Thursday, November 27, 2014

Feeling Special

I don't think I'm bleeding, at least not much. Tony the stripey cat just did handsprings across the bed with my chin and neck as gymnastics mats.

We had a long night. Louie the puppy was up at least four times and Tony woke me up twice trying to get under the covers. I love it when the weather turns cool and the critters want to snuggle. The second time Tony requested to burrow along my side, Louie just happened to be under the covers too. I interrupted my dream to speculate how long I would be able to keep my legs and whether I would be able to get them reattached. Fortunately for me, Tony realized this arrangement might not be the best and retreated before Louie woke up.

I resumed my dream about the neighbors and their four lions. The neighbors don't actually have four lions so save yourselves the gasoline and resume spending time with your loved ones and your fine Thanksgiving dinner.

But I was thinking about the nature of pain and memory nonetheless even as I was dreaming and the lions hopped easily over the neighbors' fence to roam the acreage in lionlike pursuit of something other than me or my loved ones. Tony' s springing about brought the night's events back to mind. I thought about some of the folks I have read for recently.

In my dream, the lions were lovely and I just didn't want them to consider me food. On waking and enjoying a bit of a lie-in to be even more grateful for, I contrasted my dream with the readings.

"Why did they hurt me?" It's a common question. It presumes intent that I almost regret to say is unfounded.

Tony didn't intend to hurt my chin (really, I'm fine. I can barely tell now). He just meant to get to the other side of the bed. Even if the dream lions had turned on me, it would not have been their intent to hurt me. Their intent might have been to eat to stay alive or to defend themselves against a perceived threat. I would be just as hurt, of course, but the intent would not have been there.

Sometimes the hardest news I have to deliver to people in a reading is that what happened really had nothing to do with them. It doesn't negate the pain by any means. But it can be difficult for some to hear that they aren't always the star of their own personal drama. For some that's just unthinkable. Of course, it was personal. It happened to me, right? Well, sometimes you are the star. Sometimes you are just part of the scenery, a vase tipped over in the rumblings of an impersonal earthquake.

Not to pick on modern Christians, although we do and sometimes for awfully good reasons, but the concept of having a personal lord and savior doesn't mean everything that happens is about you. Has our modern concept of deity arisen out of a narcissistic world? What else could make it unthinkable and even disappointing to grasp that most of the time it isn't about you, good or bad? Sometimes, stuff just happens.

I heard a saying recently that Fate (not determinism) may be what other people do to you, but karma is what you do in response. And I liked that because we do have the ability to choose. I decide to mourn. I decide to celebrate. I decide to speak up. I decide to retreat. I decide to postpone a decision. I decide to take something personally. I choose to take responsibility, whether it is mine or not. I choose to ignore responsibility. And perhaps ultimately, I choose to look at the world from another's point of view, with their fears and pain and blind spots and hopes. Or not.

And after a while you realize that people are mostly thinking about themselves as we are biologically meant to do. Of course, we hope each of us endeavors to rise above that.

The 9 of Wands always feels like a pause before the final push, one last moment to exercise our ability to choose how to approach the situation. It can be like your self-assessment in performance review. You, leaning there on your wand, the one you selected among many wands, reflect on the the past a moment. You can think about the pain and the struggle. Maybe going further isn't worth it, given the energy you have left. Maybe you ignore the bumps and just recharge a little. Your travels have as much to do with the energy you bring to the road as the energy the road brings to you. Maybe more, because you have a choice.

If you take yourself out of the spotlight, will you stop being special? Isn't that just a little silly? You're just as special as anyone else, no more, no less. Oh, perhaps a little bit more? You may then be able to laugh and help others and take care of yourself for the next steps along the way.

Happy Thanksgiving and best wishes.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Lenormand Intensive I in Sonoma, CA

Lenormand Intensive I in Sonoma, CA

Join me: Sunday, November 16, 2014, for an all-day Lenormand Intensive I at Tarot Art & Tattoo Gallery in Sonoma, California. Details coming soon! For more information, contact Marcia McCord on Facebook, or

This is the first of 2 all day classes to be scheduled at the newly opened Tarot Art & Tattoo Gallery in Sonoma, CA. Dive into the 36 cards of the Lenormand oracle in beautiful Sonoma Wine Country.

Mark your calendars!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


Robin Williams. Lauren Bacall. It’s been a hard week already. I remember looking at my horoscope natal chart, thinking about my Saturn return and the Dramatic Voice Inside My Head pronouncing, “Now begins the Season of Loss.”

I have learned a lot from my parents and my older friends. The really raw deal you get for being a successful old person is that you watch your loved ones die.

If you really love life, you have a hard time seeing how any end can be a good end. I really don’t like the “live fast, die young” thing. I was always pretty sure I wanted to see at least one more day. I had had friends and classmates who died young, taken away too soon. Yes, in my mind Janice, who died playing in the sand dunes while tunneling through to make a playhouse, will always be young and beautiful. David will always be fresh-freckled, bright and creative. Childhood friends, classmates, they are frozen  in my memory, young, hopeful, laughing. And gone.

