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.

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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.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

By Blood

No, this isn’t a vampire story! ‘Tis the season for that, of course, but this is a Columbus Day theme marking the wave of immigrants to what has become the United States of America.

One of the things about being from the USA is that there is always more to that story. Very few of us are actually from the USA, at least when you start the Roots Tour. One of the sad phenomena of our time is that there are people who have forgotten their own immigrant (legal or not) roots who somehow think that other immigrants are not worthy to live here. But I promise not to turn this into a political discussion. No politics, no vampires. That’s almost a theme in itself.
The search for our roots is such a hobby, and for some a religious obligation, that entire businesses have sprung up to facilitate this search with software and websites. College programs sponsor efforts to put cemetery records online. We want to connect to our past and the twisting road where that leads us.

This American obsession with our roots apparently becomes occasionally tiresome. When my husband and I were in Scotland, our innkeeper asked why we were visiting. I thought, Why?? Goodness, it’s Scotland, for heavens’ sake. The land of kilted handsome dudes with that dreamy accent, isn’t it? But of course, I wanted to know more than stereotypes; I wanted full-immersion Scotland. What he meant was, Why would we come to that section of Scotland, a place not classically associated with the fantasies of Highland lassies.

“Well, one of the early mentions of my family’s name is a real estate transaction. They sold land to the Kennedy family,” I answered.

“Oh,” my innkeeper sighed, instantly classifying us as Those People, “a Roots Tour.”

I felt vaguely apologetic for bothering people with my personal interest. But it was my vacation then and I was going to soak up all the Scotland I could get. It was a fabulous trip, complete with the Tor House Ring of standing stones and the ghost in the bathroom.

It turns out, through DNA testing, that my Scotland roots are actually Irish. There always is more to that story! Funnier than that, there’s a good possibility that I’m actually related to my husband, if very distantly. But that’s actually what we are looking for in those roots tours, connections and belonging.

If I said I was Irish, however, that would be inaccurate. I’m an American mutt, like so many of us. There’s something in the patchwork quilt of ethnicities that creates an intricate puzzle for the compulsive researcher. I could amuse myself with English Protestant, French Huguenot, Bavarian Catholic, Austrian, Czech and Bohemian Rom threads to chase. I want to know what they thought, what they liked, what they were good at, what they chose and chose to let go of.

I’m fortunate to have transcripts of the diaries of my great-grandfather Henry who went on an adventure to the California Gold Rush, spent a year or two there selling meat to miners rather than panning for gold himself, then went home “to civilization,” leaving at least one brother in California to be part of the mystique of the cattle business and water rights that are part of the heritage of this state.
Henry went on to be Captain of the 111th Ohio Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War. His diaries of his outfit’s travels through the country include descriptions of playing baseball while waiting for their next orders. His diary also proved to be a life-saver in his case. His book of his first two years of the Civil War stopped a bullet; my cousin owns the remnants of this souvenir of the war along with Henry's other original writings.

The most interesting parts of Henry’s writing are those that make him most accessibly human. When the North and South were trading stray shots across a meadow one evening, not actively engaged in battle but more a game of “chicken,” Henry’s observation, after one bullet went through the sleeve of his coat without touching him was that if these boys don’t watch out, they’re going to hurt someone.

As the company clerk and Captain, he ran the election voting for a fair and secret ballot. The election between Lincoln and McClellan in 1864 was more hotly contested than we are aware, since we know the outcome. But at the time, Henry’s comments on the political scene were fascinatingly modern, wondering if either of the two candidates could pull off what they promised, were sincere in their efforts or were even trustworthy since they were, after all, politicians. We think of “old times” as being idealistic and naïve when people were just as skeptical of leadership as we are in today’s election. Who knows? Will one of the people we elect as President become the legend that Lincoln is now?

I like Henry, a man I never met. My father remembered an old man with a long beard and a Scottish “burr” to his voice. He recounted that as a toddler he sat on this formidable and yet comfortable man’s lap, being in awe of him, listening to stories of the Civil War and of Henry’s little brother George who had been imprisoned in Andersonville, survived, had been a passenger on the ill-fated Sultana, survived and had gone on to become a U.S. Marshall.

