Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Lovecraft’s Just Dessert

At the moment when my proposed literature advisers helped me make an enormous career decision, I wonder if there was an alternate reality, a parallel universe where I would have made H. P. Lovecraft my life’s work. Would I still be tickled by H. P. Lovecraft and his weird stories? Would I still be both amused and sadly empathetic with the odd man from Rhode Island whose marriage had resolved itself with the suggestion that he and his wife continue their relationship by correspondence?

I’ve been listening to the works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft for a few weeks lately, like revisiting letters from an old beau, one that fate in this reality determined would drift away from the intimacy of post-graduate study. I had found him in a treasure-trove of some strange young man’s library gutted, no doubt, by his mother’s final disgust with his hoarding of the outré and merely speculative fiction. I was in junior high, pawing through the wreckage of the many libraries unloaded on the junk man in my small town in New Mexico. I learned to look for anything with the young man’s name written on the inside cover.
Tea Tarot
(c) Copyright 2011 Marcia McCord

I had wondered then if he had died. It was such a huge collection of sci-fi and horror and I could not imagine he had given up his books willingly. The books were cheap and I brought them home in shopping bags, much, I think, to the junkman’s delight. There were, of course, mainstream science fiction, if (I protest) there is such a thing: Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke and delicious Heinlein. And then there were the odder items, Lovecraft.

My luck lay in having been moved, much to howling protest, to eastern New Mexico, a place that was not beautiful nor lush nor friendly to a child whose chief source of amusement at age 11 was to read every book in the compact but fairly well-stocked public library. I had always been a bookworm but the severe cultural and climate differences drove me to bookishness, so much so that even my mother, bookish herself, complained that I did not “go out and play,” whatever that meant. Was she concerned that my skin was pale like a frog’s belly in spite of the unrelenting New Mexico sun? The summer after my sixth grade year I read all the books in the library, just a few blocks from my mother’s antique shop, sometimes reading as many as four books per day. I absorbed whole Dewey Decimal sections including those covering the paranormal and mystical in hopes of explaining my own gelling talent for “fortune telling.”

Then, in the cold weather of junior high I found Lovecraft and the world of science fiction, horror and weird.
My brother and I had long been fans of space movies, Star Trek and “Thee-ater X”. Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone and Night Gallery had been our delight. Occasionally, a story was too frightening but I began to notice that my brother was always first to turn off the scary stuff while I complained that I was still watching. I always lost those arguments, my mother never comfortable with anything that wasn’t based in tangible reality. It seemed natural to me that diving deeper into the genres would happen for both my brother and me; we squabbled over ownership of the complete works of Poe which made its way from one bedroom to another and back again.

Even in grade school he and I discussed the pros and cons of scary stories and television shows. I was not a “monster movie” or “big bug movie” fan. These were popular in my childhood, evidence of the nervousness about the long-term effects of the atomic age. Accidental resizings or rearrangement of parts through misuse of technology struck me as carelessness and not the least bit interesting. Godzilla and Mothra could duke it out elsewhere as far as I was concerned. But the unintended consequences of ego, assumption and curiosity, ah, that was always my interest. Who was to say we, as a species, were so smart? What if, for all our moonwalking and Tang, we didn’t actually know everything there was to know?

I was never anti-technology. No, I was more interested in the story of Icarus, a lesson in anticipating problems and avoiding them and what happens if we do not. I wanted to experiment as my own little inner mad scientist but I wanted to live through the experience too.

What if? It was the next natural question after the ever-present Why?

The message of the World in Tarot is fulfillment, arriving at the answer, resolving all the problems, dancing within your environment, surrounded by the energies and resources and even antipathies of life, dancing in your place, your time. And yet, to have arrived and never moved on to start a new cycle is more death than Death itself. Dance on your laurels but do not rest on them; stagnation is to cease to exist.

Over the years, I have continued to love H. P. and to become sure I am not a character in his stories, certainly not the main character. H. P.’s main character is certainly not the same person all along, but his protagonists have commonalities: they have assumptions about the stability of their world only to have that removed by the discovery of something…else. Often, his heroes protest they were never interested in anything remotely “other”; in fact, they are almost uniformly repulsed and horrified by anything I might consider an adventure. They are quietly racist, xenophobic, clear about what was beautiful and what was bizarre, certain they were advanced and cultured compared to “savages” in their world, only to realize that large, powerful, strange, ancient and indifferent beings from “otherwhere” and “otherwhen” were interested in the noble human for their own need to exploit resources and survive. Lovecraft’s monsters where those who understood dimensions man could not imagine, lived in colors and sounds man could only barely sense. They were wise and old. And man was, in spite of his hubris, young and stupid, a weak victim of a conspiracy beyond his ken.

In spite of Lovecraft’s often laughable overuse of adjectives, almost a lesson in what not to do in current writing style, despite the weight of overwrought veneer of man’s idea of his own civility and cultural achievement, somewhere in between the “big words” and vague descriptions, he gets down to one idea common to us all.

In our lizard brains, we know: There’s scary stuff out there in the dark and it might eat us, considering us as nothing more important than a potato chip. He may not realize he challenges us to ask which is true madness? Is it expecting the indifferent powers to respect and admire human cultural constructs and advancements? Or is it the scientific delight in finding something new without the understanding of future consequences? And for that his work is horror, even in spite of itself.

Ah, Howard. You can miss what you never had after all.

Best wishes!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Tree Is Dead

This is the third and, I hope, final session that the tree removal people will have in taking down the neighbors’ poplar tree. I loved that tree and I mourn its loss. It was tall, provided lots of shade and shelter to birds in the neighborhood. It bloomed in the spring, a tulip poplar, they call it.

It was between my neighbors’ house and the house to the north of them. I liked to look at it through my office windows and other windows on the north side of my house. Blackbirds and crows, finches, tits and the occasional hawk would perch in it. Doves would call from it in the evenings.
Picture Postcard Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

Yes, I have hugged a tree, lots of them. When I had the choice between taking down the live oak in my back yard and taking down the remnants of the summerhouse competing for space, I chose to keep the tree. There is something sacred about a tree that can never be matched, even if the summerhouse had been rebuilt. I would prefer the birds and squirrels, the acorns and the occasional spider.

When I had the chance to go back to my grade school in Orlando, it was a Sunday afternoon so naturally no one was there. No one, that is, but at least one of the trees that had been there when I was a child. Oh, welcome friend! I could not only rub the coquina-rock steps with my hand, a place I had stood and had my picture taken long ago, steps I had run down too swiftly only to halt at the curb, cautioned by the crosswalk guard, then walked purposefully away from to fly like a lark on the tall swings and leap from the highest arc to fly, for a moment, to the sand and grass below. I could not only touch those stone steps but I could also rub the bark of the old trees that shaded my memory palace.

I would hug trees, talk to them, hide my secrets in their branches, build tree houses and tree forts, respite from the weight of the earth below. I would stretch out on a sturdy branch and snooze, like a cat or a squirrel, and only come down when I had to. I would haul great pieces of wood, the bones of other trees, to make my sacred spots among the branches. I would apologize for my awkwardness, that I was not a bird or anything else more graceful or grateful than a child.

I climb no trees now for I am less graceful than a child, but more grateful for trees. So I mourn the tulip poplar I have watched from my office window for so many years. There is a reason to kill a tree, I understand. I just don’t understand what it is.

I am more pleased than ever that I chose as my ten-year work anniversary gift the planting of ten trees somewhere, anywhere, of any sort whatever. The tulip poplar had somehow grown to be a burden to the human world, too big a tree near too-close houses. My apology is the hope that new trees planted somewhere else, like the Ace of Wands, will someday inspire someone else to plant more and mourn the death of one tree, someday to learn its language to tell the others how sorry I was for the loss of my friend.

The uninterrupted sky is no welcome sight.