My first Saturn return brought my mother’s death. While I had studied astrology intensively on my own in my late teens, the concept of a Saturn return didn’t occur to me the first time around. I was really busy then. I was working full time and going to college full time. I was lucky my cats still recognized me when I came home at night. I was going with a very handsome man I would not marry, would not choose to and ultimately did not. I was old enough, jaded enough to know that marriage is a financial relationship as much as anything else. I was well fond of my feller but did not want to mix bank accounts with him.

There wasn’t anything I could do to reverse my mother’s cancer. I hated that. I wanted to be able to set things right. I was too aware at the time that one of the reasons I chose computer science instead of medicine was that if a computer program died, you didn’t have to contact the grieving next of kin. You just had to fix it. It was sufficiently complicated to hold my interest but the risk was at least “nothing personal.”

My mom took a long time to die. We talked about a lot of things before she died. She had time to decide how she wanted things to go. No funeral, she said, and had things doled out the way she wanted. She spent time the way she wanted for the most part. She had a booth at the flea market as long as she had the strength to do it. I spent my vacations with her those years when I didn’t have to study for finals in my progress towards making a career for myself.

My friends and I discussed whether it would be better to know, have time and be prepared or to live right up to the last minute your regular life and go all in a puff. I joked that I thought I’d rather have time to prepare because there were things I needed to burn!

But that was my first Saturn return.

For my second Saturn return, I wondered what it would be. Losing my mom was awful of course. I had not realized at the time that my brother resented that I had continued to work and go to college while my mother was in her last illness. He didn’t know at the time that she and I had discussed whether I should quit my job and school and come to stay with her to help her. She said no. She told me her time was over but that I had to live.

What would be hard this time, like it was for me the first time around? So many years ago I had looked at my own chart and noticed my natal Saturn was in my 8th house, the house Ultimate Things like sex, death and taxes. No namby-pamby Saturn return for me.

Now comes the Season of Loss.

It’s not like people didn’t die every day. They did. But as my Saturn return approached, I became aware of those around me dying. “Kids” from my high school class started passing away. John and Kirby, part of my small group of friends in high school, both died of colon cancer. They weren’t the only ones. It seemed like a lot of the guys I went to school with had colon cancer. What was it? We all lived in a small town in New Mexico, drank the same water and, at least some of them smoked the same weed. Pesticides? Unrelenting sunlight? The dust in the wind from the west? A lifetime of junk food? Or just… our age, our time, the Season of Loss? Any of those. All of them. None of them.

Elders from my circle of friends, friends of friends have begun to leave for the next life. No matter whether a life was lived piously and with prudent self-restraint or whether the mortal coil was played in so hard, so often, so well that it seemed remarkable to have lasted so long, now that I have reached my crone years, my lovies are checking out.

I remember my father’s ennui at 90, not so long ago, when he kept asking why he was still here. His adorable wife, my step-mother Noni had left too soon, burned up by lung cancer, and she, a woman who never smoked. His play-mate was gone. Everyone was astonished. Even he expected to die before her. No one expected her to die…maybe ever. She liked to dance and sew and garden and cook healthy meals. She avoided playing stressful games around the dinner table after meals and so excused herself from our pleasantly cutthroat rounds of Hearts. But go she did, sweet woman, waiting until my sister and I had arrived that evening to make sure Daddy was well-cared for.

I learned a hard lesson, that the gift of a long life means you watch those around you leave before you. It taught me the value of my natural habit of making diverse friends with young and old, people from many backgrounds. At the end, if all you’ll eat is macaroni and cheese and there’s a pasta shortage, you won’t be a happy camper.

I steel myself for the Season of Loss. I don’t favor ending my own life, but I can’t be angry at people who choose that. Now, instead of feeling the need to burn things before I go, I think I would be satisfied just to find them! They’re probably in the garage. They may have been thrown out long ago. But I have started to prepare, just a little, should I be taken unawares, reminded by the recent loss of friends and by the elegant Lauren Bacall, that what you have, including your story, is no longer yours when you go. Death harvests one life with the swing of the scythe and moves on; you go to your next adventure. What remains belongs to the rest of us.

Robin Williams’ daughter Zelda quoted Antoine De Saint-Exupery‘s book “The Little Prince,” “You – you alone will have the stars as no one else has them… In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night… You – one you – will have the stars that can laugh.”

Best wishes and laughter from the stars!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Striving Artist

It occurred to me how many of my friends are artists of one sort or another. My friend Beth Seilonen just spent ten days’ wonderful summer vacation with me. She spent much of the time in my back yard in the creative process, painting delightful one-of-a-kind boards, pins and boxes into “spirit boards” complete with little planchettes. More than just her own creative mind at work, her spirit of giving was in play too, since these items are all fundraiser items to support this year’s 2014 SF BATS.

We laughed at how I had her chained to the picnic table all week. In fact, my “artist in captivity” effort was a little more participative. We visited Michaels stores in three different towns, all with just a little bit different inventory of omigoshes and gotchas that inspired Beth to spend her days in the shade of my pink crepe myrtle up to her elbows in paint.

