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?”


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
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

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.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Let me say this to begin: Even genius must put its pants on one leg at a time.

A recent disagreement between members of a group studying a particular area of interest that we all share got me thinking. Like many disagreements, at least one source of this conflict was communication.

People communicate differently.

Profound, huh? I have college degrees and years of training and work experience behind that little gem. I happen to think that you probably don’t need all that schooling and experience to come to that conclusion. I think you just need a little time with other people.

It’s pretty clear that not everyone agrees with me.

I learned a very strange lesson when I was still young. I was seeking feedback from co-workers on self-improvement after having received a mysteriously-worded performance review.

I had been called a snob. In writing. In an annual performance review. I was stunned, bowled over, dismayed at the long-lasting effects those words would have on my career at that company. And I was completely in the dark. I did not get it.

I had worked so hard to be professional. I wore suits. I called people “sir” and “ma’am”. I tried to do the very best job that I could. I had lost weight, cut my Alice-in-Wonderland hair off to a more businesslike shoulder-length and wore sensible heels. I never took my jacket off. I was Barbie Doll Secretary on roller-skates.

My reward was to be called a snob by my boss. What is it that made him think that I was that way? I was to ask my co-workers. I did. Most of them laughed and shook their heads. They didn’t know.

Finally Marty, in between laughs, quiet laughs because she was a quiet person, suggested that maybe I used too many big words.

I was a scared kid in a city all alone. I had taken a chance and moved there for work to improve my life. I had been ashamed of my nearly-useless college degree in English at the headquarters of a telephone company only to find out that I was one of the few people in the building who had been to college at all. My attempt to live up to my own professional standards had backfired miserably.

As an Irish co-worker so comically put it years later, I was seen to have “ideas about myself.” My respect for others and myself translated to academic and intellectual snobbery. I was crushed.

Intellectual snobbery was the opposite of my intent. I wanted to be the more modern version of Jeeves. I wanted to quietly keep everything going in the background so my boss could succeed. I wanted to be a Secret Weapon for doing good things. And apparently I had succeeded just about half-way, the wrong half.

Years earlier, Mom had told me the results of my I.Q. test. It was a cool number and I was pleased with it but it was, after all, just a stupid test. My mother had wanted me to understand why things were easy for me and perhaps not so easy for my friends. Instinctively, I knew that it was just one measure of human performance. It didn’t tell how nice you were.

Over time, though, it became clear I was that child. I read the dictionary for fun. I exhibited other behaviors that would probably make the list of How to Tell If Your Kid Is a Nerd. I learned other people felt bad when I was happy about making a good grade on my test. I hated the thought that I might make them feel bad. I tried to help my friends with schoolwork. I realized I liked school a lot more than other kids did.

I loved dictionaries that told what the origin of a word was, Greek, Latin, French, Old English. I wanted to know where words and ideas came from, how they had changed over time, how regional differences changed language, how it evolved. In junior high, my favorite class was geometry. In high school, my favorite class was a segment on the history of the English language. I wanted to understand language in its context, in its usefulness to its speakers. I wanted to solve the puzzle of communication. So I majored in English in college. I had wanted to major in linguistics but English linguistics; my university had no such degree offering. I majored in literature with the certain knowledge that my degree qualified me to teach or go back for more college.

I wanted to be in the “real” world.

The real world landed me at the telephone company headquarters during the time when the telephone industry was de-centralizing. Somehow I survived that, reviled by my co-workers because I had one college degree, cringing when they mentioned it. I never talked about it but they couldn’t stop talking about it. I wasn’t like them. I used “big words.” In my effort to be more precise, I was completely misunderstood. I had mistakenly thought I was out of grade school and junior high school; work was just another hallway of lockers and cliques.
I reminded myself that this is the world I wanted. I could have stayed in the world of academia and wallowed in big words, reveled in them, tossed them about like confetti, shot them out of the bazookas of the publish-or-perish rules of that world. But I knew that world wasn’t for me. I needed a more difficult job, one in the “real world” where even the simplest statement can be misunderstood because of assumptions, context and emotion.

The Tower in Tarot can represent the world of assumptions crumbling under the effect of sudden change, breaking the structure and its occupants into simpler components. Analysis can be said to be a kind of Tower activity, the process of breaking things apart. It sounds so destructive, especially if you don’t have a plan for what happens next. It represents an inevitability of the instability of false assumptions. Things break down.

Ideas and problems can be broken down, too. I knew my work was Tower energy. Instead of staying in the Tower of academia and piling big word upon big word to build distance between myself and the ground of reality, I chose to work to make things more easily understood. Pick up a brick and then another. And make sense of the puzzles. It’s kept me busy all this time.

Best wishes.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Dust Bowls

I watched the first installment of Ken Burns’ The Dust Bowl on television. My eyes started to itch with grit, remembering my years in eastern New Mexico. It wasn’t in the Dust Bowl time, of course, but I remember the sand and the wind, the unrelenting wind.