Best wishes.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Old-Fashioned Halloween

A long time ago in southern Illinois, it was Halloween in a place that was known for tearing up the town, literally, in the celebration of the season. I lived in Carbondale, Illinois. It was generally known while I lived there that the store merchants downtown could not get insurance to replace their storefront plate glass windows because of a tendency for the celebrants to destroy said glass windows each year on this festive occasion.

Yes, my college made the Playboy list of the top party schools in the nation when I lived there. It was something of an embarrassment because I wanted a seriously good education. I was lucky and had been identified by the Dean of Liberal Arts as having had a good grade-school background in grammar, bend it though I might now, and because of that and her own personal pet peeves, I was granted not only a tuition scholarship through to graduation but also a job working in the English Department at SIU-Carbondale.

The only thing that seemed worse than attending the current Party Central of the nation was the fact that a footnote had been published in Playboy’s list stating that the university where I had spent my first two years of college, then known as the University of Missouri – Rolla, was not included in the top ten list because Playboy was considering only amateur partiers. Zeesh.

These designations made my fellow students proud of their ability to bash with the best of them. While I was not a stick-in-the-mud about parties, I never attended the Carbondale Halloween glass-breaking festival. Broken glass just never was my favorite medium. Neither was senseless destruction of other people’s property, even if in the spirit of the season. I know, I know…partypoop.
Art Postcard Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

Now, generally Carbondale was a pretty good place to live the other 364 days a year or so. Sure, the first day of snowfall, I swore it snowed LSD because people would inevitably drive the wrong way on one-way streets, disoriented by the winter wonderland and seemingly taken by surprise in spite of fairly accurate weather reports. It wasn’t a social agreement to do something counter-cultural the way Halloween glass-breaking was. It was just a mass confusion of senses that resulted in automotive chaos. Things would calm down by the second or third day of snow and people would resume their usual level of driving acumen, which wasn’t always worth the ride anyway. But at least they remembered after a while what “One Way” with an arrow meant and things were a little less treacherous.

Instead of joining the revels downtown, I always chose what my friends and I thought to be a safer Halloween, usually a party at one of our houses. The year I remember best, the party was at Melody and Monica’s house.

My beautiful and adorable friend Melody was a hippie who loved home arts and was in my earth science class. Science was not Melody’s strong subject so I had made it a point to get her through the class and actually understand it. I figured out the trick for the treat: Put the class principles in terms Melody already understood, and she would get the scary science part too. So, since Melody was perfectly comfortable in the kitchen, all of our earth science experiments took place there. I hooked a hose up to the kitchen faucet and told a story about the rain falling in the mountains and running underground (under dishes in the sink) and popping up as an artesian well farther down the mountain. Melody was also good at helping me clean up the kitchens, either hers or mine, after these lessons, but she made a decent grade in the class.

It was a wonderful example of how to bring a message to someone who is initially intimidated by the topic in the first place. Of course, we didn’t actually create a volcano, but discussed the pros and cons of lava cake and the different ways candy will cool, crunchy and crackly or smooth and gooey. It made earth science a tasty lab class for us.

Melody and her drop-dead gorgeous older sister Monica hosted the Halloween party this year and it was a fun success. People came in costume. I came dressed as my black cat, complete with her turquoise collar and bell and stayed in “cat character” the entire time, meowing instead of talking, hissing for no, purring for yes. Well after midnight, both Melody and I got our second wind when most of the crowd had thinned out and we retreated to her room with cups of tea and girl chatter, planning to talk well into the night.

The living room grew quieter and quieter and even Monica and her then boyfriend, an equally drop-dead gorgeous dark blond from Saudi Arabia named Sultan (it meant “lion” he said, and went with his fabulous Fabio-like mane), had retreated to sleep after the happy partiers had left or at least collapsed on the living room couches and chairs.

As we gossiped quietly into the night, we realized we both heard the sound of running water. But it was from the wrong room. Melody’s room had a door to the living room and a door to the bathroom which then led to the kitchen in their rented bungalow. The running water was coming from the living room.

Like children afraid of monsters under the bed, we hesitated, then knew we had to investigate. Melody, more timid than I was, chose to eliminate the positive possibilities of the bathroom and kitchen. I headed straight out to the living room. We entered the living room about the same time in time to see the source of the sound.

A young man, someone neither of us knew, a friend of a friend of a friend, a casualty of the earlier celebrations, stood at the window in a moment of need, a call of nature. Unfortunately, he had hit both couches, the coffee table, the rug and the walls, in fact, everything but the open window he aimed for. He was, in short, terribly drunk and soon to be dead drunk meat.

The 7 of Cups in Tarot can represent self-delusion. Tell yourself that you’re OK when you’re not. Your eyes are bigger than your stomach. You may be unclear about what your next choices should be. Confuse yourself about what you desire. Drink to oblivion, until not only your eyes and your brain are numb, but your heart as well. It’s one thing to dress in a costume; quite another to lose yourself in the character you have created. In the 7 of Cups, you can lose your way. But it doesn’t have to be permanent; the hangover may be painful but there is a way out.

“Out!” we screamed. He looked at us dully, attempting to zip up with partial success. “OUT!!!”

He was starting to get the message but it wasn’t clear to him yet. Monica and Sultan heard the fuss. Sultan was horrified on many different fronts. First, he was awakened from his romantic snooze with the woman he was not going to marry. Second, he was awakened from his own moderate drinking, but drinking nonetheless. Third, and most horrifying, he was presented with the most undignified example of his gender that he could imagine, a man who had made a dreadful, horrible, fool of himself as a guest in someone’s home. While our watery stranger outweighed Sultan, the power of indignation turned Monica’s sleepy sweetie into our Super Hero. Sultan frog-marched the unfortunate to his car and cursed him on his way home, to his wife and children as we found out, comparing notes.

As we set about in the small, dark hours of the morning cleaning up after the Bad Guest, we suddenly realized we had unleashed the outcast on the unsuspecting driving public. We started to imagine, as we scrubbed away to rid the house of the urine of a stranger, that we would see horrible photos of the automobile accident that must surely ensue from the impaired driver.

Dawn broke on November 1. I rode my bicycle home in the sunrise, my hands red and raw from cleaning the living room and then cleaning myself. Apparently, the Bad Guest had made it home or somewhere safely and we all wished a silent prayer for his wife and children, realizing this was not the first nor last episode and hoping they were all well-insured.

Please have a very safe and happy Halloween and may all your treats be treasures.

Best wishes.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


I decided to grow my hair long again. It's been a while since it was long, something like 1980.

Hair is funny thing for a woman. They tell you it's your "crowning glory." Seriously, that never meant much to me. I figured my crowning glory was the fact that I yanked myself up by my own bootstraps. But you'd have had to be with me a long time to get that. Only my long-gone and still-missed cat Heart was with me long enough to understand that. She was there through the toughest parts of my life, or those times seemed so at the time.

I was baby-bald until I was almost two. Mom said she had to tape a bow to my head. The funny part of that story to me was the "had to" phrase. Had to? Soon enough, though, my hair grew in, first white blonde, then golden, thick and straight.

This made Mom crazy as she liked a bit of curl or at least wave in hair. She had been someone I considered a "doll person" when she was little. She had baby dolls and wanted to be a mother. She was thrilled to get a girl the second time around, although my sometimes less-than-delicate ways must have been a little disappointment. I spent much of my childhood trying to keep up with my brother, my "Irish twin" who was 11 months older. I wasn't a doll person.

Oh, I had lots of dolls, all right, Barbie Dolls, Ginny Dolls, Chatty Cathy, Horseman walking dolls, all dressed in pretty clothes and frills. I played with them just long enough to make sure my mother knew I appreciated the thought, then turned to real favorites: my real cats and dogs, stuffed animals who came to life under my own chatty imagination and Danish troll dolls. I adored the DAM troll dolls and had a huge collection. I loved them because they weren't trying to be beautiful or perfect. They exuded happiness in their smiling faces. They were short. They had long hair. They had funny feet and cute toes. I was mad for them.

