother and his desire to keep her with him as long as he could. He surveyed many people and tabulated the results: The best way to quit and stay that way was, he found, to quit “cold turkey” for health reasons. And his mother quit. I gave him the highest marks for his project, not because he was the most scientifically advanced, but because he had used inspiration and love to employ the tool of science to improve the lives of those around him. Now that’s a project.

Best wishes.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Postcards to the Edge

I know not everyone has a good story for, “How did you spend your Grand Cross/T-Square/Perseids Meteorite Shower this year?” but I’m very thumbs-up about my own. Like a lot of fire sign people, sometimes I just start doing something and it turns into a project. That’s happened to me this summer. I created my own tarot deck.

Actually I started creating a tarot deck last year from photos I’ve taken over the years. I had the Major Arcana down pretty easily but the Minors were another thing. That’s a lot of photos. And I didn’t want to resort to “that’s a picture of heather in Ireland and heather looks warm and fiery so this is a wands card.” I wanted images that really spoke to the meaning of the card without being actual posed models of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck.

There are some decks I really admire for their creativity and simultaneous alignment and departure from the RWS images. My favorite decks are those that make me think twice, that have multiple layers of meaning and that are a little ambiguous. Life, after all, doesn’t come with an instruction book.

I love Beth Seilonen’s decks, as I mentioned before; there is something dark and scary under the gentle whimsy that makes me take her work very seriously, even if the decks feature Nestor the Jester or Balthazar the Frog. Her Isabel Snail Tower is one of the most eye-popping “something big is about to happen” cards I’ve ever seen. Another recent purchase is Bethalynne Bajema’s Sepia Stains A Tarot Deck, a delicious mixture of sensuality and bug-creepy. I adore (and have multiple copies of) Patrick Valenza’s Deviant Moon, a sort of carnival out of control. And I love more traditional images, like Kat Black’s stunning Touchstone Tarot and Golden Tarot. Then there are some decks I have for reasons I don’t understand other than I connect with them somehow, like the many copies of the Maddonni Tarot I have squirreled away. I don’t want to discount the other decks I read with on a regular basis, too, like the RWS, the Hanson-Roberts and James Ricklef’s Tarot of the Masters. They are beautiful and they work for me.

So why, if I have too many tarot decks as it is, create one of my own? Well, partly because I couldn’t help myself. I see photos, images, ads, TV commercials any visual medium and think, OMG, that would make a GREAT Page of Wands, or whatever. OK, I don’t think “O-M-G,” I just see those letters in a crawl line on the marquee of my personal theatre.

While I was busy thinking I was creating a deck with my own photos, which in fact I probably still am doing but the distance between concept and fulfillment is rather wide, I stumbled across images that I could not resist. Piling up in my favorite things to view were picture postcards from 1900-1909. Postcards during that time were the Facebook, email, Twitter and cell phone of their day, a snapshot of human perspective. And the perspective came with pictures! I started accumulating them, then pursuing them. I quickly realized I had a deck of tarot cards, no, actually more than one deck. I began to organize them, crop them for ideal focus and give them some standard naming pattern so I could find them again. And the project grew.

I realized I had more than a slide show of fun images. They started to gel into a vision of what a deck like that might look like.

The backs would be, say, like the back of an unused postcard, the old-fashioned kind true to the time of the images where there was room only for the addressee’s name and address. Early postcards required that the back be used only for the address. The message had to be written on the front somewhere. I’m picky about the backs of tarot decks. I don’t want visual cues in advance whether the card I’m turning is reversed or upright, so I like symmetrical back images. So I figured out how to make my postcard back symmetrical.

My images were a mix of photos and artwork, color and monotone. So I sorted them into two groups, photos and artwork. I started, randomly, to work on the photos. Just by picking out pictures from postcards that I liked, I had about 60 of the 78 cards already, so the hunt was on to complete the deck. The hardest one was The Hanged Man.