One of my closest friends in high school told me recently that my descriptions of The Land of Enchantment are a bit less than enchanting. One might think I was negative about the place.

To my eyes, it was a flat and featureless place, plagued by dust storms and tumbleweed. It was dry. Of course, the contrast in my experience was lush and flowery Florida where little thunderstorms could happen daily and hurricanes were not uncommon, where the water table was about one foot below the surface in our back yard and alligators were in the lake around the corner. It was like going from the washer to the dryer, so I couldn’t help noticing.

I tried to love it, but the Llano Estacado is that impossible relationship. No matter how hard I searched for the thing to love there, it was hard. It did not love back.
“The greenest it ever gets here is brown,” I would say, perfecting my disappointment. The state park nearby was a group of sand dunes. One of the kids’ hangouts was a dry lake, a place that must have had water in it sometime. It was either that, or the real dust bowl winds had taken every bit of topsoil away decades earlier to expose caliche, the chalky natural hard layer of limestone that was the barrier to deep layers below which tantalizingly sometimes held water.

The Dust Bowl series on PBS shows the effect of the combination of climate change and poor agricultural practices. It’s hard to blame anyone for what I grew used to there. I marveled how farmers tried to grow cotton, sorghum and peanuts there. The sand was coarse and reddish-brown. Dried cotton bowls are hard and sharp, a thistle relative. I remembered how people picked cotton by hand in the South and thought of all the cuts, scrapes and scratches. Cotton bowl cuts not only hurt, they itch, too. I did not wander too far into the cotton field behind my subdivision. Under the shifting scratching sand in the field lay hidden cotton stems and bowls waiting for unsuspecting and tender toes. Only “horned toads,” actually lizards like little dragons without wings, scuttled among the sharp stems. They were endangered by the time I arrived there but just considered “hard to find” and “not as many as there used to be.”

My parents bought my Mom a new car while we lived there. It was an Oldsmobile station wagon, one of the first with electric locks and other electric gadgetry, which, as far as I recall, never quite worked right. The windshield wipers turned on when you hit the bright lights. Its most memorable feature at the time, in my mother’s eyes, was the color.

“It’s the color of dirt,” she despaired, “just like everything here.”

Dealing with my mother’s depression was an added feature of getting used to our high plains experience. To be fair, my mother had been depressed while we lived in Florida. It’s just that Florida had so many natural escapes, like flowers and lizards and birds. We watched moon rockets launch from our front yard.
There was no escape. The constant reminder of the color of the sand, indoors and out, the ceaseless wind swept the finest grains into the house, no matter how tightly closed. It felt like the very sunbeams were turned to weapons focused by a magnifying glass.

The 5 of Cups in Tarot speaks of loss and sorrow, of focusing on what was gone, what was wrong, even though there may be some things going right. The loss has overwhelmed the remaining good. What were cups of plenty had tipped over, spilled and quickly dried perhaps without even leaving a stain.

Of course, I was getting older, too. I couldn’t escape my mother’s unhappiness partly because I now started focusing on analyzing relationships of all kinds. I no longer played with toys. The walls of my room were always in danger of closing in. I couldn’t stay there. It was the place where my stuff was, but only that. I started putting banana stickers on the inside of my bedroom door, like some kind of advent calendar counting down in banana math the days until my release. I was in sixth grade, then seventh.

It snowed, oh, marvel! It was snow that would not stick together to make a snowman, not deep enough to make a snow fort.

“It’s dry snow,” those who had come there before me explained. I had heard of dry ice; that was the stuff my father would buy on occasion that never actually melted, just turned into fog. Instead of snowflakes, the dry snow was made of tiny frosty balls with a grain of dust at the center of each. It melted into mud which quickly dried and blew away. Was dry snow just more dust disguised with an unlovely coating of frost? There were no snowflakes in mandalas, only snow balls, dry snow.

I could tell the change of seasons there. One day, without warning, the wind, which blew cold in the winter and went through my brown corduroy and plastic patch coat, blew momentarily warm, then hot. Where were the blooms? Where were the birds? Where was spring? Not even the cactus bloomed. The brown grass became almost green, and then dried with the heat of summer.

I prayed for a bicycle to take me away from home. Then I prayed for a car to take me away from town. My friends were kids who had lived somewhere else, anywhere else, who knew that there was more out there. I prayed for a house that didn’t have little sand dunes on every window sill. I prayed a lot. And I added more banana stickers.

We moved to a nicer house, one built with a deeper understanding of its setting. There were no windows on the west side, so no sand-blasted window panes. Some green grass actually grew in the back yard, grass and two cherry trees. There were still sand storms and dust devils. There were giant beetles that hopped in the lights of the parking lot in front of the hospital across the street, strange antlered creatures delighting my cat.