Mom could not understand the fascination but indulged it. I created a whole world within the cabinets above my desk from the doll furniture from my mother's antique shop. They had beds, baths and beyond. They had a huge console radio, a vacuum cleaner, a full kitchen, a television. They had clothes I sewed from felt to cover their tiny troll bodies and protect them from the elements. They had troll pets. They had books and toys and dishes. They had a perfect little troll world that I would occasionally enhance with a crocheted tablecloth for their little round oak table or a new hat. I had one troll that had two heads who had come to me from one of Dad's trips away, from my Uncle Max, they told me. I didn't want to break the news that Uncle Max's trolls weren't really DAM trolls, the only really cute ones. He had sent three, two "ordinary" trolls and the two-headed one. I named them Winkin, Blinkin and Nod-Nod, two heads, two nods, I explained straight-faced. I brushed their colorful hair. What I thought best about their world was that it was quiet and happy. I thought that would be a nice life.

My trolls had hobbies, games, employment, studies and favorite things. They had projects. They cooperated. They hated housework--just like me--but they did just enough to get by--just like me. My trolls were interesting, much more so than the flat-faced staring "pretty" dolls  whose every move might muss their hair or tear some lace.

But still, I recognized that there was pressure to like the "pretty" dolls. I just couldn't do it. They were boring.

Mom dressed me up in dresses she made herself from Simplicity and McCalls patterns, with Peter Pan collars, puffy short sleeves, long sashes that tied in bows in the back, fiddly smocked bodices, and full skirts that required scratchy petticoats. I wore white lace-trimmed socks and Mary Janes, patent leather for dress up, Keds Mary Janes for play. I was her doll but I was rather bad at it, I felt.

Sometimes she would make "mother-daughter" dresses for spring so we would match. She despaired when I, having been sent to school in doll-like perfection, came home with a torn sash and a black eye, triumphant in victory on the playground again. From my earliest days, I associated getting dressed up with the restriction of free movement. I was not supposed to hang upside down on the monkey bars when I had my nice dresses and petticoats and patent leather strapped shoes. My best friend and boyfriend was gentleman enough not to laugh at me in kindergarten on our last day, hanging upside down eating cookies in our best clothes, my skirts fluffed around my nose in an unladylike fashion, my hair ribbons dangling at dangerous angles.

Hair was such a big deal to Mom. Her own hair gave her fits. It was extremely thick and extremely coarse and nearly impossible to style. But it at least had a natural wave that on occasion cooperated. Any curl that my hair exhibited was artificial. My hair was naturally board-straight. This didn't stop Mom.

I had permanents. Much like romantic relationships in junior high, they tended to last approximately two weeks, being anything but permanent. Sooner or later, any style perpetrated upon my straightness came undone. No ribbons, braid, clip or rubber band would hold it for long. Mom liked it just past my shoulders, partly because her ideal hair, as far as I could tell, was Lauren Bacall's. At night she would put it up in metal clip pin curls so that it would dry curly and fall to my shoulders in golden waves, all to fall straight by the end of the day. And we would begin again.

In junior high I rebelled against being a doll, partly because I was physically strong enough to resist being captured and pin-curled and partly because I was just hard-headed, a family trait. I decided to let my hair grow long, like the Beatles' girlfriends. They had straight hair. They were considered fabulously beautiful. It grew long and with a little trimming of split ends from the dry New Mexico air it started to look the way I liked. By then my high school buddies were doing whatever they could to straighten their hair, rolling them on beer cans and ironing them with the clothes iron. Lucky me! No such extraordinary measures were needed.

I kept my hair long, past my waist, for years and found that there are little inconveniences. For instance, it was unattractive to have it get caught under your arms with straight little tufts sticking out the front or back. It would get rolled up in the car windows. In the unrelenting New Mexico wind, it would lash my eyes, my cheeks until they were almost raw. In my college geology classes, it had to be braided when I went caving so as not to entangle bats. As I grew up and worked in an office, it got closed in filing cabinet drawers and caught on the adjustable back brace of steno chairs.

And somewhere around 1980 I realized that I didn't want a job, I wanted a career. I concluded that Alice in Wonderland was not a believable business figure. I made an appointment with the one man in town who cut women's hair, a man with a reputation for dating his wealthier women clients, a man who drove a Corvette. In Carbondale, Illinois, that was a big deal. He shook his head and gave me a bob, just above shoulder-length, crisp and businesslike.

It changed my idea of myself to see my reflection as a woman in a suit with bobbed hair. I became "professional." I went back to school for a second degree and became that professional. I moved to California and worked my tail off.

All the while I experienced the ennui of having to make some special effort to go in and have my hair restored to its "bobness" every few weeks. And after I was laid off in one of the huge bubble-burst massacres and finally got a job, it was in southern California, Orange County. It was hot, too darned hot.

I cut my hair again, this time into a short sophisticated wedge. But I am not sophisticated.

"Gimme a trim and a duck's butt, Debbie," I would tease my hairdresser who is a professional and takes her work seriously in spite of me.

So, after the careful consideration of a few moments' assessment, perhaps the obvious outward influences of the transit of Uranus through Aries across my natal sun coinciding with my second Saturn return, I decided to grow it out again, long as it will go.

Like the 8 of Wands, it is a work in progress signaled by growth, energy and movement. My hair may soon be up in the air. Debbie estimates I'll hate myself right about Christmas when it gets to a dreadful length that is not cooperative, fashionable or flattering. But then, past that, I'll let it grow so I can be myself instead of the corporate look I thought I needed to adopt to hide in plain sight and have now outgrown. I am no longer a doll. I am me.

This is the beginning.

Best wishes.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Heroes Rest

It's September 11, a day of reflection and solemnity, a day to honor those who died at their workplace or in a field for reasons "nothing personal" and everything personal.

Where were you? People ask that about a shared tragic event, like tracing a scar from an old wound and feeling the freshness of the pain again.

I remember the disbelief, the vulnerability, the fear, the fierce protectiveness I felt suddenly for the people on my team at work. I remember the cries of the commuters on the ferryboat taking me home when we realized we had left passengers on the dock while there were still seats on the boat and the cheers as the captain turned the vessel around to go back, a risk we all wanted, needed to take, to pick them up, not knowing if we were in danger or in safety. I remember curling up on my couch once safely home only to watch the Towers fall, see buildings burn and planes crash.

In honor of those who rest, fallen while trying to help others, please take a moment today to be grateful for life and love and friendship and kindness. Take a moment to thank those who help others, even in the smallest of ways. We will all rest soon enough.

Best wishes.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Past Lives

A friend of mine is coming over tomorrow and we’re going to try hypnosis and past-life regression. I’m saying try because I have no idea whether it works, especially on me.

All I know is that since I was a small child I’ve had a memory of a moment, and it is just a moment only, of standing on a man-made stone structure looking out across a flat tree-scattered landscape in grave disappointment about the end of all I had tried to do. There is fire and I smell the smoke. The fire creates its own weather and the hot fire-wind blows my hair, which is very dark and my long plain dress against my legs. I hear screams of people being hurt and the shouts of the invaders who are hurting them. My mentor, a wiry, upright and gentle man stands near me and puts his hand on my shoulder, a gesture of affection and farewell. We both know we are going to die. We have been teachers, teaching those who wanted to learn, those who were not afraid that learning was against the gods’ wishes. We taught an easier, kinder way, with science and mathematics and language and logic. And it is now ended at the hands of brutes. I am not angry. I am sad. I think this must have happened so many times before, where knowledge and learning were met with fear and greed. My mentor has told me it is the way of things a long time ago, so many things he said that we need say nothing more in these last minutes of fire and blood.

All that has come to me in a whiff, in a breath, in a moment. And the memory returns and returns, many times since I was a child, strongly with great detail when I was in high school and many times since then.