The results are heart-warming, too. At the recent SF BATS Fundraiser event, three of the big boards sold, including a masterpiece friendly fruit bat board with a swirling lacy paper background layer. It looks like the whorls and eddies of the depths of divination.  One of the beautiful owl figural boards sold, plus a box (perfect for runes) decorated with bats flying around the sides with the familiar letters and numbers, Yes and No on the top.
Beth Seilonen's SF BATS Spirit Board 2014

Beth has just a few more of these available for sale, still with proceeds split to SF BATS, along with her joyous, jolly, irreverent Compound Tarot, a 78-card black and white deck featuring the denizens of the mythical Compound that is the Mother House for Daughters of Divination’s Facebook group. This Facebook group was recently made a secret group to facilitate its worldwide membership’s postings of fun and lampooning. One new member wondered where the divination was and we all chuckled reading the question. There are lots of social media groups dedicated to serious divinatory queries, business tips for professional readers and practice readings for students. This group, however, is the haven for diviners in serious need of blowing off a little steam. While a dedicated subgroup gets their spectacles steamed up over current favorite hotties like Cumberbatch and Hiddleston, care is taken to assure the whole thing does not go overboard into completely poor taste (although some would dandle dangerously close to the edge of that cliff), all in good fun.

In addition to having my visiting artist-in-residence for the last few days, my back yard has hosted the neighborhood children in their demand for Craft Day. First, I led my Ventura Street Irregulars in a slapdash paint-your-own-mini-birdhouse day with the kids on the block. Even the two-year-old got her hands into the mix, happily making handprints on whatever was in front of her.

Today, I had to work, but that didn’t stop Beth and her daughter Anna from having the kids over for another round of paint-your-own-box and everyone brought home a treasure.

It was little enough for me to devote my old picnic tables and plastic table cloths, a basket full of paint, glitter and sticky foam things to let artistic imagination run loose. Those were the days I loved best as a child. What a joy to give that to someone else!

I’ve always loved the idea of creating something beautiful. As a child, my favorite toys were crayons, Cray-Pas oil pastels, mosaic tiles, my father’s drafting tools, water colors, rubber stamps and stickers, looms and lanyard supplies. If you could make something with it, I loved it and spent hours making anything from Play-Doh ashtrays to troll doll quilts.

When I was in junior high, my father was smug and delighted to be able to enroll me in college-level art classes at the university where he taught. I was pleased to be treated like just another college student and worked hard for the A’s in my courses. While I faced the endless repetition of the same inaccurate history classes year after year during the regular school year, at least my summers were full of stretching my wings artistically. Dr. Acker taught me how to see, not just look at things, but to see light and dark, shape and motion, perspective and just a little abstraction. But there I also found my limitations and realized that as much as I love art, I’m probably not an artist. Perhaps more valuable than finding my limits was learning that I could help artists and bask in the creative glow.

One of my early “discoveries” was a young man in Illinois named Gerard Erley. He showed pastels in the summer sidewalk art shows. I loved his work. I bought lots of it. I knew he had “it” whatever “it” is. I gave him my sage advice, as a collector of art: “Gerry, you may do any kind of artwork you like, but if you want it to sell, you need to sell it to people who have not had the art education you have. They may not see the nod to Sargent in your portrait. But, if you paint landscapes and still life, something they understand, people will buy them. Because you make Illinois look like someplace someone would want to live.”

I think he laughed at me at the time. But I like to think something I said may have meant something to him. He grew in his artistry and now is an esteemed professor whose breath-taking work commands high prices from eager collectors. He makes this world look like someplace someone would want to live. And I am “house proud” of my collection of “early Erleys”.

Over the years, I’ve found wonderful friends in the arts. Sallie Evans is an artist and miniaturist whose impossibly tiny needlework has graced magazines and shows. My friends Kristine and Shotsie Gorman are both artists in multiple media, now living in Sonoma, California with their latest opening blending tattoo, tarot and painting to create a vibrant and open atmosphere for the arts in a beautiful place, a resort within a resort, Shotsie & Kristine's T.A.T. Gallery. Rebecca Wrigley, a former Disney illustrator, had the seed of an idea for a Tarot deck and while that project is still “in the works,” the spurt of creativity gave her one of the boosts she needed to complete her first novel. And my friend Nancy Truax is the art teacher at our local Catholic high school, leading her honors students to create lasting community art works such as mosaic picnic benches in a nearby public park, a mural to give community youth hope and inspiration and becoming Teach of the Year. And I have countless talented friends creating Tarot and Lenormand decks with their unique points of view, their special vision of the world and understanding of its signs and meanings.

What can I do? My own talents fall short of my wishes, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. I can provide that creative space for others, sponsor their efforts, showcase their beautiful results, and plant the seeds of possibility in the hearts of artists and their champions all over. I can be the Ace of Wands, the inspiration to keep going and growing, encouraging artists of all ages to flower in the expression of the human spirit.

You can too. Sponsor the arts. Turn your favorite starving artist into a successful striving artist today.