On a Thanksgiving Day, it was unseasonably comfortable, strangely pleasant. We had been there for years by then, grown used to the despair and anger and disappointment. I had established a pattern of coming home late after my curfew when out of my friends. The year before, we had grabbed friends who were eating TV dinners out of aluminum trays, who were in the doghouse with their parents or who were just wandering around and made a “family” Thanksgiving.

This year, we could not muster much in the way of dinner, family or thanks. But it had been a quiet day, a day when the setting sun warmed the concrete drive and the brick veneer. I had the world to myself for a little while.

I sat on the driveway facing west. By then in high school, I was oddly unconcerned with what someone might think should they see me there. No sand blew into my teeth or my eyes. The wind did not freeze-dry me. The ever-present dust instead made a glorious show in the sunset in gold, bronze, rooster-red and purples.

I was suddenly happy to be there, to be anywhere that day. After the tears and anger, the defiance and sullen silences, the resentments and the constant urge to chew my own foot off to get out of the trap that was this place I had not chosen, I gave Thanks. I was filled for the first time in years with a sense of peace. I had stayed long enough to find the beauty. All I had to do was look up.

Best wishes.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Release Teamwork

Something was missing.

I looked up from my umpteenth yo-yo of the morning and away from the two-hour season opener of Burn Notice. My work Blackberry wasn’t blinking. Cats were in sunshine. Cats were snoozing in chairs. The dog was having a bit of a scratch.

I looked at my husband who is also working on a project of his own.

“Wasn’t there supposed to be more tea?”

Saturday morning was a study in calculated laziness. We had slept as long as Tony would let us, with his Tigger-like bouncing, all 17 pounds concentrated in impossibly small feet for such a lot of cat.

“Eight-fifteen,” I mumbled.

“Are you late?” John’s voice was muffled by several layers of quilts, blankets, sheets, pillows and one very comfortable cocker spaniel.

“No, it’s not supposed to start again until 11 or so.”

He had already started to zuzz a little, back in the arms of Morpheus for a precious few more minutes. Tony would be happy that I was up and would leave John and the dog alone.

I padded into my office. I had been up past 11 PM the night before working on a software release. My work computer was still turned on, saved at the spots I left it the night before.

When we do a software release, we do it in steps. Some of it happens in the evening, and some of it happens a little later after some other steps have run. It’s pretty typical in my experience which is long.

Some people who work on the business side of software development refuse the late-night hours and weekend work. I never could understand that but then again I spent 20-some years on the technology side of software development. I was used to the “convenience” of being able to work all four days of Thanksgiving weekend uninterrupted by anything longer than a bathroom break to make sure that business users could come to work uninterrupted Monday morning. I missed a lot of Thanksgivings.

I had signed up for that kind of life when I changed careers long ago. Staying up all night to fix little disasters became something normal. Over time, the “leash” to my software systems graduated from pagers buzzing at my waistline to small blinking “smart things” of some kind or another. Many phone calls in the middle of the night were sultry male voices informing me of a scrambled database or a batch job failure, of cryptic error codes and other jargon that sounds like a recipe made from license plate numbers. Nothing personal, except that I was expected to make it all better before someone besides the stagehands in the little drama that is technology notices there’s a problem.

At least software installs are often positive in their intent. The idea is that someone has thought of some improvement and we’re making it happen. To keep things from utter chaos, we put the changes for all the good ideas in together in bunches. Releases become something of a pizza party without the pizza with all of us on the computers, the phones, instant messages and all the magical techhie tools we have at our disposal. The months of document writing, pictures, coding, coordination, meeting, testing, corrections, happy results, horrifying discoveries, scrambling, assembly and making lists and checking them twice, well, all that turns into something like Christmas a few times a year. Sometimes you’re Santa. Sometimes you’re an elf. Sometimes you’re a reindeer. Sometimes you’re the Grinch. Sometimes you’re all of those roles at once.

Then the big night comes and we get together and even with several dry runs, sometimes Tab A doesn’t quite fit into Slot B. Depending on how complicated we all see the issue as, we may try to jiggle a few things that night. We did that last night and got a few things to work a little better than the first try. A few things had to wait until Saturday.

We try to do things in shifts, a lot more casual a schedule than it sounds. By about 11:30 PM Friday night, I knew I had done and seen what I could until the next steps. By the time Tony woke us up Saturday, the few who stuck with it into the night had fixed a few more things. Progress! I could test and verify their fixes worked. I hope the all-nighters were getting some sleep.

The 3 of Pentacles can indicate teamwork, the meeting of different talents and forces to create concrete results, united with a common vision and diverse abilities. We use that energy to create software. Some people are very methodical, thinking firmly inside the box. Some people, like me, have trouble finding the box but have an intuitive sense of where problems may occur, the motives of business users and a sense of the impact of small things on the bigger picture. We are like a 3-legged stool sometimes. Without all of us, the release could not happen. We are all necessary.