I told my friend Cindy about it when we were in high school. We experimented with a Ouija board to see if more information could come up, but that really didn’t shed any light on this memory.

We succeeded in scaring ourselves in a séance in Cindy’s bedroom one evening, with a bunch of our high school friends, boys and girls, packed in to the small room. The door and windows were closed. The candle was lit. The plastic planchette moved wildly across the table as if an agitated hand wanted to scratch out the letters on the board, swinging to letters, then good-bye, then more letters, then good-bye. The candle went out in a puff although no one was near it. Some of the girls screamed. We turned on the electric light and stopped, never to use the board again.

I had read about past lives and Bridey Murphy, the controversies, the skepticism, the fact-checking and not the very least the accuracies in spite of everything. I understood how easily someone might try to fool someone else with information they had gained from research or made up from a florid imagination.

While the people dashed off to find evidence of the real Bridey Murphy, someone whose existence was not proven by records, the interesting thing about the case is that the descriptions of the Antrim coast and other things like the grocer’s name and the name of the church, although asynchronous with the time Bridey is supposed to have lived, were surprisingly accurate. Collective memory, some call it. But it is no doubt interesting.

After reading so many of my high school classmates’ stories of the days when we were in high school, what we got away with and what we didn’t, and now seeing them scattered all over from my small town in eastern New Mexico, I tend to think of past lives more in the current lifespan. The memories have grown softer over time. What was once fierce anger and perhaps even fiercer passion is now the fond youth, the springs and summers that seemed endless and fleeting at the same time.

The 6 of Cups is the Tarot card most often associated with memory of days gone by, of a more innocent time. If only we had known then, we muse. And yet, if we were just to live today as if it were that fond memory that, had we only known then, we would have cherished more, today would be as happy as any yesterday.

I think about the episodes of my life, working as a reporter and newscaster for a college radio station, college scholarship kicked into overdrive as I discovered again and again my love of learning, my first awkward steps into the business world, coming into my own self-confidence in my late twenties, and so many more times in my life. They are like little past lives that, like a fire-hot wind, can sear my mind even today with their scent, their touch, their sights, sounds and tastes.

One of my favorite people in tarot, Lon Milo DuQuette, has a song about past lives that I love, so rather than say more, I’ll let Lon sing it for me. Here is “I Once Was the Hero of Megiddo”, lyrics by Lon Milo DuQuette.

Best wishes.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


“Don’t make me choose.”

It was something of a showdown between my father and me. In his very old age he had come to live with us to recover and even thrive for just a little while. He had fallen down an escalator in a department store and shortly afterwards got up in the night in his small apartment and his hip had collapsed, broken.

I was in California then and he was in Missouri, far away from any of his children and doggedly stubborn, something that must surely be a genetic trait within our family. I could not fly out fast enough and spoke to his surgeon who expressed doubts about Daddy making it through the surgery.
Off-Center Lenormand
(c) Copyright 2012 Marcia McCord

“I know he’s 90 or whatever and I know he has heart problems and other issues, but, with all due respect, doctor, you don’t know my father. He will live if only to prove all of you wrong.” And he did. The doctor was dumbfounded.

As Daddy recovered in a nursing home, we kids took turns spending a week with him until vacations ran out and it was clear that without family presence he was not going to be well-cared for.

It was part of our initiation into the world of elder care, the various interpretations of advanced directives, etc. Daddy had a DNR order and had created a Power of Attorney naming me as the person to make decisions should something devastating happen. What we found was that instead of the folks caring for him and consulting me on major decisions, they interpreted DNR “do not resuscitate” as “do not care for.”

When we scooped him out of the nursing home to airlift him to California, he had bedsores, edema, pneumonia and other things that displayed a lack of care. Nothing keeps your loved one alive, I found, more than your presence and attention attracting the notice of the caregivers.

Daddy recovered from all those things likely to kill older people and moved into my first floor apartment, what I call the “basement” although it is not underground. He thrived in a way. He got well enough to become, instead of the “pet father” I had hoped for, truly a troll in my basement. His old age, in his defense, was not necessarily happy for him. His beloved third wife had died after a short and dreadful battle with small-cell lung cancer. He could not see why he was still alive and was constantly angry at everyone from me to Hilary Clinton whom he blamed irrationally for Noni’s death.

I gave him a break though. He was 90 and had alienated just about everyone who might have cared about him, alienated or outlived. And it’s hard for someone who lives only for the attention from others when the audience has left the theatre.

At some point, he picked a fight and demanded that I choose between him and all I held dear.

In Lenormand, the card that signals “loyalty, regard, friendship and enduring kindness” is the Dog. Dogs forgive. Dogs stand by you. Dogs don’t care if you wear good clothes or bad. Dogs will put up with a lot to remain in your pack if they have bonded with you. Dogs stay.

When someone asks you to choose between loyalties, they likely do not realize that they have just revealed their lack of loyalty to you. If they were loyal, they would say, “I need to do this and I know it’s something that you can’t agree with, but I would like to remain your friend.” But by saying, it’s me or them, their regard is revealed as conditional and their loyalty limited; yet, by the demand for choice, it is as if you are the one whose loyalty is in question.

I’ve had that kind of situation lately among some friends. It is heartache for me. Unlike the temporary motto of my family crest (now abandoned with better DNA testing), I don’t identify with “My way or the highway.” It’s a type of loyalty that is divisive, not building.

If your friends and loved ones really care for you, they love you in spite of what they do not agree with. They are strong enough to acknowledge a different point of view, a different choice, without calling it evil or sick or deluded or, of course, disloyal.

When my father presented me with the choice between himself and the rest of my world, I was very clear to him.

Do not try to make me choose. You will lose.

The attempt to force my choice demonstrates your weakened bond to me and signals the danger in my placing my complete loyalty with you. Allowing me to remain loyal to myself will earn you my undying friendship. And then this cat will be the dog.

Best wishes.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

BATS Foolery

It was hot, too hot for me. And there was not enough air in the room, either. I was backstage with my SF BATS buddies who were part of the Saturday night entertainers for the “stage” that was the area at the end of the hallway at the Doubletree in San Jose. We were waiting for Thalassa and for the start of the show.

Backstage is a funny place for players. We tug on our clothes, never quite sure if they are right and yet quite sure the overall effect will be, no doubt, a Show. David from Texas stood tall in his wizard…or was it swami? guise, a dramatic figure just standing there wordless. The sound man worked on the equipment. Lon Milo DuQuette sat quietly behind all of us in his impeccable white suit. Lon always looks like some deity to me, although the religion isn’t necessarily what it appears.

Peter and Jimmy are backstage with us, Jimmy in the best Fool costume with his yellow tights, green-sunflower tunic and green Robin Hood felt hat, Peter in his always-ready smile in the middle of us girls who were the first act.

Valentina had dressed as fall, and never a more luscious harvest than she with her great, broad-brimmed hat of fruit and whole dress the color of ripened pomegranate, a feast in herself with her dark hair and dark eyes. Rhonda made the most of her signature long white hair dressed in the charcoals-to-whites of winter, looking like the January that would never end, the frost, the ice, the snow, the wind. Beautiful Carrie was endless summer, bright in pinks and reds. And I was spring in my peacock green printed low-cut long gown and golden slippers. “Nature’s first green is gold,” I had quipped, mostly to myself as I had selected my dress. Now I was just hoping it would stay in place on my too-ample frame.

I was like a bud ready to burst in bloom (good) but I didn’t want to burst out of my dress (bad). I had abandoned the double-sticky wardrobe tape that they say Hollywood uses to keep actresses and their gowns in place.

“Duct tape,” I muttered. “I need duct tape.”

An astrologer had once told me that gravity was not my friend, predicting some 15 years before the event that I would suffer a great accident and injury to my leg. Well, I thought, gravity has done me more harm than my snapped knee and broken elbow.

I remembered a joke my friend Alice had told me. As we all fanned ourselves, waiting for the show to begin, I told it.