Best wishes!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Key of D

You know Global Warming? Local warming is about all I can handle right now, although I’m a staunch advocate for the environment. No arguments, please! My blog, my point of view. You can write a blog if you want, right?

OK, now that that’s out of the way, this local warming thing cropped up yesterday. It was a warm and strangely, for Northern California anyway, muggy afternoon. I had a big plastic cup of ice water on my desk to keep body and soul together. And I was working.

I was on the phone, nothing unusual, and trying to explain the next step in a process.

Mom used to tell me that if she needed me to be quiet, all she had to do was ask me to sit on my hands. Sad to say, I resemble this remark. As much as my feet and my brain seem to have no relationship with each other whatsoever, rendering me hopeless as a dancer and probably leading to my many unscheduled flights down stairs all over the USA, my hands apparently are directly connected to my mouth.

This flailing about has gotten me into some small trouble all my life. I was always first to tip over my orange juice on the kitchen table in the morning at breakfast. My one satisfaction about this is that the “flail gene” seems to have come from my father’s side of the family. One time my half-sister was visiting our Dad while I was there too and she tipped over her orange juice at the table.

“Hey!” I shouted, shocked, jumping up to grab the paper towels. “Hey, that’s MY line!”

“You, too?” She asked in dismay and realization that what might have been dismissed as sheer coincidence was now confirmed to be a familial curse.

Well, you can probably see where this is leading. As I was in animated discussion with a co-worker about the workings or non-workings of a particular aspect of the system, it happened. I hit that cup of ice water and “thar’ she blows.”

I’m still on the phone, ever the professional if not completely coordinated, grabbing my brand new work laptop up from the storm surge of ice water. I unplugged it immediately, turned it upside down on my chair to let gravity be my friend—for a change—and completed my phone call.

Then dashing to action like the Knight of Swords, I grabbed the electronic brain in soggy distress and headed to the bathroom.

I know this is counter-intuitive. Just bear with me.

From past experience, since sadly this isn’t the first time that electronics and liquid have met under my wild gestures, I have learned that speed is essential in rescuing the drowning laptop.

I grabbed my hairdryer, tilted my victim on its side and applied heat and air until the drips stopped and no evidence of moisture gleamed.

Back at my desk I plugged that baby back in and was pleased there was no smoke and all the keys…well, there was the issue, you see.

That D key felt funny. It wobbled. It slipped off its moorings and into my hand, leaving the stump of the tooth exposed like a raw nerve.

Since denial is the first stage of mourning, I tried to fit the D back in place, then inspected it more closely. It had melted, a case of “friendly fire” during the drying out process and was now too deformed to sit securely in place, let alone be usable to type the letter D. Salvaging what I could of the situation, I was happy to learn that in spite of the button being ruined, the stump of the key will produce the letter D reliably. I hadn’t actually ruined the computer, only that one letter.

Well, now, how to remedy this?

I called the Help Desk. You know Help Desks. They are populated with eager people from other countries whose accents or volume are such that a deranged technology victim cannot understand them. This leads to the victim often being rude to the poor Help Desk person. I work hard not to be rude to the people who are trying to help me.

“You want deekee?” the earnest young woman in Costa Rica asked me. “What application on your laptop is deekee?”

Many answers spring to mind, none helpful.

“No, I need the chicklet that says D.”

“You need chickee deekee? I do not know that application,” she says, uncertainly.

“No. Sweetie. Look at your own keyboard that you have under your hands right now. Find the letter D. See the little plastic thing with the D on it? I need that, just that.”

“When you will in Irvine be? Technician will give you deekee.”

“No, that won’t do. I’m an 8 hour drive from Irvine. It’s like two whole countries away. I need you to send me a D key. I’ll put it on myself.”

“Oh, I can only have technician fix your deekee,” she says, and I wonder how on earth I can keep a straight face with this conversation. “You have to order deekee yourself to do yourself.”

I’m silent for a moment. At least my hands are still and there is no ice water nearby. I consider finding what’s left of it and pouring it over my head for relief.

“I close your ticket now, ok?”

“Sure. Thanks for your help.”

I go to the self-service application and find that I could order the D key or a whole keyboard at any rate but they will not ship it to my home. It has to go to one of my company’s offices. That’s the 8 hour drive. I reminisce on how technology was going to make people’s lives easier.

I send an email to my co-worker Alicia in North Carolina, begging her to send me a replacement D key. She refers it to her local Technician who good-naturedly offers to mail me the necessary item. I thank him profusely, noting that he would not believe the hilarious conversation I had with the Help Desk.

I now await delivery so I can fix my D key myself. I think I need a break.

Best wishes.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Next Page

My friend and co-worker is the Page of Wands. At least, that’s how I think of him. He was hired as a replacement for another friend of mine, really good guy and very smart, who was laid off, mostly because he didn’t want to move and take a cut in salary doing it. While I miss the guy who got laid off, because he was so knowledgeable about the business and an all-around good guy, I like the new guy. But they can in no respect be considered equivalent resources.