The next step was set for 11 AM, so I settled into my big comfy chair to one of my needlework projects. Yo-yos are small circles of gathered material that can be sewn together to create bedspreads, etc. You can find them in flea markets sometimes with their authentic 1930’s and 1940’s flour-sack materials. My project intent is to make a jacket from a big sweatshirt covered in yo-yo’s, mostly blue with a pattern on the back made from other color yo-yo’s. I’ll post a picture when I get it done. The yo-yos are about an inch across, so it will take a while. However, working on a project that is made of a lot of little parts is actually ideal when you’re waiting for your Blackberry to blink at you.

Eleven o’clock came and went and we got a notice that it would be more like 2 PM before we could test the next steps. It’s one of the characteristics of a release weekend. My bosses are nice about it and said they don’t expect us to hang out at the computer every second, but we all know there’s some element of staying close by because the timing isn’t always easy to predict.

So, I like to distract myself with catching up on recorded TV shows. There was a great new mystery from PBS. If John is with me catching up, we watch mysteries instead of the ghost hunting shows. Perfect needlework entertainment!

“Wait!” John said, looking at the space where his mug should be if he had tea. “I got up to go to the bathroom, took the mugs in and … yup,” he called from the kitchen as he retraced his steps, “left them in here.”

The microwave buzzed merrily and dinged. We settled back into our second cups. So many yo-yos to cover a whole jacket, I thought. It will take some time, much longer than the weekend. But the vision of the jacket is there. All the pieces are necessary.

That’s something like our lives, our country and our world, too. It just may not be obvious at the time where everything fits. It’s a good mystery for a Saturday.

Best wishes.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


I’m starting to see Christmas shopping TV commercials, at least those aimed at the shop-early-and-often crowd. I haven’t even gotten over the World Series yet, let alone the elections. I thought Thanksgiving was the next thing on the schedule. But at least one retailer has resurrected an old staple from my early retail therapy days: Layaway.

Layaway is a form of extreme wishing where the retailer takes care of the storage of your intended purchases while you give them money on a payment plan over time that in theory results in your purchases arriving under the tree at just the right time. As I recall, the penalty for missing a payment is that they keep the stuff you wanted and all the money you paid to date.
The ad for this says “free layaway” as if that’s a new feature. Actually, the deal with layaway was that it was always interest free. Only later did stores start adding handling charges and then credit cards became more and more common. But for the new generation of people for whom layaway is a new concept, this probably seems like a good deal.

I can’t blame retailers for wanting to be innovative about increasing their sales during the holiday season. They are in business. There are plenty of people who want to buy gifts for themselves and others. It’s the basic agreement of commerce.

Layaway represents a kind of cautious optimism. It’s based on the belief that you will be employed in some fashion at least through the holiday season, long enough to get your treasures out of the back storeroom. It’s also based on the caution that you would just as soon not pay interest on borrowed money the way you would if you used your credit card. It’s something of the perfect risk for the young shopper who does not already come equipped with a credit card. (I suppress an eye roll here but I know people whose children have their own credit cards.)

I remember my early teenage years in New Mexico with my first independent shopping forays. When I wasn’t babysitting the adorable little girls next door at 50 cents an hour, I would go to my mother’s antique shop downtown. Our town was small, population 8,000 or so if you didn’t count the university. One friend’s mom worked at J. C. Penney; another, at the office supply and stationery shop near the town square.

These early experiences fostered the young shopaholic urges that really start to bloom in the teen years. It used to be that I was an easy mark for penny candy and twelve-and-a-half cent comic books. My 50 cents a week pre-teen allowance could yield 2 comic books and a hoard of penny candy each week. If my brother and I agreed on the comics we bought, it was like getting four comic books a week. He learned to tolerate my Weird Tales and I gained a certain taste for Fighting Forces. It helped that my favorite penny candy was a treat called Kits, chocolate-flavored taffy squares individually wrapped which sold for a set of four for a penny. Do the math, and I could get one hundred pieces of candy and a week’s worth of thrills and chills every week.

This bit of heaven gave way to more grown up tastes. At age 5 or 6, I had fallen deeply—well, deeply for a 5 or 6-year-old—in love with my father’s friend who was an assistant manager at an office supply store in Florida. Tall, dark, handsome and with a seemingly endless supply of colored pencils, crayons, Cray-Pas, watercolors and an assortment of paper, Phil was ideal husband material in my mind. The small inconvenience of his being some 25 years older was a flaw I was willing to overlook. Tragically, Phil married someone else, an adult with presumably more interests in common. At first I was jealous. Then, I shrugged it off as Phil’s loss. He could have gone hunting with my father every weekend and I could draw beautiful pictures for him.

But I never lost my love of office and art supplies.

I was a frequent customer at the office supply store in our tiny town in New Mexico and craved the fine stationery available there, along with the art supplies. I had lots of people to write letters to in Florida, although not Phil. I mean done is done after all.