“At our age,” I began, “when they yell, ‘Show us your….’” And Peter dissolved into helpless laughter for minutes, gasping in horror at the thought of the ravages of gravity on tender lovelies as they drag towards the knees.

I said a few more things to keep the laughter up. It helps to laugh backstage. At least it helps me.

After a while and a few more crazy girl-jokes, Lon spoke up and said, “You know, this is exactly what my wife is afraid I do on these trips!”

“Give us the phone,” I urged him. “We can reassure her that you are safe!” He did not take me up on the offer, although it was sincere. Lon is a treasure of talent, musical and esoteric.

David handed me a plastic sword and I lent Carrie a cane. Suddenly, Thalassa came in and it was showtime.

Nancy, our director and principal dancer, directed covering us with white sheets so that our appearance would be revealed season by season. Lon and his ukulele went center stage, our Music Man. Covered in a sheet, I now could only hear the players move to the stage. And then it was my turn to be escorted to my mark.

Thalassa introduced us. The music started. I could hear Nancy dancing and suddenly, since I was Spring, I was first to be unveiled. I popped David’s plastic sword up like a jack-in-the-box with an equally bouncy smile on my face. Nancy danced. I mugged for the crowd, moving the sword in rhythm to Lon’s singing and playing. Laughter rose from the crowd.

Good, I thought. We all take ourselves too seriously sometimes. It was a relief to play the Fool for a weekend.

My life has been too serious this year. My workplace has been in upheaval. My job, along with all those of my co-workers, has been in question. Will it be there? Will I have to move to the Deep South and make the best of a hot and humid place, likely not to return to California? Will I be forced to get a job somewhere else in a time where jobs are not plentiful or guaranteed or often pleasant? Will I be forced to move all I have to continue to survive? Will I be able to make the most of another Tower event in my life, recreate myself one more time, find the Star in the rubble? Will I be able to rise above? And when will I know?

Finally, an indication of hope without a complete collapse has come. It looks like I will be able to stay in California. I have held back tears and screams and fear and panic since March, since first hearing of the possibility of great change. I know all reprieves are temporary, all respites brief, all comforts passing and all joys priceless. And for that, they are all the more precious.

So I try to laugh and make others laugh, to forget trouble for a while, a brief moment, as is the purpose of the jester, to make others laugh and to make the monarch think or feel. From within me, from my fears and sorrows and pain and anger, can well up the absurdity of our struggle to make things make sense. And from within me, a greater force arises out of love, to hold the plastic sword, to shield the principal dancer as she changes costume, to kiss the troubadour and flee to the stage door to exit, only to find it locked.
The show goes on while I pound on the door.

“Peter!” I cry in my best stage-whisper, my impromptu panic rising. “Peter! Let me in! Open the door!”

I expect it will be like that, knocking on heaven’s door. And Peter, helpless with laughter as gravity has taken its final toll, may let me in. Otherwise, I’m sure I’ll see most of my friends.

Best wishes from my BATS-termath!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Happy Squirrel

Vacation! Never did a madwoman need a vacation more than I do! Thank goodness it’s here. Not that I didn’t end up working all day Saturday, my first day of “vacation.” Well, the work show must go on too and that one list of updates didn’t get to me until Saturday. Well, it did take me all day but the rest of my week is freedom!
Art Postcard Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

Freedom is not unplanned, however, as I will be attending SF BATS in San Jose. Maybe I’m lucky I have my little car, but there is no problem getting there that two CD’s of the Gipsy Kings can’t cure.

Yes, I’ve done a little planning in advance too. Lucky me, I was asked to teach a class this year! While the full schedule is never published in advance, I just found out that my day will be Sunday and I’m not giving anything away since it is posted officially on the site. So I have my class materials and some give-away items for class participants.

As much as the Tarot Goodness and Lenormand Lushness that is sure to be part of this year’s SF BATS, I’m also looking forward to seeing folks I talk to often but don’t see often enough. The challenge will be to try to fit all the classes, noshing and deep philosophical conversations into a short amount of time. Good news, I’m going early and leaving late. I'm looking forward to the extras, the side trips and all the main events, everything I can soak up. Be prepared, that’s my motto for SF BATS!

I’ve actually already started to pack. I have lists. I have even learned how to use my projector for my class, a small feat of female triumphing over A/V equipment. I still have a few things to do, like get my car cleaned. There’s a little dog food in the floor of the car from a short trip with the dog, a little bit of blue stuff I need to put in windshield reservoir, dresses to iron.

I’m going to worry about my hair, whether to bring my Birkenstocks and my flat slippers in a bunch of colors, if I’ll possibly be able to apply false eyelashes like I used to for Sweet Adelines. I will have cat-separation-anxiety. I have already been preparing the last couple of weeks for staying up all night with my Extreme Jitters over everything that’s been going on, work, BATS, everything.

I know I’m not the only one who’s excited about the weekend. As I’ve mentioned, a lot of work goes into putting the whole thing together. But a lot of preparation is done by the vendors, teachers and even participants to make the most fun and a meaningful educational experience out of a short time together.
My talented friend Kirsten Weiss actually got my Happy Squirrel started Sunday by interviewing me for a mini-series of blog entries regarding the difference between Tarot and Lenormand. We had a great discussion down in my untidy garden, sipping ice water and enjoying the breeze. We then retreated to my dining room where I brought out my box of Lenormand goodies including the antique decks I feature in my class presentation. I showed her Dondorf Carreras decks and a couple from the 1800’s, plus a few non-oracular goodies I picked up at auction from the Stuart Kaplan collection. Her posts will come in October and I’ll be sure to post a link to them here when they are published.

Tarot and Lenormand are exciting for me. Yes, they are built on traditions, some old, some older, some really ancient. They have meaning for me in the modern world in the same way the ocean washes up a whole new beach every day on the shore.

Oh, and just before Kirsten left for home after our great afternoon geeking out with the cards, I had her autograph the third and fourth books in her Riga Hayworth mysteries, metaphysical, supernatural and magical Riga solves crime with a very handsome guy and her very own gargoyle Brigitte. Love that Brigitte! Gotta check that out on Amazon, mystery lovers!

Yup, I’m one Happy Squirrel.

Best wishes!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Where's the Cat?

I woke up uncharacteristically early. It was this dream, watching one of my cats, my easily-spooked black and white long-haired Elly dash across a busy street and climb to the top of a palm tree and squall and I was in a maze. Gotta get that cat out of the tree, I’m dreaming. And the maze of buildings gets more complicated, building 4, floor 5 and then taking the stairs to 7 and confronting the wise but perverse administrator who knew the answer and would not tell me because of rules. It was like a bad role-playing game. I did make friends with the administrator but I was still looking for the broadcast booth for the radio station.

Yeah, I’ve been a little jumpy lately.

It didn’t help that my dream about Elly-Belly’s flight to the palm tree in my dream seemed to touch on a terrible reality. I couldn’t find Baby. Baby’s real name is Pixie, although the concept of a cat having a real name is something like naming the stars. Cats and stars laugh in your face at your petty attempts to name them!

Baby was an impulse rescue, the kind that doesn’t make sense and probably upsets the natural order of things in a household just getting used to the latest addition even if she is a benevolent tyrant. This is not a conflict in terms in the cat world as it might be in human terms.

Baby started out as a foundling in Napa. I was trying to help her finder find a forever home for her. We had a deadline, the end of the Labor Day holiday weekend. I didn’t want her to go to the pound. Sometime midway through the weekend, I caved and asked Andrea to bring her to me. Seriously, what’s one more cat? My older cats stand with picket signs, citing food riots and other unpleasantness should their world be shifted.

Shift it does and Pixie comes to live at my house and since she’s only a ball of fluff, just a few weeks old, we call her Baby, too. It sticks. To  keep her from becoming a feral indoor cat in her formative years, I determine to take her with me on a road trip to the Four Corners area. Since the dog was coming along anyway, what’s one more?