My buddy the Page of Wands, or PoW as I will call him here, is struggling a bit with his job. He’s expected to know systems that haven’t been documented, turned over, demonstrated, kept updated or otherwise even tickled in years. Because his title is Senior Business Systems Analyst, he’s just naturally expected to know all this stuff. This is dangerous, but at least PoW has an awareness of the danger. That’s one of the reasons I like him.
Picture Postcard Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

For instance, if you knew a guy who was a Senior Pilot and you plopped him down in, say, an Alien Aircraft, where the knobs were meant for differently shaped hands and what little labeling on the control panel was in a language that nobody knows, would you feel safe? After all, the business requirement here is, “Fly this thing and land it safely where we want it to go.” He’s a Senior Pilot. He should know how to fly, right? Except, he’s never seen anything like this. And no one can help him. Feel safe?

“Who is your business user?” I ask him, suddenly afraid for him and anyone else near the Alien Spacecraft that is the software he’s supposed to specify, describing in detail how it functions and how it should function and what users can do with it if they are a certain role and what they can’t if they aren’t and all that.

“You are my business user,” he replies, with all the faith of a puppy.

“Yeah, but…I don’t KNOW anything about this stuff,” I protest. “There has to be someone who wants you to do this besides your boss, right?”

Most of the time that’s true. Every once in a while, something bad will happen in software development and someone in technology management will decide they know how to make a better system than the business users do. While that in itself isn’t a bad thing at all, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ is usually the business appetite for such a project. Sometimes, and I have worked at these places in the past, sometimes the technology management needs to prove that the system needs to be on a different, more up-to-date technology platform. Say, you could do this from your Dick Tracy watch, right? But the system isn’t really suited for a watch-sized user interface or the people who are going to use it every day don’t have and don’t want Dick Tracy watches, etc.

I’m trying to make a sometimes complex idea easier to understand here. I don’t think anyone is asking my buddy PoW to do things on a Dick Tracy watch. At least, I hope not. Just given the high-level nature of the system, watches would be the wrong user interface. Just sayin’.

Lucky for PoW, there is a business user to talk to. I’m hoping this helps PoW but it may not.

He admitted to me that he was expected to know a lot of stuff he doesn’t know. When he applied for the job, it was as a Junior Business Systems Analyst but they hired him as the Senior Business Systems Analyst. Now, his bosses have expectations of him that he never meant to convey that he could fulfill.

So we have two mistakes here: one, the bosses hired a junior guy to be a senior guy and are now disappointed. Two, the junior guy said yes to the job offer. Now they are both stuck.

I’m not saying PoW can’t learn. Pages are students. Students learn. PoW is the Page of Wands not because he is the slickest thing since sliced bread, but because he has a really limited attention span. He can absorb information in small chunks at a time. He’s not good with slogging through vast folds of information, separating the bullhockey from the puck, so to speak, plodding through on his own to come up with the Right Answer. He’s thrilled if he’s told, “Go get the widget; it’s in the left rear corner of the blue box.” He will bring it right back, no problem.

Pretty soon, if you take some time with him, he gets why the widget was there, why “left” and “rear” and “blue” were important and meaningful. He learns as he goes. But it’s a long distance between the Page of Wands and the Magician.

Is he set up to fail? Maybe. To mean that means that there was some diabolical plot to make PoW’s life miserable specifically. Seriously? I doubt anyone has done that. Stalkers and sociopaths might do this, but generally people in business situations have a “nothing personal” thing going on. In fact, to PoW’s dismay, they may not be thinking of him at all. After all, no one cares about your career, working conditions and personal comfort like you do, so no one is likewise looking to upset those things. The bosses are likely thinking about their own career, working conditions and personal comfort, right? PoW’s situation may have just wandered into their path nearly by accident. I say nearly, because management is supposed to pay some attention to employees. The attention isn’t always what you’d like, of course.

The upshot is of course that PoW is in over his head and he’s not the only one who suffers for it. We all have to pull together to make up for the gap in his experience and confidence. Often the business users, the people with their hands on the keyboard or other user interface of a system, are not particularly skilled at software analysis. If they were, they might be doing software analysis instead of whatever the topic of the system is. And yet, without some grounding in the business topic, it’s hard to ask the right questions to get at the right answer.

As much as today’s business leaders would like to think that one business analyst is much like another, that just isn’t the case. People aren’t interchangeable parts. As much as business wants it to be true, you can’t trade a “60” in for a “30” and get the same productivity. The loss of productivity is often greater than the salary cost savings of a less-experienced person. The problem with this is that the people who made the decision to hire the junior guy and make him do a senior job are the people least likely to be burdened with the gap in ability. It’s the other people in the group who are charged in different roles with making a project successful that carry the burden of the less experienced Deer in the Headlights like my buddy PoW.

Don’t call PoW stupid or untalented. That’s not fair. He meant to be junior. His big mistake was saying yes to the job offer. The stupid or untalented tag is apt for the people who were not paying enough attention to the true skillset needed to do the job and, dutifully following directions, hired someone with the right salary range, period.