I love The Hanged Man as a card. When I first started with tarot, I had trouble with it. “Sacrifice,” most little white books say. OK, so if you get him right side up, it means you give up something for something more important, or maybe you’re a sap. But the guy’s got a halo in RWS so it’s noble sacrifice, something like Dickens Tale of Two Cities, “’Tis a far, far better thing I do…,” and all. So does that mean that reversed, you didn’t have to give anything up? It was problematic for me. As I studied tarot more, a richer picture of The Hanged Man has come to me. For instance, in my first blog post, I used to hang by my feet from the swingset trapeze and jungle gym just to view the world from a different perspective. My little yellow bird is a representation of The Hanged Man, the idea of looking at things from another point of view. Rachel Pollack gave a wonderful talk on The Hanged Man at the 2009 BATS, explaining that hanging people by their feet was a punishment for traitors. It seems you can look at The Hanged Man from an objective point of view with sympathy for his plight or scorn for his crime or you can look at him as a reflection of yourself. And that goes deeper. The Hanged Man has a halo because he has chosen a path, a stance, a point of view which does not conform to that of others and for that he is separated, even persecuted. But he has remained true to himself. Reversed, he has given up his own values and ideals and sublimated his will to society, choosing to fit in rather than to be himself. That puts the idea of sacrifice in a more thoughtful light for me.

Well, now, how do you find a photo from 1900-1909 that says all that? The first one I found was of a real hanging, an execution of a Chinese man at the hands of Russians during their conflict at that time. The hanged man’s face in the photo was overexposed, almost white-hot, which was like the idea of the halo in some ways and like the anonymity and depersonalization of being executed because you were “one of them” instead of “one of us.” But it was ghastly. It took a long time to find an image that was a little lighter, a little less political, a little less horrifying. But that first image will stay with me for a long time.

Late in the process it occurred to me that other people might think this was a fun thing too, so I contacted people I knew who might be interested in sharing the cost of printing and got a fantastic response. My very first tarot deck is at the printer now waiting patiently in line with its little white book to be printed as a numbered and signed limited edition of 50. Just 50 decks of 78 cards are all I intend there to be in the whole world.

Like the 9 of Swords, sometimes when you wake up from your dreams, you’re just so glad it wasn’t real and you’re back to normal again, whatever that is. I think my husband will be glad in some ways when this is done because of the intensity of my attention to it. I’m just hoping that it doesn’t turn out to be a flop, a disappointment, kind of like my 9 of Swords guy who woke up from his dream to find out that he really did have a bed full of fish!

Best wishes!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Cubs 8 Giants 6

I’ve always loved baseball. I suspect it’s because the sound of a radio broadcaster’s voice may have been part of my consciousness since before birth. Mom loved baseball too. She was a bigger fan than my dad was, could tell you who was on the disabled list, who was a rookie, who had a batting slump and she loved the (then) St. Louis Cardinals. When I first met my husband, the fact that he was a partner in San Francisco Giants season tickets was definitely a plus. It’s nice when your sweetie wants to take you to their idea of a fun time and it happens to be your idea of a fun time, too.

I don’t think anyone had invented T-Ball when I was little, so my brother and I were brought up on the real thing. I liked to play. I liked to watch. I liked to get dressed up and watch. Florida being the winter home to several teams, was baseball country. I remember going to my first off-season major league game with my dad and my brother. The Pittsburgh Pirates played. I don’t know why my mom didn’t come, but it was probably because it wasn’t a Cardinals game. Mom was a purist. I don’t remember the score, but I remember that I wore what I thought of as a rather elegant spaghetti-strap sundress. I screamed passionately at the players, coaches and umpires, a sort of grade school version of Bull Durham’s leading lady, with firm belief that my opinion was not only necessary but perhaps the very key to the outcome of the game. Baseball can make you feel that way.

My brother played Little League and we were the Lions, our colors gold and white. My brother wore a cool uniform and he looked like a Normal Rockwell character with his untamable hair shot out from under his cap tilted back and his wide blue eyes and freckles. Naturally, I wanted a cool uniform, too, so Mom made me a Lions cheerleader outfit, a gold skirt and gold bolero over my white Peter Pan collar blouse. And I fell in love, from afar of course, with a kid named Rusty who was the pitcher. While my crush was complete, Rusty was nobly focused on the game and paid no attention to me whatever. It was part of his charm.

Not only was my brother in Little League, but my dad was one of the umpires. Umpires can look and sound like Darth Vader before there was ever a Star Wars. And my dad was scrupulously fair in his calls, inspiring both my pride and annoyance. When the crowd disagreed with cries of, “Kill the umpire,” I howled, “No! That’s my Daddy!” My mother, the introvert, smirked in amusement, perhaps entertaining the thought.