You’re starting to notice a theme, I think? What’s one more? I have Jupiter in the nadir in my birth chart, Jupiter in Gemini. This is “generous to a fault” but perhaps super-sized. After all, what’s one more? That’s called Jupiter in an “ill-dignified” sign. Uh, oh, OOPS. As the fearless leader of the Daughters of Divination, Thalassa, says, “Dignity. Always dignity.”  OK, how about sometimes dignity? There are other planets. My natal Venus is in Taurus and couldn’t be happier.

So it is energy that lends itself to planning an opera out in the barn called Die FliederRabbit starring a familiar looking rabbit with unfamiliar looking bat wings through the Miracle of Photoshop. Suddenly, I envision customized little blue jackets, a slathering-mad Mr. MacGregor waving wooden stakes and a gun with silver bullets, a toothy minion chorus, and, well, remember the scene in Fantasia where the basement floods due to an overboard spell by the Sorcerer’s Apprentice?

OK, fine. More isn’t always better. More is more. But the dog, the other cats, the humans and Baby all settled down into sort of a Cold War if not truce. Our house has all the intrigue of a walled and divided city. There are those who go to the North Sector and those who never do. At least one never goes to the South Sector. Alice, the Empress, likes to vacation in the downstairs apartment, luxuriating in having the place to herself.

Baby, who believes her presence is appropriate for any occasion, goes wherever she pleases. She hangs out on the ironing board waiting for an unsuspecting resident to walk by. She leaps, knowing she is likely to land badly, so all claws are used to get a purchase on her target. This is especially inconvenient when carrying a bowl of soup, for instance. She likes to lie in wait for Derek our ordinarily pleasant housekeeper who comes once a week to despair over all our personal failures. When he ventures near, she likes to remove a chunk of flesh to see if he tastes the same this week.

Lately, however, her terrible twos have mellowed just a touch. She has forgotten herself for a moment and left her Hell on Wheels personality behind. She has actually taken to giving me a snog good night. Nice kitty! Perhaps there is hope for my Holy Terror.

Any mother with any time on the job knows that the time to be most afraid is when the children are quiet. So after waking up from my dream about scared cats in palm trees, I detected the silence of the Lambie-Pies.
“Ah, snoozing,” I thought and wondered why I wasn’t snoozing also. I sat dutifully at my desk, hoping I was really looking at two computers instead of having had my astigmatism stuck in left gear. I read my work email. The street sweeper came by.
Art Postcard Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

I waited for Baby to pound on my door as she does whenever the street sweeper comes. She’s pretty sure that, for her sins, that thing is going to eat her. I don’t discourage the notion entirely. Heavy machinery is hell on cats. Loud noises among the sound-sensitive are particularly jarring. The Coming of the Street Sweeper must be the scariest movie she can imagine.

But there was no pounding on the door. This didn’t make sense. This didn’t smell right. I had to investigate because where the heck was the kitty? Noses counted and I’ve come up one short. Where’s Baby? I start to whimper. I call her name, her names. I call her lots of names. Other cats come to see if there’s food involved and retreat when they realize it’s just me on my hands and knees checking under furniture. Binket beeps at me and sits, explaining that she might have told me there was nothing under there except a cat toy, which she wouldn’t mind having.

My panic grows. The little rat charges the front door every once in a while. Did she make a break for it as long ago as last night? I wander down the back stairs and pad around the back yard calling softly for her. John takes a walk around the block while I imagine the worst. She is hit by a car? She is stolen by hawks? She is scared and alone?

As I settle down to my desk to have a good cry in utter despair, fully “fived” about the whole thing, I consider which might be worse, the 5 of Pentacles, the fear of material loss or the 5 of Cups, the sadness of a heart sunk low by loss.

A small form emerges from behind the stove in the kitchen. Naughty kitty to give your cat mama a heart attack! I say a little prayer to St. Angina, the patron saint of “You aggravate my heart and soul.”

My day begins.

Best wishes.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Get Your BATS On!

This week’s blog is brief, but meaningful, somewhat like yours truly. OK, true, I am brief in stature, not words. Nevertheless, I’m here to urge all those with an interest in Tarot or other Oracles like Lenormand to attend this year’s SF BATS August 17-18, 2013.

This is the 22nd year for SF BATS, the oldest continuous Tarot symposium led by the always entertaining and erudite Thalassa Therese. This year SF BATS will be held at the DoubleTree in San Jose.  The DoubleTree is near the San Jose airport and close to some fascinating attractions like the Rosicrucian Museum and the Winchester Mystery House, so come early, leave late, and have a fabulous time. Want details? Click here to go to the Daughters of Divination website. There is still time to sign up for the best deal in Tarot, so click away.

You can probably guess that it takes a lot to put on an annual event like this. So the Daughters of Divination are launching an Indiegogo campaign to help raise funds for SF BATS. SF BATS could use your help, even if it is small. Please go here to contribute and help all of us make the San Francisco Bay Area Tarot Symposium happen!

I am thrilled to be among the presenters at SF BATS this year and happy to share my timid knowledge and fledgling experience with others who are dipping a toe into Lenormand. To lure my unsuspecting attendees, I promise door prizes, humor, patience and a little fun. While it won’t be the purpose of my class nor will it be featured by any more than a note of introduction, The Dust Bunny Lenormand deck will be available in a limited quantity at SF BATS in the vendor room.

After a bit of a rough start at WooFest, I now feel certain I am able to use my laptop and projector in concert (!) for a presentation that will feature some of my antique Lenormand decks. My thanks in advance to Fortune Buchholtz and Malkiel Rouven Dietrich for their assistance! If you come and you sit in the spitwad section in the back row, you will need to bring your own spitwads.

There will be many wonderful people attending, a few informal get-togethers, vendors with delicious goodies to tempt you and a lot of good information. And I hear my dear friend Beth Seilonen has a new deck in very limited quantities! Come and indulge and enjoy!

I am looking forward to seeing everyone at SF BATS, old friends and new. Please bear with me now while I have the tiniest of swoons in anticipation!

Best wishes!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Baby You Can Drive My Car

Do you drive? Do you remember your first car?

Mine was a 1962 Oldsmobile F85, a small car made out of real metal with bench seats. It had a “War of the Worlds” after-market air-conditioner, quite the bees’ knees, I thought. I called it “Virgin Mary” blue. Everything worked, hard to beat when your parents have bought you a “beater.” It was a delicious gift, not a racing car like my brother had, some black Plymouth with red interior. His looked like a bad tattoo but he soon traded up to something that went faster. Mine, on the other hand, looked like the Miraculous Medal, a “Jennifer car” perhaps before they classified cars that way.

What’s a Jennifer car? Well, I drive one even today. It’s a small car, not expensive, easy to handle, easy to take on a shopping trip, unassuming and perhaps even feminine, if a car can be considered so. It’s the kind of car a young woman perhaps named Jennifer would drive. Certainly it was not a car that inspired thoughts of racing, the kind of car my brother craved like his eventual 1968 Oldsmobile 442, turquoise with white surfer racing stripes. He raced it too, at night on a side of town remote from our house.

We named our cars as if they were pets. It was a family tradition. Mom and Dad had matching Oldsmobiles when we moved from Florida to New Mexico, Dad’s a 1960 brown two-door Oldsmobile 88 and Mom’s a four-door 88 in that same “Virgin Mary” blue, the style with sharp flat fins in back. By the time I was driving age, they had traded Mom’s 88 in on a new station wagon with lots of electrical gadgets that never quite worked. Somewhere along the way, the stuffing in the seats had gotten damp and the car smelled like mold no matter how hot and dry it was out on the sandy Staked Plains of eastern New Mexico. It was the color of the reddish sand there. Mom hated it. It wouldn’t have been so bad if Mom hadn’t hated it so loudly.