Almost immediately after indulging my office supply cravings, I discovered the wonderful world of fashion.

I had grown used to being mistaken for a college student by sixth grade. My figure bloomed early, much to my embarrassment. My generous chest dimension, plus my ease at talking with adults just enough but not too much, something I had perfected in my mother’s antique shop over the years, led shopkeepers to ask me constantly what my major was in college.

“Secondary education,” I lied, clear-eyed. It was close after all. I was in junior high. Just because I was a junior high student was a detail of immaterial consequence in casual conversation.

The drugstore held the wonder of makeup and I was hooked. The self as canvas became a new world, although with my uneven completion I speculated the cloth was less like canvas and more like burlap or dotted-Swiss. But makeup seemed to even that out a bit too and gave me a little confidence that I sorely lacked when I looked more like pizza than I wished.

And clothing! Here is where layaway became essential. I was tired of Peter Pan collars, red windbreakers and matching red Keds. I wanted grown-up clothes. A shop called Mode-o’-Day had a great little number that was a warm floral print on black and I was going to make it mine. I would go into the store and try it on again and again, pleased with the effect, short but not too short, a little daring but completely modest. This was more like a college student!

By the time I got it out of hock it did still fit and I was ready to wear it to a dance. I didn’t worry that it wouldn’t hold up under intense activity; I couldn’t dance anyway. While not exactly Goth, since Goth didn’t exist as a look then, I was satisfyingly dark but perhaps even more satisfyingly dressed in something I had picked out, not Mom.

Mom’s reaction to the dress was to be horrified. I had grown used to this being her reaction to just about everything I did then. A few years later I pieced together that it was just any evidence that I was growing up that horrified her. She sought to devalue the dress by calling it cheap and cited her own standard for purchasing clothing.

“Best to have one good sweater than ten cheap ones,” she instructed.

I fought back with my natural hard-headedness. My money, I reasoned, my purchase.

Strangely, she could not argue well enough with that. I had, after all, not used her money to purchase the awful thing. I was thrilled when I wore it the first time. I was crushed when it proved Mom right and fell apart in the wash.

But I had learned to juggle my funds on my own and went on to buy the best Christmas presents for my family ever, whatever they were. They were the best because I had a job, I used my own money and I bought what I wanted to give them. I was becoming financially independent in balancing income and expenses, like the 2 of Pentacles in Tarot.

Next to new kittens and puppies or a guy with access to endless art and office supplies, financial independence became the greatest high of my formative junior high days. I realized that not being dependent on my parents was the most important goal of my future, even if some things fell apart in the wash.

Best wishes!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Home Is Where

The 4 of Wands says the party is at your house. The event is in your yard. You are the hostess. You welcome someone. The number 4 signifies stability; wands are associated with the alchemical element of fire. The stability of fire is the hearth, perhaps the perfect blend of things that seem opposite. When fire is allowed to burn within its useful boundaries, like a fireplace, furnace or oven, it warms and welcomes. The key is managing all of the circumstances to keep the fire stable but still burning.

That applies to a lot of things for me lately.
Just in case you aren’t in touch with the baseball world, there’s been this little annual event called the World Series going on. Now, as an aside, our World Series is just barely international. I’ve always felt just a teensy bit embarrassed at the American tendency to think that we’re the whole world. However, when my team, my San Francisco Giants win the whole thing, including a sweep of four consecutive games once they actually got to the World Series, I overcome my embarrassment quickly.
My guys are funny. They are amazing athletes. They are an ensemble, a constellation. Not to diminish MVP awards, but the thing that characterizes my team is that they worked with each other for a collective stellar performance. It’s a team sport, after all. It’s hard for me to choose a favorite. Posey has Galahad looks. Pence pumps them up with inspirational speeches. Pagan kept catching and hitting and stole a base that granted a lot of people a free taco between 4 and 6 pm last Tuesday. “Panda” Sandoval hit three home runs in one World Series Game. And there was pitching. And catching. And throwing. And hitting. It’s not like the teams they played were pushovers. My guys worked hard. I delighted in Sergio Romo’s jumping-jack happiness and enthusiasm. Did I leave anyone out? I didn’t mean to. They were all terrific.

My only disappointment is that I never saw the monogrammed handkerchief I mailed to “Mad Bum” Madison Bumgarner. May he use it in good health! GO GIANTS!!

We have been glued to Giants baseball television for some time but I did drag myself away last weekend to gather with my friends for our 20th fall gathering. Our first night all those years ago was spent on our hostess’ living room floor the night Polly Klaas was taken from her bedroom. She is always on our minds when we gather, symbolizing the fragility of life.

This time we went back to the fantastic house in Ft. Bragg, California where we stayed last year. We’ve all had a lot going on, so instead of staying up talking all night, we gave it up around 10:30 pm Friday. I left my door open so I could hear the ocean waves. We went to our own little almost-Night Circus, Zoppe Circus, an old-fashioned Italian family circus. The acrobats! The trick ponies! The clowns. Well at least, they were not scary clowns. The trick chickens! It was magic or just close enough.