When we moved to New Mexico, we still loved baseball, but the teams were much farther away. The University was on break the first August we lived there and just about everyone we knew had left town for vacation. Bored, as only lively 6th and 7th graders could be, my brother and I convinced our dad to go to the local park and play ball even though there were just three of us. Dad agreed and we were soon set up for our Big Game.

As it turns out, the Big Game was Daddy, but we didn’t know that at first. My brother, steely-eyed as ever, had to bat first and he wanted a real pitch to swing at, so Daddy was the pitcher and I was, well, I was the rest of the infield and all of the outfield. First pitch and my brother hit a line drive straight at Daddy’s chin. We picked him up, inspected the interesting stitch-mark pattern the ball had made on his chin, made him tell us how many fingers we had, dusted him off and resumed our places. Second pitch, my brother hit a high pop-fly straight out to me. I lost the ball in the sun and it landed on top of my foot. I fell over like the Laugh-In tricycle. They both came out to me, picked me up, helped me walk it off and we resumed our places. Third pitch, my brother hit another line drive straight at Daddy that took the top off his right ear. With bloodshed on the pitcher’s mound, we all decided the game was over and we took Daddy home.

Later, my brother played baseball for the 13-15 year-old set and our colors were green and white. We were the Hatch’s Packers and Daddy was the coach, apparently a safer position than umpire or practice pitcher. Our sponsor was Hatch’s Packing Company, south of town, now famous for chili. But in our house, Hatch’s was famous for “poison meat,” which in the family patois meant filet mignon. Part of Hatch’s generous sponsorship was a steady supply of steaks. We had filet mignon so many times the two years we had the team that we actually grew tired of it. I am still not sure how that happened.

I was allowed to sit in the dugout and keep the scorebook sometimes, which meant I was surrounded by some of my town’s most eligible young swains. This of course was my ulterior motive, but I also loved baseball. I created a Charles Schulz Peanuts-like cartoon portrait of the team, complete with our diminutive first baseman depicted as a ball cap, a thatch of blond hair and big sneakers. Mom came to the games but sat in her car on the third base line so she could honk the car horn when our team made a good play.

Truth be told, Mom had her own “girlhood” crush in later years and naturally it would be a baseball player. None other than George Brett had caught her eye. I assessed her choice and found it pleasing. “Now, that,” she would nod at the television, “is a man.” Mmm, mmm, yes, indeedy!

Out on my own and living in Illinois, I took advantage of opportunities to see the St Louis Cardinals play and also the Chicago Cubs. My home was about the same distance to each city. I treated my brother to a Cardinals game where we watched Ozzie Smith doing back flips in the outfield in the sweltering heat. I determined that I loved the Cubs for Wrigley Field, a civilized and intimate ballpark, where on a summer’s day the only cool breeze in the entire state of Illinois blew in from Lake Michigan, worth the price of admission. I loved the Cubs because of Ryne Sandberg’s long, long legs and Mark Grace’s consistent bat. And I loved the Cubs because they just couldn’t win. It was a test of character to be a Cubs fan. I passed.

I think that embodied what I love about baseball, that people love it for love of the game, for its nobility, manners, statistics, fans, legends, striving, anguish, loyalty and joy. As in the 5 of Wands, competition is not an ugly word but the embodiment of zest for life, of testing progress, agility, energy and endurance. It is the striving for that personal best and the enjoyment of watching your favorites do the same. It is the handshake for both the winners and losers at the end of a game. It is the reverence for both the Star Spangled Banner and Take Me Out to the Ball Game. It is wearing a glove in the stands. It is the favorite ball cap covered with years of Opening Day at the Ballpark pins. It is the hint of the fable my husband told his nephews when they were small, that he had been called in to pitch the last pitch of the last game by Vida Blue himself, and won; sadly, this “fact” had been omitted in the record books. It is standing with our friend William and his teenage son both of whom have attended Giants Opening Day games since his son was an infant.

And even if the score was Cubs 8 Giants 6, what a game! What a game! How dreadful that Lincecum had a bad night! Did you see that play Aubrey Huff made? Did you watch how Pat Burrell while at bat helped coach the runner on third with gestures a father might give to a son, teaching, coaching, and encouraging? Did you see that last hit from Sandoval? Come on, guys! There’s still a chance at the Wild Card!

Yup, I’ve always loved baseball. Go Giants!

Best wishes.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Sane Children

This would not have happened to me. I mean having sane children. If I had had my own children, they would have been talkers, for certain, but talk therapy doesn’t cover all problems in psychology. We’re just lucky that we get to spend time with our friends’ children to show us what sane children can be like.