These stories and others I would never have known if I had not searched for roots.

I’m on vacation this week and decided that some of it should be a bit of a roots chase. The least documented and documentable thread in my fabric is the Bohemian Romany.

The mention of Bohemian, notably without the Rom, at least gave me a season pass to my first husband’s Polish family. I went no further with the description of my many-hued personal fabric without realizing that had I finished with the “Rom” part, I might have been thrown out. In the USA, we romanticize Gypsies as carefree, musical travelers who may fix your pots and pans in exchange for a stop at your farm and perhaps tell your fortune by firelight. Like so many fairy tales, the more difficult parts have been omitted. The Romany people have not been so well-received, in fact.

Victorian Trade Card Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord
In the mid-1800s in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Roma were forbidden by law to marry each other, an earlier “benign” attempt at eliminating them as a people. My great-great-grandmother complied and married a Gadjo (outsider who is not Romani) even though in her culture it meant that she was no longer one of her own people. Their red-haired son, Franz, left Bohemia to come to the fresh start that was America and with his knowledge of farming, his father’s profession, started a grain company in Kansas. I have a tantalizing photograph from the 1870’s taken just before Franz departed the old country, never to return. Records say my great-great-grandmother was Marie but show no last name. Tragically, the Bohemian Romany, speakers of a specific Rom dialect, were all but wiped out in the Holocaust. Thanks to Franz and others like him, vestiges remain. But I have no children and neither does my brother.

I did not grow up with any Rom cultural customs. I laughingly say that my former “unibrow” which has naturally thinned over time to two fairly normal eyebrows could be my only physical characteristic on an otherwise straight-haired blonde and blue-green décor. When I started reading regular playing cards when I was 7 or so spontaneously, my mother simply did not stop me but said it must be my Gypsy heritage.

So, for my vacation, I’m doing a little Gypsy roots tour. With a Tarot buddy, I’m going to seek out a local Roma hangout and have dinner there for people watching and good food. And I am delighted to have found tickets to a Gypsy jazz concert this weekend. Something about the rhythms, the chord progressions, the emotion of that music stirs my blood, inspires me like an Ace of Wands, to seek both roots and connections and move forward to my peculiar, personal and satisfying creativity.
Best wishes!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Chasing the Wheel

One of the versions of the Merlin and King Arthur story is that not only was Merlin a wizard, he lived his life backwards. He started out as an old and wise wizard emerging from the magical hills, advised Uther Pendragon, then taught Uther's young son Arthur, hidden away, how to be the once and future king. At the end of his time, Merlin fell giddily in love with a woman who loved him for what he knew and what he was, but perhaps not who he was. He made a young man’s mistake, chasing after beauty and things on the surface after a lifetime of being a visionary of the depths.

His sense of time was different from the rest of the world and yet his job as spiritual, magical, moral and even athletic coach to young Arthur was to teach the king the importance of seizing a moment in time. Sometimes, like Arthur, we have one chance to do the right thing.

In the legend of Arthur, the once and future king, Arthur dies. Or does he? He is taken to the misty Isle of Avalon apparently mortally wounded. He tried to show the local “kings” that working together was more beneficial than fighting each other. By giving those in local power an equal place at his round table, he indicated to them that he would exercise no positional power over them. By granting them dignity, respect, affirmation, acceptance and their own voices, and by appealing to their sense of honor, he allowed them to believe with him that Right Makes Might.

Yet, also in the legend, old mistakes, however brief or blameless, came back to haunt Arthur. Merlin tried to help, but by then he was in his youthful indiscretion, no longer the wise old wizard who had changed young Arthur to a fish so he could learn to swim or to a bird so that he might fly. The wheel of time had turned and it was a time of change.

Arthur was taken, wounded, to Avalon. Merlin was frozen in a cave. An important theme, no matter which version of the Arthur story you like, is that once there was a time when the imperfect world of human beings actually worked. It worked until it didn’t. Another theme is that Arthur will return. The other thought, although it is seldom mentioned, is that Merlin is likely to return too. Maybe we'll get a second chance.