We laughed because there was a tsunami warning from earthquakes off British Columbia, trying to figure out if the seaweed line was a foot or so higher than the day before. We heard there was a big storm, Hurricane Sandy, about to make landfall. We checked the latest path. It didn’t look good.

I had talked to one of my co-workers the Friday before. He was concerned about his house in New Jersey near the beach. He had lost his house, his whole town he said, with the previous big hurricane.

Monday was eerily quiet at work. Half the people I needed to talk to were hunkered down, bracing against the storm. I reached out to a few of them. A house was creaking. Trees had fallen. People were told to work from home. Then silence.

The next day it was still quiet, but those of us who could work kept things going as well as we could. We stole glimpses of the photo evidence of damage coming in. Atlantic City’s boardwalk. The fire in Queens. The sand, the boats and cars in all the wrong places, houses gone. The Bounty sank. Water poured into the deep hole that is still part of the construction site at the Twin Towers site. Dogs and cats and people scooped out of danger. Manhattan was dark.

Halloween came and I bought my candy to give away. We had executed the perfect pumpkin on the garage door, my husband’s idea. One black plastic garbage bag, a pair of scissors and some blue painter’s tape, and our house had a jack-o’-lantern. We set up the tent, the chairs, the table and the lights. We handed out handfuls of candy and I read cards for the moms and big sisters. We cooed over the ladybugs and shivered at the zombies. The sprinkles became a downpour and suddenly the four posts of our tent became shelter from our little storm, all that and candy too.

Somewhere in the night, the neighborhood stray cat slipped into the garage. We call her “Walternette”, the feminine feline form of TV’s Fringe’s main character’s doppelganger in an alternate universe, “Walternate.” Our furry doppelganger looks a lot my Tony at first glance, a big brown tabby with a pleasant disposition. She stayed there all night, then called up the stairs to us. I padded downstairs to greet her.

“Yeow,” Walternette said with a swish and a purr.

“You’re welcome,” I answered as I let her out, my temporary hospitality having sheltered one more soul from the damp.

More east coast people checked in today. Some had been without power for as little as 36 hours. They think New Jersey will run out of gasoline next week between people needing their cars and running generators. I still haven’t heard from my co-worker. His part of New Jersey looks like some of the hardest hit.

I hope somewhere out there, those whose homes are washed away or burned or buried in sand or out of power or just out of reach can find a welcoming hearth to rest their unsettled lives for a moment.

Our homes seem like the most secure of places and we laugh about what could go wrong when trouble seems so far away. It only takes a wave, a wind, a melting hunk of ice to snatch away that fragile stability of fire. Cherish the hearth as it is too soon gone.

Best wishes.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Strangely Quiet

“Are you sick?”

One of the attorneys at the law office where I worked when I had just graduated from college looked at me with concern and curiosity. I knew his concern was whether I would get his contracts done for a real estate deal he had going.


“But…,” he searched the ceiling tiles in our small, unattractive offices for the root of his question, “But, you, you, you aren’t TALKING.”

Clearly, this upset him. Some people have trouble accepting changes, even if they are temporary.

I smiled.

“No,” I said, and resumed my work.

“OK. You’re mad at me.” He leaned against the door frame and frowned. “Right?”

“Nope, I’m fine.”

Now he would not let go. “Something is wrong. You aren’t talking.”

“Jimmy, I know this is going to surprise you, but sometimes I go for minutes, even hours at a stretch without saying a word.”

Jimmy shook his head in disbelief. He was still pretty sure I had to be getting a cold or something.

That’s the trouble with stereotyping, of course. You think you’ve got someone pegged, classified as a known quantity, and then they do something outside the usual pattern. Jimmy was right in a way of course.

I am an extravert, no, an EXTRAvert. I talk. I talk in my sleep.

Heck, I sing, laugh and run in my sleep, all without leaving the bed. I fight demons, explore locked rooms, chat with Mom in her antique shop in heaven, argue with Dad, look for my cats and dog, discover I’ve missed a final exam, brave tornadoes, drive cars and buy houses in my sleep. I even fly in my sleep, or at least in my dreams. And all the while I talk about it.

So quiet time in the land of Chatty Cathy seems like an odd thing to the outside observer. But sometimes, I go for hours at a stretch in silence.

I don’t know how introverts do it, exactly, so I would be glad for comments by you folks who get fired up from within. See, when I’m thinking, it’s usually pretty verbal even then even if my mouth isn’t going. It’s true that there’s another set of processes that go on for me mentally. They are more visual than verbal, with puzzle pieces that may also be sounds or smells or textures or even tastes. I always wonder if it is this puzzle-world that is the realm of the introvert but I’ve never been brave enough to ask before today.