Sure, we’ve seen examples of the other kind, the tantrum pitchers, the “listen reasonably to everything you say with at least feigned interest, then land in jail for some form of teenage stupidity” kids, the Defiant Ones. But it’s clear that those aren’t the only children out there.

After all, I wasn’t immune to bad judgment as a teenager. For instance, I wasn’t supposed to ride on the back of my beau’s motorcycle when I was in high school. He had an older motorcycle, a Benelli, with a very hot exhaust pipe on the left side. Every time I made my dismount from the forbidden Road Monster, I burned a 2-inch section of the inside of my calf on that exhaust pipe. Talk about stupid. My mom could tell every time I’d disobeyed her, just from the number of burns on my leg. I was lucky the only thing that happened from that lapse of judgment was the burned leg and burning ears.

And I was one of the Defiant Ones, too. I estimated that my mother and I had just the one fight, but it last from my age 15 to age 23. The topic was, “Who is boss?” I think I won. I think. It wasn’t that I thought I was always right. No, that came later. It’s that I thought I probably wasn’t always wrong, given the odds. A stopped clock is right twice a day, as they say. But it’s a hard process, growing up and learning who you are, how you are different from the rest of your family and how you are alike. It’s hard on everyone. Even as a teenager, I knew that the successful parent was one who had done their job well enough that the offspring could manage on their own, someday. I recall explaining this patiently to my mother during one of the age 15-23 moments. Logic, it seems, doesn’t always win points in an argument. Sheesh. They teach you to speak reasonably like an adult, then go bonkers when you do it. What’s that about?

Not that all of my defiance was the reasonable adult kind or even the accidental burn from the motorcycle kind. Nothing of the sort. I did my share of crawling out the bedroom window to sneak off with my friends to an after-hours Annie Green Springs party out at one of the dry lakes near my small town in New Mexico. I seldom actually drank any of the offerings at these parties. I just wanted to be out and about, under the vast sky full of stars, watching my friends learn how to be cool to the music of my time. And mostly I wanted to be away from my mother’s terrible unhappiness for a little while. I always came home. But it was utterly stupid.

Now when I get a chance to be with sane children, I jump at it. So, when our friends, the pleasant attorney and his darling wife the accountant, asked if we could take their two younger boys, Will and Grant, for the day, we of course said yes. After the initial amazement in how tall Will is now, taller than I am, and how many big teeth Grant has now, we started out with a brief inventory of cats, followed by an instructional moment with the Mahjong Solitaire matching tiles and watching dragons disappear in flame and smoke. Then our day really got going.

Miniature golf was first on the menu. We didn’t get very far into the arcade when we discovered my all-time favorite arcade game Skee-Ball available. Grant and I Skee-Balled for quite a while and John and Will air-hockeyed. We bundled up our winning tickets and stuffed them away, bought some soft drinks and went out to the golf course.

I don’t mean to brag, but I am the best person to play miniature golf with, mainly because I can make your score look fantastic. I need a designated putter. Getting onto the green is my forte. I can just about always whack that ball down the middle just as the flap door on the castle is opening but once it’s on the green, I can turn a birdie into mini-golf roadkill. “C’mon, Aunt Marcia! Say 8 strokes and let’s go to the next hole!” What a sane suggestion!

Still, being awful at something doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. My favorite miniature golf moment is actually a scene from the TV Comedy Dharma & Greg where Dharma impersonates Gigantica standing over the Eiffel Tower booming down to the terrified Parisians, “People of France!” Dharma is tall but even short people like me can boom, “People of the Netherlands! Do not be afraid! Your windmill is mine!” Will had the best score, followed closely by Grant. I was dead last. But it was fun.

After some more arcade stuff where I got to rest in a racecar seat watching the boys annihilate rock monsters in a vaguely Mario-esque jungle scene, we finished up with more Skee-Ball, turned in all our tickets for whistles, candy and one purple rubber ball for me. Despite my husband’s protests, we stopped at the McDonalds for some “hamburgers” of dubious vintage, then headed for the country.

Will and Grant live in the city. Actually, they live in The City, known as San Francisco or SF but never Frisco. So country life is sometimes as foreign to them as the moon. I set the rules, being the designated naturalist, the representative of the female ilk and the Mom Substitute.