From the way our world works now, sometimes I think we could both of them. A returning hero with his wise counselor-magician, both cured of their human vulnerabilities, would be a nice change of pace. If only it were so easy.

Dealing with change is never easy. And yet, that wheel is always moving. There are some days when I hate all surprises, even good ones. But the Wheel of Fortune refers to larger changes in our lives, not the little surprises.

The planet Saturn is entering Scorpio again. Saturn’s path goes in 29 year cycles. Think of your birthday each year as your “solar return.” The Sun returns to approximately the spot where it was the day you were born. Of course, this movement is relative and the earth spins and goes around the sun and not the other way around. But in an astrological sense, the sun comes back to you, your spot, each year. Each of the planets—yes, I feel sorry for Pluto because he got demoted—takes its own amount of time to pass through the Zodiac. The Moon moves fastest, then Mercury, etc. Instead of a year, like the Sun, Saturn takes 29 years.

Not to give away too much information for you arithmetically inclined, but I’m approaching my Saturn return. It makes me thoughtful. In my chart, Saturn isn’t particularly a bad thing. It says that older people have been kind to me (true) and while I may not have had as much sponsorship or mentoring as I wanted, it has made me used to living without supervision. Well, being fairly self-reliant has worked for me in many ways, although I clearly admit to loving being spoiled by The Hubs!

When the horoscopes say that I may find myself without some of the support structures I’ve been used to, that’s a characteristic of Saturn in Scorpio. So, in looking at the events in my life that happened when I was born and when I was 29, I try to get an idea what my Saturn return has in store for me.

For instance, I was “accidentally” born at home. I was a couple of weeks early. Dad had flown to California for his Pentagon job, something to do with the Air Force and housing and bases and such. My brother was at the babysitter’s and Mom was alone in our home in the D.C. metro area. Apparently things happened very quickly and in spite of the benefits of civilization and modern medicine, Mom and I had our first mother-daughter do-it-yourself project together. Mom never let Dad forget it either. When I think about it, I’m pretty glad I played the role of the baby in this drama. The other roles were a lot tougher.

“Did you pick me up by my feet and spank me?” I asked, thinking of Butterfly McQueen in Gone With The Wind. No, I did my own little throat-clearing and breathed on my own. So many things could have gone wrong. Better to be lucky than good, The Hubs says.

When I was 29, my mother died. She was 42 when I was born and had lived my entire childhood in terror of dying before I was officially out of the nest. Once I did leave the nest, she was really upset that I had. No, REALLY upset. But since her illness was long and awful, we had had plenty of time to talk, just never enough time. She was in the hospital with no special measures requested and we went to see her. That time, that last moment when we talked, that was like no other. She knew I would be forever unsupervised now and we finally agreed I would probably be OK. I didn’t care about that then. I just wanted to talk to her and have her talk to me. We let each other go.

Now, at my second Saturn return approaching, comically coincidental with the end of the Mayan Calendar, I learned today that my boss was let go. His position was eliminated in that awful “nothing personal” thing companies do when they say thank-you and good-bye. He and I had had a rocky start to our relationship with vastly different approaches to management. He was what many call a micro-manager which so many talented, intelligent workers despise as an insult to all that they are. Saturn is the School of Hard Knocks, the Hard Lesson, Tough Love. When an earlier organizational change had me reporting to him, I took it as an opportunity to learn how to let go of the ego of being a talented, intelligent worker and just concentrate on doing a good job, learning new things, being kind and trying to bring sanity to the workplace. We ended up working well together.

More than the loss of my boss, my vice president made a huge decision to move to a different company so he could spend more time with his family. It’s likely that more changes are coming.

I can bark at this wheel turning, this Wheel of Fortune with its ups and downs, like my first husband’s family dog who chased Volkswagens on their street. BeBe chased until one day she caught one! She rolled around the wheel well while we all screamed in horror. Just that fast she was spat out behind the bug, running around in circles and still barking, completely unhurt. But BeBe never chased cars again.

The wheel of change is going to happen whether I “bark” or not. It’s going to be easier if I adjust quickly, without anger or fear, and adapt to the new circumstances. Of course, it will be just like two Saturns ago. Just take a breath.

Best wishes.