She did have a point. There was something about the wiring in the steering column that was off and we were never sure when she turned on the lights whether the windshield wipers and fluid would start up too regardless of the weather. The electric locks worked most of the time. The electric windows were new and had what my brother and I considered an annoying safety feature of rolling down only halfway in the backseat, now standard. We had been used to hanging our heads, hands and feet out of windows in a way that would have made Ralph Nader faint.

My little car, however, was what I lovingly call an “analog” car. It had power steering, at least. Just about everything else was up to me, though. I didn’t mind. It was easy to park and easy to drive.

One thing that Oldsmobile did that became quite a fun feature is to put an enormous engine in a small car, "a lot of horses under the hood" my father said. So my Virgin Mary blue Jennifer car that looked like Hollie Hobbie’s motorized muffin-mobile actually had a tiger in its tank. That baby could go.

Yes, I was safe and sane as a driver. I didn’t take back-seat driving tips well though, and after a few weeks of criticism from one of my high school pals, I pulled over across from one of the local drive-in diners in town and suggested she get out of the car and get a ride elsewhere. I believe that was the last time she rode with me. Peace, it’s wonderful.

The Chariot from Robert Place's
Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery
My alter-ego, however, had other ideas. “Schnell” as I called my precious pet car had delicious get-up-and-go. At a quiet time of broad daylight in summer, I would head for the Floyd highway or “blacktop,” distinguishing it from the many caliche-hard “dirt” roads leading out of town. The Floyd blacktop, which is now Highway 267, is a nearly dead-straight stretch of road best driven west from Portales to Floyd at noon or earlier to keep the sun out of your eyes. I don’t know how the population has grown now, but then it was at least a 10 mile stretch of uninterrupted pavement so flat that, except for the curvature of the earth, you could just about see Russia from here or at least Floyd.

I wanted to feel the limits, the thrill of speed. And sure, I knew it was dangerous, so I never took anyone with me. I avoided times like the start and finish of church services at the Floyd Baptist Church. And then I floored it. Schnell would wind up to 97 miles per hour in no time. At 96, I was flying. At 97, the steering column started to vibrate so violently that I had to grip the wheel with both hands to maintain control. I never pushed Schnell faster, figuring the shimmying steering column was perhaps a bad sign. I was lucky. I never blew a tire or hit anything bigger than a grasshopper.

The one morning I was on my way to high school with my best friend Cyndi in my little blue rocket and the brakes went out made me never race again. We screamed the entire way while I, on the fly, figured out the only way I could go to hit the minimum number of stop signs between Cyndi’s house and school. We rolled to a stop in the parking lot, practically kissing the ground for the expanse of fine gravel that was the generous extra real estate next to the gymnasium.

But before that came Alan Wall. Alan was a couple years older and Cyndi had a crush on him. I couldn’t figure out why except that for the guys we knew he seemed slightly smooth. Otherwise, he was a skinny bow-legged guy with a toothy grin. I seem to recall never seeing him without a comb. Sometimes I think one of the best things about my best friend was that she had completely different taste in boys from mine. But Alan drove a red Ford Mustang.

Alan’s Mustang was the kind of car that chugged loudly in protest of having to maintain such a slow speed as the speed limit in town. It had the appearance and reputation of a light-weight, aerodynamic speed demon. And there we were one afternoon, Alan and I, just happening to be the only two people stopped side by side headed southwest on the Roswell highway at the only stoplight in town.

 The Chariot in Tarot is a card of victory, confidence, self-control, and the application of will. You control both the light horse and the dark. You control the horizontal and the vertical. You are in the driver’s seat in your own life car and you are winning. Sure there’s a dark side to the Chariot. Who hasn’t seen the driver make a bad choice? Winners are not always kind. Sometimes those in way get run over. The driver feels the power of victory and the vision of forward direction. It’s a “Go!” card.

Alan turned, recognized me and grinned. Our eyes locked and that unspoken challenge was set. The light turned green. We floored it. And I won! Somewhere past the Dunes Motel we both slowed down. Alan laughed, shook his head and saluted me. Ah, Winged Victory in a car that looked like a little blue sewing machine!

Thank goodness my racing days are long past! I know I’m lucky to still tell the story. Kids, don't try this at home, or even on the way out of town.

Best wishes!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Seeing With New Eyes

Taking a fresh look at things doesn’t always help us understand the past. One of my pet peeves, although it’s turned into a pet amusement over the years since being peeved gives entirely too much energy to something trivial, is a tendency to pluck events or people or artifacts from history without considering the historical context.

Maybe it started with the whole long hair thing in the late 60’s. In my small town in New Mexico, not exactly the vanguard of cutting edge fashion, it was not unusual for the police to pull teen-aged boys over in their cars, ask them to step out and then give them a haircut, usually a buzz-cut or some variation of that. The citation was a Biblical one, that long hair was an abomination.

In my tender and passionate teen years, even I knew that the reason long hair was considered an abomination had nothing to do with whether a guy expressed his individuality (questionable, of course, as all teen fads are more herd mentality than individuation) or even his feminine side, but of course more to do with lice and the dearth of CVS pharmacies in Biblical times. Back then, I would probably have said Rexall pharmacies. And in a way, that’s just my point.

You might not know what a Rexall pharmacy was, or a Sprouse-Reitz or a Sambo’s or even a Five-and-Dime. If you didn’t live in the South, you wouldn’t know what a Piggly-Wiggly was or why hushpuppies are good. You might not know whether you would have preferred a Nehi Orange or a Nehi Grape, for instance. You might not have had a short Coke for a nickel or a tall one for a dime. Basically, you had to be there.

Older people are likely to tell younger people stories, not just because they remember them better than what they had for lunch yesterday, but because they have an awareness that things have changed. Lots of things have changed. In the time before cell phones and video games and the internet, kids played outside all summer until the sun set, often giving their parents a much-needed break in summer evenings. As long as they could hear you, they figured you were safe, even if you were fighting with each other. Like kids and even adults in every culture, every “advancement” of technology, we played with what we had available.

Out of context, “Ollie, Ollie, Oxen Free” and “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Marcia right over!” mean about as much as an alien language. Were you really going to throw a ball all the way over a house? Would the child summoned break through “enemy” lines?

One of my Facebook friends recently bought an old whist deck and was looking for rules for whist, wondering if anyone played any more. As it turns out, there are many variations on the game of whist. While commuting on the ferry to San Francisco and back, I played bid whist with a booth full of pals. A book I purchased recently has the rules to many card games with a little historical background, just scratching the surface, but it lists the huge number of whist variations.

“Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?” becomes more interesting when the child’s rhyme is found to be a not-terribly-well-disguised political statement about religious persecutions during the reign of Mary Tudor. Suddenly, “with silver bells and cockle shells and pretty maids all in a row” sounds a lot creepier than jumprope. Yet, often the frustrations, anger and sorrow of a culture can be hidden in a game or child’s rhyme, something to soften the blow, something to remind people of what happened, something to put a little bookmark in the page of history so people can cope with the impact of a sudden change or terrible event.

Out of context, of course, Mary Mary seems like something of a funny nonsense rhyme and if context is lost it loses its irony and cultural significance.

One of my favorite Irish tunes, “The Last Rose of Summer,” sounds sweet and nostalgic until you find out they are talking about the high infant mortality rate during famine times. How do you soften the blow of the loss of a child, many children? All her lovely companions are faded and gone.

Robert Place and Rachel Pollack are working together on an oracle deck that I’m eager to purchase when it comes out. Two fine minds of Tarot and cartomancy like theirs, combining Bob’s artistry and diligent research along with Rachel’s writing talent and understanding of spiritual symbology (it’s hard to pin down what these two are best at because they are so terribly good at so many things), are creating a stunning joint effort called The Burning Serpent Oracle. Bob and Rachel are meticulous in their research and truly have considered the context of their study. It's one of the things I value most about them, where others may not have been so strict in their facts.