“First one to see a rattlesnake wins!” I didn’t expect we would actually see a rattlesnake. I’ve lived in California 20 years now and I have seen fewer than five. And I’ve been looking, not too closely of course, but looking. I wanted to go to Lake Solano. The last time my husband and I were there, we saw a rattlesnake. These are boys, after all, so crawly stuff like snakes should be the right thing. Snips, snails, puppy-dog tails and all that. And what do you know? We weren’t a few miles toward Lake Barryessa and what does John spy in the road, comfortably dead but still recognizable, but a big fat diamondback rattler. To verify our find, we turned around and drove past it two more times. Yup, a rattler, and really dead. Did Grant want to take a picture? No.

We stopped at the hydroelectric dam near the lake and Grant did take pictures there. John pointed out the buzzards which were promptly named for members of the family. We moved on to the Lake Solano park where we finally got rid of that old loaf of bread much to the delight of at least six Canada geese and one Ms. Mallard. I checked the ladies room to see if the bat I had found there last spring was still about; sadly, no, only a cockroach. Eeewww. We found a good length of string, figured out how to cut it on the edge of a nearby barbeque firebox, and tied a rock to it to see how far out into the water we could throw it and bring it back in. We watched swallows, listened to woodpeckers and scrub jays and followed a centipede. We told amazing stories in a game where each person followed with his own segment of the story using the format, “Someone [did something] somewhere.” Someone named Hillbilly Joe got away with stealing chickens, a few cars, escaping police and an irate soccer mom after successfully navigating a traffic jam on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, somewhere. We collapsed into giggles.

After a take-home pizza from Napoli’s, makers of The Best Pizza on Earth (just ask my husband) and a rousing game of Scrabble (no scores, please, to save time and egos), the refreshed attorney and his blushing accountant wife returned to pick up Will and Grant. Our adventure was over and the big and little Knights of Wands, having pursued vitality and imagination all day, gratefully returned to their bunks.

How nice to spend the day with sane children. May you have the opportunity to do the same.

Best wishes.

Monday, August 2, 2010

For Life

What are you doing next weekend? I’m going to walk around a high school track, something I haven’t done since I was in high school. I have to get up pretty early in the morning to do it too, have to be there before 8 am. This is almost unheard of for me, the early rising thing on the weekend. But I have a lot of reasons to do it.

My friend Nancy is participating at the Relay for Life in our town. She’s going to walk. She’s going to have a booth with fundraiser items to help with the cause. The cause? Finding cures for cancer. It’s a big goal.

If your family hasn’t been touched by cancer, I would be really surprised. It’s not just one disease. There are many types like lung cancer or skin cancer, and even within those types many subtypes. Some of them respond well to treatment, some of them not so well so far. The chances of prolonged survival are much, much better than they used to be. But there is still so much to learn, so much to do.

My doctor’s office just called me this morning and scheduled me for a mammogram. Yes, I hate them. Having parts of me so sensitive, so near and dear to my heart, squashed flat enough to get a good low-level x-ray to detect something going wrong at its earliest stages doesn’t feel good. Shut your finger in the car door some time and have someone ask you to be still while they take your picture. It’s a good thing they don’t ask me to smile, too. But I appreciate the value of early detection.

You see, my mom died of breast cancer. So did her mom. Her sister didn’t. I don’t have any sisters from my mother’s side; my sisters are half-sisters from my father’s side. So I don’t have a lot of personal family anecdotal information to go on. But in the generation above me, 50% is a frightening number.

Recently on Facebook, some cyber-taggers were posting rude comments on the The Breast Cancer Site’s page. It made me sad. I wasn’t moved to call the brats names like some did. But it did move me to post my feelings, “My mom died of breast cancer. I really miss her a lot. There are days I want to pick up the phone and tell her how my day went or ask her if she liked a TV show I saw. Her mother died of the same thing. I've lived most of my life now wondering if I would die from this too. I make jokes about a lot of things, but not this. If you think you would miss your mom if she died, please try to help find a cure.”

I remember when a special genetic testing study was advertising for volunteers years ago. I was excited about this and thought long and hard about the implications of knowing a tendency v. not knowing. The study was being conducted locally by a group led by one of the big name researchers, so I called them. I explained the similarities in the progress of my mother’s disease compared to her mother’s, a strong correlation. The research assistant was excited and thought I would be a great candidate for their study. “All you need,” she explained, “is a genetic sample like a swab from you and one from your mother.”