Don’t ask me either why software development costs are not reduced when underqualified candidates are charged with doing the job of a senior resource. In the meantime, I’m helping my buddy be the person his boss wishes he magically were. There's only so much I can do.

Best wishes.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Foot in This World

Cat Philosophy 101: "Good morning, Tony, are you being good?"

Tony, in his delight at having been sought for wisdom and affection, steps on the power button for my computer.

"Mama, tell me about BEING first. What is BEING?"

A familiar brief whistling sounds and then my screen is black with nothingness.
Art Postcard Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

I work from home so that computer is my lifeline to well-being and existence. It is something like the oxygen tank for the scuba diver, something other than optional. It is, at least, the beginning of the day and my brief absence is likely not to be noticed.

I quickly resuscitate the work laptop and resume my online presence with my company, answering questions, joining meetings.

Tony gazes at me, demonstrating BEING. We have not yet discussed it as he wished. He takes a brief break from BEING and assists me with my yogurt, acknowledging that cherry is not his favorite flavor. He prefers blueberry. Some sticks to his chin and he dutifully dispatches it.

Tony is a good listener. He doesn’t talk much, except to note the status of the food bowl, to express displeasure at the BEING that is Louie the Dog, to hide under the day bed until Derek the Housekeeper has completed his work and to escape the possibility that large trucks like the trash truck with air breaks and many-geared transmissions might someday make their way to the second floor of my house to hunt down and…he is not ready to verbalize this.

He likes a hug now and again, especially after a long weekend when I have been away from my desk in The Office where he lives. He prefers my left shoulder always. If he should accidentally start out with a tight embrace with barely-flexed claws upon my right shoulder, he will realize his error, no matter what room we are in, and switch to the obviously better left shoulder. He leans tightly into my head and neck, preferring his back legs tucked under his ample kitty girth, his tail free to speak its mind. He places his chin against me, communing with BEING and TOGETHERNESS.

He stays there a while, sometimes falling asleep. He will sometimes set about rearranging my hair, especially if it is freshly washed, as that is his vocation. Smearing his cheeks upon my head, licking my scalp, breathing in the scent of NOBODY BUT US, he leaves his mark. MY Mama, he says. We were made for each other.

But what about BEING?

I can type and talk with a 17-lb. cat on my shoulder if he does not exercise his claws too deeply or luxuriate to his sharp teeth in my hair or swish his tail in response to the speaker phone requests for software testing, documentation, solutions to problems, business compromises, win-win scenarios. I can BE with him and do what I need to do.

What is BEING?

Why would he ask me these questions, I wonder, and why would he think I know? I am that I am? I am that I imagine myself to be? I am, beyond my own imagination? I am, beyond the physical world of fur and stripes and cat drool and purrs, of claws in tender skin, just deep enough to be felt and not so deep to draw blood. I am that I feel, that I dream of houses I never lived in and never will, that I sense lives not my own, a past too distant for this time, a future that might have been and another that might be yet.

What is BEING?

Tony disengages his claws and paws and purrs and fur, his bulk no longer braced by my neck. He licks my hand and steps to the desk, settling in like B. Kliban’s meatloaf upon papers and books and decks of cards beneath a lamp that has not been plugged into electricity for at least ten years. He regards me in peace and understanding as only the Hierophant can, with the knowledge of BEING and NOTHINGNESS, with a foot in this world and one in the next.

So many people have trouble with the Hierophant, the card that teaches, that presumes to know what we do not know and seeks to impart its truth, so often in a language misunderstood, where words have meaning but meaning is elusive.

I am re-reading Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, perhaps my favorite book of all time. The main character is a linguist, a good-hearted Jesuit, who travels afar to places never known before, studies language and culture, seeks understanding and comes away with the greatest of understandings: The smallest thing can be misunderstood on the most fundamental level with direst of consequences, even by brilliant, well-meaning, alert, eager and thoughtful minds.

A friend laughed to tell me often, “Why do you hate me? I haven’t even tried to help you yet.”

What is BEING? Tony asks me, not to find out the answer, but to teach the student. I am CAT, he smiles and closes his eyes as a book is closed after the lesson.

Best wishes.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

So Long

A friend of mine died June 9. I’ve written a few tributes to those who have passed but I don’t think what I can write would do him justice.

His friends, I among them, were trying to help him get past crushing poverty, devastating loss and depression, far enough at least to enjoy life a little. Have a little hope. Look forward.

He was brilliant, talented, kind. Book smart, street stupid, as even his own father assessed him. At his lowest points he had been robbed by crackheads, beaten up by bullies, abandoned by friends and kept at a distance by those who were supposed to love him, at least until I met him.