As part of Bob’s ongoing research into Tarot and Lenormand, he has delved into some of the roots that take us to earlier times than late-14th century northern Italian provinces, into the games of “Goose” and its more ancient ancestors in chase games. Chase games are the kinds of board games most of us are used to where we generally roll dice or spin a wheel or some randomized number representing our turn and advance and take the consequences, good or bad, for where we have landed. It’s a chase game because whoever gets to the end first is usually the winner. Winning, itself, may have its ramifications, too.

The Wheel of Fortune in Tarot is that kind of spinning wheel. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. It seems like things go in cycles of want and plenty. The lowly rise to fame and fortune. The mighty fall from grace. Sometimes it can seem like a game, a roulette wheel of entertainment; sometimes, the spin of the wheel means everything you have.

There’s speculation that an artifact from ancient times may be an early form of just such a game. It’s tantalizing to think that such a thing could have survived. We think of Archaeology with capital letters so often and expect the Finding of Important Artifacts. Growing up in my mother’s antique shop, I realized that the things most likely to survive and to be stumbled upon are the jumble of everyday life, the stuff in the back of your top dresser drawer. You don’t throw it away and when you get rid of the dresser, you probably don’t even clean it out. How often when you move from one residence to the next do you find that the last thing left in your old place is a bunch of coat hangers? They have no great importance but in their small way they signal something.

So I wanted to show you the Phaistos Disk, courtesy of Bob Place, plus a little extra fun that I’ve added. We don’t know what the disk means, whether it was a game or something extremely important. There are hieroglyphs on the disk, pictures that seem familiar, but without their temporal and cultural context are a bit of a mystery. And with the disk, I provide my irreverent cultural misidentification of what’s really going on here by applying a too-modern point of view.

Best wishes!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Dream A Little Dream

I’ve always had an active dream-life. Most of the time they just seem to be the day tossed into a bag and like my Junk Oracle, rearranged in a different order or odd combinations.

My scary dreams were the Big Dark Monster chasing me. I never turned around to see its face. I only ran.

Another bad one recurred until my mid-20s. The interesting thing about this one is that, as I grew older, the dream changed slightly, which was a key to solving the puzzle of the dream. The basics were always the same. A tornado was headed towards our house, which, by the way, wasn’t really my house but was a farmhouse on a broad plain, dusty and dry. The idea was that I had to get away before the tornado hit. Then there were more tornadoes, three, then five or six. The wind is howling and the dust is swirling and I’m trying to convince my family to go now, leave in the big, old 1940’s-era long-nosed Buick or Pontiac sedan parked between the house and the barn. My mother instead continues to take the dried laundry flapping horizontally from the clotheslines.

My earliest versions of this dream have the terrified me in the car but unable to reach the pedals. As I grew older, I could reach the pedals, but I couldn’t drive the car because it was a manual transmission. As I grew more skilled, I got past one hurdle only to find another. Finally, and I mean seriously this dream chased me well into my 20’s, the last hurdle was that I could not get my family into the car. Led by my mother, as the storm approached they all turned into paper dolls.

I solved the problem by just letting the tornado take them away. I mean, seriously, folks, I had worked night after night to figure out how to rescue them, overcoming every obstacle. When I waved goodbye to my paper-doll family and let the tornado take them away, I was relieved of the dream and I never had it again.

I still have trouble watching the Wizard of Oz but at least it’s only a movie. And my feet reach the pedals. Whew!

Other dreams followed me year after year, flying at night above the power poles and trees, finding cats and kittens in sparkly turquoise, green, purple and red, and one of my favorites: Out on that same dusty plain there’s been a little rain and there’s a bit of green grass. It is night-time and there is a full moon. As I look for stars and planets, I realize that there are messages written in the stars, silly messages and intriguing messages. I realize there is not just one full moon, but it has suddenly turned into 2, then 4, then 8, then 16. I do cartwheels in my delight in the grassy field under the many moons. It is a lucky night.

These dreams, of course, are not the dream of future events that seem to have a more coherent narrative about them. Typically synesthetic, those dreams “smell” different from the colorful cats and multiple moons.

It’s pretty easy for me to figure out what’s going on with the tornado dream and the advice I gave myself—and followed—about my family drama, freeing myself from a co-dependent nightmare.

I look forward to the skywriting stars and multiple moons and perhaps, one night, the sparkly turquoise cats will come to do cartwheels with me.

The Moon in Tarot is a great card to signify dreams: In moonlight, things look real, almost. Some things are brought into high relief in moonlight and other things nearly invisible. You might not recognize the same landscape by light of day. In that way, the Moon sometimes signifies deception but I prefer to think of it as altered perception. After all, at high noon in the Grand Canyon, you can barely see the glorious colors of the canyon walls which, at sunset blaze in beauty and contrast. The danger in moonlight is that it comes and goes, that it hides things you may really need to see so you don’t step in a hole or stumble across the thing that was chasing you and wake it.

In one of my cute little antique books, Zadkiel’s Dream Book and Fortune Teller, there are some charming dream interpretations that I thought I would share. In no particular order, but using elements from the RWS Tarot deck:

Lamps (from the Hermit): If you dream that you are carrying a bright lamp, it foretells that in your particular calling you will succeed, and be highly esteemed…To dream of seeing many bright lamps denotes a coming festivity. If you appear to be exultant on the occasion it denotes your marriage.

Laurel (as the wreath on the head of the celebrant on the 6 of Wands): To dream of Laurel betokens victory and pleasure. If you marry it foretells possessions by your wife. It foreshadows great prosperity. If a woman dreams of it and smells it, it denotes that she will bear children [laurel is bay leaf, ed.]; to a maid, it shows speedy marriage.

Miser (from the 4 of Pentacles): This is an unfavourable dream. It foretells bad success through life and great troubles. You will never rise above your present circumstances, but probably become poorer and more wretched. In love it foretells marriage with a person who will make you miserable by low despicable ways and that you will have many bad children. [Well! Cross that one off the list, ed.]

Moon (from the Moon): To dream of the moon foretells unexpected joy and success in love. If it be a new moon it is a good dream for the tradesman and farmer and lover. The full moon denotes marriage; it is good for a widow. [OK, I’m not getting married 16 times. Not, ed.]

Crown (many Tarot cards have a crown, such as the Ace of Swords): To dream of a monarch’s crown denotes favour with the great and elevation in your state. To dream that you will wear a royal crown is a dream of contrary; it denotes your degradation. To dream that you give a crown shows that you will rise to independence. [Mixed blessing, that crown thing, ed.]

Snails (from the 9 of Pentacles): To dream of snails is not a very good dream. It foretells that you will be annoyed with very low evil-designing persons. Be watchful, lest you suffer through their designs. [Have always preferred my snails in butter and garlic anyway, ed.]

River (from the Empress, 5 of Cups, etc.): To dream that you see a broad, rapid and  muddy river and tempestuous [sic] it denotes troubles and difficulties in love and business; but if the river appears calm, with a glassy surface, it foretells great happiness in love, happy wedlock, beautiful children and commercial prosperity.

And last, two of the most enduring symbols from the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot, the lily and the rose:

Lily: To dream you see this lovely flower, it is a sign that by your virtuous and industrious career you will be very happy and prosperous. To the lover it denotes the virtue of the object beloved. The lily is the emblem of purity; therefore it augurs well. If you marry, you will be happy and have lovely children. If in your dream you see the lily wither, then your most ardent expectations will be nullified…portends failure….

Rose: To dream of roses in their season is the omen of happiness, prosperity and long life. If the roses are full and fragrant, it foretells to a young man who dreams it that his mistress will be fair and beautiful, intelligent and amiable, and that their union will follow in due time and be honourable and happy. It is a good dream for the tradesman and for all, prognosticating great success. If the roses are decayed, it indicates trouble and poverty.

So may your roses and lilies be full and fragrant and may moonlight and bright lamps shine on your calm river so that it sparkles like glass! See you in my dreams!

Best wishes.