I was speechless for a moment. “Mom died in 1983,” I said. Suddenly, I was no longer a lab rat to the research assistant. See, the problem with this cancer stuff is that it can play for keeps. So, I didn’t qualify for the study and I didn’t get genetic testing.

I didn’t have long to wait for an answer for my own experience with cancer. A little over 10 years ago, I started having some strange problems, problems like I had never had before. I figured I was peri-menopausal, disappointing because my husband and I were hoping for a last-minute baby of our own. But the symptoms got weirder, including something like an allergic reaction or anaphylaxis. I went to the doctor, went through some tests, some painful, and they concluded that I needed surgery, even if it wasn’t cancer. 90% chance it’s not cancer even before the tests, they had said anyway. My medical professionals are pretty thorough. They tested for cancer several times, even while I was on the operating table. Whew, good news, they said. But the last test, the test after surgery for a thorough look through what they removed was different. I got a call the day before Christmas, uterine cancer.

Good news, it was very, very early and with surgery is a nearly 100% cure. Bad news, they did the wrong surgery. I was utterly terrified. If they had known at the time, they would have taken more parts out, just to be sure. Now I had to decide whether to go in for more surgery, a decision I had to make during some of the most painful post-operative moments, or gamble with my life that they had gotten everything. More than ten years later, it appears my gamble paid off. They say I’m cured.

That doesn’t mean I’m off the hook for the rest of my life. The fact that somewhere, somehow some part of me started creating cells at a runaway pace, the basic definition of cancer, means that I really need to watch my immune system. It means it could happen somewhere else in my body again. As my doctor put it, I’ve been on the bad side of good odds at least once before. It happens. So I get all the flu shots and take other precautions. But the simple fact is that cancer isn’t just one thing. Paying attention to one aspect of your health isn’t going to guarantee anything. But paying attention helps because catching it early helps a lot. That’s just one of the reasons I think everyone should have access to good medical care.

Of course, it’s not just me. My nephew is a survivor. My brother-in-law is recovering from difficult treatment, still learning to swallow again. My sister-in-law just got a prosthesis after her mastectomy and looks fabulous, dahling! I loved seeing our friend Karen again recently who’s not just surviving but going on a quilting cruise. The gentle giant Tui who painted our house is getting his color back nicely now even though he may never sing the same as he used to in our church’s Tongan choir. Our dear friend Gerry’s best friend since grade school is a survivor too. Sister Adele is still in charge of facilities and is still She Who Must Be Obeyed, in a good-natured way.

I miss my step-mom who was gone in a flash to lung cancer, never a cigarette in her life.  I miss my co-worker Libby who, after surgery and radiation, whipped her wig off in a business meeting as a gag, to the shock and delight of the participants. I miss Pam with her long legs and long hair and dry, dry wit helping us all get through the worst possible technology projects with a laugh. I miss our family friend Christine who inspired other women to live as much as you can as long as you can and have tea, too. I miss “Enterprise” John, the irreverent rugby player who received a bone marrow transplant but could not beat the dragon in the end. There are too many more. And I miss Mom.

So when Nancy asked me to help her with her computer set up for Relay for Life, I was happy to. It was something small. And when she said, “Well, you’re coming out there on August 7, aren’t you?” I had to say yes to that, too. It only makes sense. I realize that I represent hope to people who are afraid because I beat it, at least so far. That’s important for people to know.

Get in touch with your own Ace of Cups. Your contributions do help. Your efforts do help. Volunteer. Donate. Click for free mammograms for women who don’t have adequate health care. Be a triathlete in Team-in-Training to raise money for The Leukemia-Lymphoma Society. Get tested for Be the Match bone marrow registry. Pay attention to your own health: Know the signs. Be a pal to someone who is going through their fight. You’ll know the right thing to do. It’s for life.

See you at the track.


Nancy’s Relay for Life Donation Site: http://main.acsevents.org/site/TR/RelayForLife/RFLFY10CA?px=17231769&pg=personal&fr_id=20592&fl=en_US&s_tafld=410281

Click for Free Mammograms: http://www.thebreastcancersite.com/clickToGive/home.faces?siteId=2&ThirdPartyClicks=ERB_080210_BCS

Team-in-Training: http://www.teamintraining.org/

Be The Match: http://www.marrow.org/

Want more ideas on how you can help? Visit The American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/

Best wishes!