Do introverts have a running conversation with themselves—or others—in their heads before they speak to me? I know they are said to have worked through all their possibilities about a thing before coming to a conclusion, then stating their well-considered opinion. Extraverts, on the other hand, are considered to speak more off-the-cuff, with every statement being an experiment to be shared with others, perhaps molded by feedback, depending on the speaker's other traits. Extraverts bounce ideas off others. This is not to say that we think people are like handball courts, scuffed with marks of our previous conversations. But we are those people who will come to friends with a question, keep talking and arrive at the answer, sometimes without actually getting the friends' input.

Sorry for the rude part, there. The act of putting it into words so that you would understand it organizes it for us too, often so clearly that the answer is right there, waiting to be said and heard at the same moment. Shake your head and laugh at me. It’s OK. I do have a sense of humor about it.

They say introverts are smarter. I say, perhaps. As I have mentioned before, never make the mistake of thinking that what an extravert says is the only thing they are thinking. It’s just the thing they are thinking out loud. Depending on the person, there might be several tracks running in there.

Are we extraverts poor listeners? It would certainly seem so, especially to the trapped introvert, cornered by conversation so much that if they determined to say something, they feel certain it would be lost in the hurricane of discussion issuing from their chat-buddy. Strangely, though, some of us actually listen while we’re talking, take in body language, other conversations nearby. We entertain the possibility of purchasing a pair of red shoes inspired by a momentary stranger. In our defense, the act of sharing our thoughts aloud with you is an offer to exchange toys, for so often that’s what our thoughts are.

Having an introvert sigh, but never exactly get the chance to say, “That wasn’t very well thought out and if you’d just clam up for a moment you would see that I’m right about that,” really gets interpreted as rejection of the offer to play. We hear or see the sigh or the eyeroll and understand that we’ve hit the wrong note again. Sorry about that.

As much as I do talk, I really do want to know what other people think. What’s it like in there, all alone? Come out and play with an idea with me. I do listen. Why, sometimes I’m strangely quiet.

Today, the power company came to perform some special maintenance on something in the neighborhood. They had sent a letter saying they might, saying the outage would last all day possibly, but not saying exactly when it would be. Today was that day. Just after 9 a.m. everything went quiet.

The lights went out. The Hubs’ radio was silent. The printer squeaked and sighed and stopped. The laptops I work on dimmed and indicated they were now working from battery. The telephone lost its display. The internet hub no longer brought the hubbub of the outside world.

Only the sound of the gate next door slamming against the fence as someone walked through it, scattering the finches from the feeder and the voices of men in the street, not loud but at a working level filled the world for a moment.

Tony woke up from his cat snooze on the desk, moved over to me to sit in front of me while he looked out the window at the new reality of noise from outside only, just a few sounds. There was no white noise of the indoor world. Quincy woke up from his long doggy dreams and hopped down from his spot, wagging his tail. It must be time to go outside. I let him out.

What a lovely quiet it was! I said nothing. I pet Pixie who has only a brief tolerance for my attention, once, twice, three times. That was her limit. But being quiet, she sniffed my hand one more time, and being quiet, I let her. I had to find out how long my little silence would last, so asked the workers how long the outage would be.

Maybe two hours, came the answer. Two hours! I emailed my supervisor to let him know that I would work a little longer in the evening because of the outage. I grabbed my copy of A Wicked Pack of Cards, the Origins of the Occult Tarot by Decker, DePaulis and Dummett. I began to read the introduction, keeping an eye on my work Blackberry for questions I could answer off the top of my head. And I had questions, even from the introduction and noted to myself that I must follow up with my learned friends to find out. Was there ever a second book as planned?

I remembered suddenly one of my dreams last week where I met with none other than Kit Marlowe, Elizabethan poet, dramatist and spy, said to have been killed in a barroom brawl in Deptford. But was he? Kit is the Knight of Wands in Kat Black’s Touchstone Tarot, sociable, talkative, varied in interests, never seated long nor staying. In my dream, he smiled a wonderful smile and embraced me and together we enjoyed the silence of dreams and played with an idea.

Best wishes.

I have a new Lenormand deck called the Off-Center Lenormand! Created in partnership with Tarot Garden, it is for sale exclusively through their website. Click on the link and get your copy:

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

That Kind of Girl

I have never been much of a dancer. As a child, I attended the  Ebsen School of Dance in Orlando. Buddy Ebsen, perhaps best known as Jed Clampett, the head of the clan in The Beverly Hillbillies, and as the title character in Barnaby Jones, was a dancer from his earliest performing days and learned to dance in his father’s dance studio in Orlando. If any studio knew how to teach children to dance, this was the place.

At the beginning of my second year in beginning tap dancing, the teachers spoke with my mother, explaining that I was likely to do well in art classes.

Unlike Buddy, my feet seems curiously disconnected from my brain. For one thing, they didn’t do the same things every time. The girls teaching the tap dancing class were serious about their work and they knew how to weed out those without talent.