He was a self-styled hippie, an environmentalist whose often-changing college major finally settled on Earth Sciences after intellectual affairs with anthropology, archaeology, chemistry and astronomy. We called him The Professor. He might be the smartest guy I ever knew.
Tea Tarot
(c) Copyright 2011 Marcia McCord

He played hard in his youth, the lone Welshman among Clan Colin at the Northern California Renaissance Faire and Mr. Mould the Undertaker at The Dickens Faire, an SCA enthusiast to the end. He drank. He smoked. He swore. He joked incessantly. He overcame his natural shyness and enjoyed the ladies. He fell in love. He married. He moved from the places he loved in San Francisco and Santa Clara to a place he hated, Missouri, and more importantly a place that hated him because it was pretty clear he wasn’t from around there. He separated from his wife, painfully, never to be fully reconciled. He lost his job, his car, his apartment and everything he owned. He was stripped of everything that echoed his own identity. He was officially diagnosed as depressed. He lived in low-cost housing in a third floor walkup full of cockroaches that could never quite be driven back with his broken guitar, his few books, his six rescued cats and a lot of wine and cigarettes, and one deck of Tarot cards.

Friends had bought him a computer so he could communicate with the world. He wrote a blog on environmental issues, trying to point out practical solutions to real problems and debunk hokum and hysteria. He had worked for Greenpeace, exchanged words with Alan Ginsberg, corrected errors in nationally published scientific articles (for which he was thanked, not run off) and served as a Knight for His Fairest Lady, The Earth. While the world of people had turned on him again and again, he sought to preserve our Home for even those who did little to deserve it.

He was very active in helping out with feral cats, a passionate advocate for the practice of TNR (Trap, Neuter and Release) for feral colonies. He tried to educate people about how to treat those creatures who had been abandoned by those who should have been responsible for them. He understood “abandonment issues.” He was adopted himself, never to know his birth family although he wanted to.

He loved music, especially Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, and played guitar and, as he put it, probably anything with strings. He was a great fan of Tom Waits, Harry Nilsson, John Lennon, Laura Nyro, Planxty, Steeleye Span.

He wanted to find the community that would not bully him for being whatever he was and finally, in his last year, found a small group of friends, remnants from the Ren Faire and Tarot groups who loved the coolness, the “joy in the toy” that is science. He wanted to be on Jeopardy but knew he would lose if one of the categories was sports-related. He loved Antiques Roadshow. He wanted to write a sequel to Goethe’s Fairy Tale: The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily. He wanted to create a Tarot poster with hydrology as the focus. He wanted to move back to California where he belonged.

He almost made it. He ran out of time. Lung cancer savaged him, spread to his liver, brain and bones. His best assets began to fail him. He met some of his goals, but I suspect that his favorite one was the friendship, solid and loving friendship he found with those who shared his interests, humor, spirit, passion and irreverence. No one knows if he knew he was dying for certain but he suspected things weren’t good. He was taken to the emergency room, then the oncology ward where he found for certain he had cancer, then fell unconscious never to awaken fully. His family, from afar, tried to do what they thought he would want in the absence of any instruction and removed his breathing tube. And he died, immediately.

We friends of his now scramble to sort out our sorrow at the loss of this bright light, a genius easily mistaken for a homeless, drunken bum, a True Knight too easily mistaken for a Trickster, a heart so soft and a wit so sharp, intimidated by aggression and unkindness, delighted with the workings of the Universe.

We seek to make sure his cats, his true children, his surviving immediate feline family, have good homes. If you can help, please do. 

If you can look around you to find those whose lives took turns they could not course-correct and reach out to them to help, please do. We are all Children of the Stars together. It is up to us to make a difference.

Rest, or play, in peace, Bob Carlson. You made it.

Best wishes, always.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

How Was Your Week?

Greetings to all my friends at Readers Studio 2014 and all my friends who aren’t there, too! It turns out that it’s probably a good thing I didn’t come this year because I would have spent a great deal of what should be an utter blast (and from the pictures posted on Facebook so far, it is a blast) working for my Day Job.

I haven’t pulled an all-nighter in some time now but I did Thursday night. It was the usual world-will-come-to-an-end-if-this-stuff-isn’t-done-at-exactly-the-right-time sort of thing. Perhaps you have that kind of thing somewhere in your lives? Even a wedding or a birth can be a little flexible in its schedule, but not computer stuff that has regulations and oversight and other Important Factors.

I thought I would describe my week in terms of my Art Postcard Tarot.

Art Postcard Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

One thing that’s really accurate in this reading is the addition of a new floppy-eared fellow named Louie to my household. He arrived “after hours” one night in February and after trying to find his owner for a month, the Animal Control folks declared him officially mine. There’s some hunting dog gene in this pooch, a natural pointer, particularly in the assignment of blame phase of household disaster discovery. Louie points to the cats. The cats point back.

Louie’s best friend is Lizard, a soft squeaky green fellow who hasn’t got a lot to say unless he’s being chewed on by a little brown dog. Lizard has been part of the household since before Louie’s arrival, but only Binket paid attention to him and that only when she was working out her Puff Baby drama, a play of meller-drammer not yet available on Broadway.

Besides the accidental acquisition of an enthusiastic puppy, I have also purposefully acquired a new camera lens and have been going hog-wild with close-up photos of the flowers in my yard. It’s a “macro” lens that will just about let me count the hairs on an aphid’s nose. For those of you who are really photographers, I apologize but goodness this is fun!