I was relieved. After all, the best thing about my classes was the wardrobe. I didn’t have to dance to wear the clothes. My mother was a little disappointed that her little cupcake was not excellent in everything she did. But I was the first to tell her that putting my straight hair into curls was not going to make me Shirley Temple.

How could I not be fabulous at dancing? Mom and Dad loved to dance. Daddy worked at teaching me to waltz by having me stand on his feet. I missed the point entirely just enjoying the attention, never being able to have my feet count to three reliably in rhythm.

“You have high arches, like a dancer, like me,” Mom told me. High arches do not a dancer make. Something much more magical must happen between brain and feet besides bone structure, something that eluded me entirely. Somewhere between my brain and my feet, there’s some blocked chakra or something.

Victorian Trade Card Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord
 Only mildly disappointed by my “disability,” I began to be curious about the nature of intelligence. After all, some people are utter naturals at dancing, music, mathematics, languages, amazingly good at these things. I had so many things come easily to me that I was almost relieved to be a lousy dancer. Being good in school can make the other kids resentful and angry. I embraced my Inner Klutz. I was good at some things; they were good at some things. We weren’t so different. Hooray! We weren’t so different!

The 2 of Cups in Tarot is the urge to find a common heart, a soul-mate, intimacy and a connection with another person. It’s personal, close, one-on-one. Mathematics lovers can find a common bond over a beautiful equation, as dry as that sounds, because of the capacity of the human heart to love and the urge to appreciate and be appreciated. It can also be what I call the “hot monkey love” card for the mutual passion shared between two people. But the passion doesn’t have to be sexual or romantic. It’s the connection that counts.

Right away I have to clarify that it’s the connection to another person that counts. The fact that my brain doesn’t seem to be connected to my feet doesn’t fall into the realm of the 2 of Cups. Thank goodness. Clumsy is covered by something else. Some 7 of Wands reversed thing, I think.

Fast-forward from the not-so-anguished defeat in dancing school to my Seriously Single days after divorcing my first husband. I was adult. I was employed. I was gloriously svelte, a nanosecond in my life where single digit sizes were my territory. I had just moved to a new city. And I was on the prowl. Think of a kitten getting ready to pounce. Imagine the lack of subtlety, the awkward landings, and the inaccurate aim and place that on a template of dating. But at least I wasn’t looking for anything serious.

I had gone out with a single dad named Bob who had an adorable little girl with blonde hair. When we went out with his daughter in tow, people naturally assumed that the all-blond trio were related. Bob turned out not to be as single as originally advertised and went back to his wife. I was a little relieved not to deal with his should-I-leave-her-or-not drama.

In my new job, my new city, my new apartment, I made new friends, the Lonely Hearts club at my corporate headquarters. The place to go after work was semi-affectionately known as “The Meat Market.” It was a watering hole on the east side of town that served weak drinks, strong hors d’oeuvres and a dance floor with flashing lights and a mirror ball. It was the 80’s.

And I can’t dance a step.

I loved watching the dancers though. I turned down so many chances to dance because of the hell that would ensue once they found out about that feet-brain disconnect. A man in a cravat murmured someone of my sophistication really belonged in New York. I met so many married insurance salesmen, that I completely freaked one guy out when I told him within minutes of talking to him that his father had been a farmer, that he was married and that his daughter was older than his son. I hoped it kept him from at least one one-night-stand or two.

And then, out of the swirling lights and blaring speakers came that rarest of commodities in watering holes in an insurance town: a good-looking, single, straight man. Bill was charming, articulate, and theatrical. He was literate and a clever conversationalist. He begged me to pour my drink on his head and bit his wine glass in half. He would not take no for an answer when it came to dancing and out on the floor, I found myself actually dancing. It was like the Ebsen School of Dance had suddenly gelled into that missing connection with my feet. But it was illusion. Bill was just a good dancer who could lead very, very well.

I wanted to know him better, more than the crazy show at the bar. We went to a football game together with coveted University of Illinois tickets, the kind of day where you’re certain your words have frozen as soon as you speak them. And it was there the cracks began to show.

“Furry little thing, isn’t she?” he nodded at a young girl with an unusual amount of transparent peach fuzz covering her face. Alarms went off. He went on to ask if I wore contacts and explained that he could never go out with someone who wasn’t perfect. More alarms. He had trouble with intimacy, strange things. More alarms.

After a couple of dates, he broke it off. I knew it was a good outcome, but still I was curious. He explained, patiently, rationally, that I was the kind of girl he would bring home to his family.

“Exactly,” I smiled, pleased that he had noticed. I was, after all, that kind of girl.

“That’s not what I’m looking for.”

The pattern of his own dangerous, pathological, controlling behaviors clicked into place. Glad things had not progressed too far, I agreed with him though unhappy at my lack of connection. Sometimes, you just get lucky.

Best wishes.