I've been such a poor correspondent lately that my friend Sally, bless her heart, had to track me down and call to see if I were still alive. Oops. I've been busy. I had this birthday thing and, well, it's a long story. All of my stories are long stories.

I’m still planning on reprinting my decks later this year but currently have a few copies of the Dust Bunny Lenormand still available. To those who have asked, my Off-Center Lenormand will not be reprinted until my partner in that venture, Dan Pelletier of Tarot Garden, gives the signal. Dan tends to like collectable decks to be collectable and likes the idea of that deck being limited to its original 100 copies. Sorry to disappoint, but unless you see Off-Center up for resale on an auction, you are likely not to find a copy.

On the list are the Picture Postcard Tarot, the Art Postcard Tarot, the Victorian Trade Card Tarot and the Tea Tarot, again in limited quantities, later in the year. I’m gathering contact information from those interested in these decks, so stay tuned.

I will attend BATS again this year in San Jose and have a few other events in the works in the San Francisco area, and perhaps a new deck or two! Stay tuned for more fun!

Best wishes!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Looking Forward

While working too long this weekend on a job that is likely to invite me to leave if I don’t agree to move to North Carolina for a reduced salary, I mused that so many people including me want to know what’s coming up next.
Victorian Trade Card Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

One of my clients has to know if a $100 investment would pay off because they really need the money. I hesitate to pull a card on that. Am I chicken or is it too much like financial advice, something specifically I won’t give, partly because of the day job and partly because of basic ethics: I’m not a professionally trained financial adviser? I pull a card. What a relief! It’s the Wheel of Fortune.

“It’s a crap shoot,” I tell my client. “Timing is everything.”

The $100 is a membership to be considered for work in a specific industry, the sales equivalent of buying leads, betting on some percentage of outcome based on your skills…and luck. I flash on Groucho Marx’ remark that he didn’t want to belong to an organization that would have him as a member. Something about that fits here, but can’t quite put my finger on it.

Knowing my client, they are going to do what they want to do anyway. It’s a free-will thing. I’m a big fan of free will. Little enough is up to us the way things are. I don’t like to see people give up their right to choose. My client doesn’t want to waste time and money on a fruitless venture. I sympathize, but I also think that when you focus on just one kind of fruit, you’re probably frustrated a lot. Maybe “fruitless ventures” are there to help us with some larger purpose.

Getting the Wheel of Fortune here at least validates my hesitation to say whether this will be a good deal or a bad deal. It’s a maybe yes, maybe no answer that maybe masks the real answer of there’s no sure thing in this life. That doesn’t keep any of us from wishing there were a sure thing.

People who are really good at what they do wish for a merit-based arrangement. The best should get what they deserve. People who suffer even a moment’s self-doubt wish for a stroke of undeserved good fortune. People want good things to happen for themselves and their loved ones. Sometimes good things happen; sometimes they don’t. And sometimes people who do what I do get an inkling of whether or not something will be a good thing. I don’t know why or how.

I don’t necessarily feel the need to attribute it to divine gift or the influence of evil, either, no more so than breathing, seeing, liking butter or being allergic to mold is a gift or a curse. It’s just a thing and, well, since I’m an optimist, I tend to think of all those things as some kind of gift. It takes less energy to say thank you than it does to spend time cursing. So, thanks, You Out There, just in case you intended my life to have these gifts and, well, thanks, too, if it’s just some accident.

I live in earthquake country in addition to wine country, agreeable weather country and any other description you might need. Because of that, I check out the USGS Earthquake site for recent activity, mostly because it interests me. While finishing up my degree in English, I nearly switched my major to geology, having become enamored of large systems and long-term cause and effect. In the end, I took a few geology courses and decided I needed the degree in the low-hanging fruit so I could get out into the workaday world. I still think it’s cool, though, that while people focus on, say, the devastating 1906 earthquake in San Francisco perhaps not realizing that what was really devastating was the resultant fire, unnoticed by most is that in the very few years (emphasis on very if you count geological time) around that event, there were major earthquakes all over the world. When it comes to plate tectonics, it basically works like that children’s song where all the piggies are in bed and they all rolled over and one fell out. It’s all connected, this earth, in a pattern larger than the burning of a city.

Of course, if the fire burned down your house, you’re going to focus on your immediate issue. If an entire economy is experiencing “piggy rolling” and you lose your job, you’re going to focus on that. You should. But larger patterns are likely in play, too. Sometimes the larger pattern is easier to see than the immediate effect; sometimes, the immediacy is all you can see. Reading cards can be like that too.

I have just as strong an urge to know what’s coming up as anyone else. So how can I be relieved that my reading for my client basically came up with, “It’s a crap shoot” for an answer? Maybe it’s because I’ve been working so hard on the microcosm all weekend, trying to get something done for Monday morning that in the grand scheme of things is not likely to prevent war, save homeless people or pets or cure even a case of the hiccups. But sometimes, it can be a comfort to focus on what’s right under your nose instead of being buried in the avalanche of what is to come.

What I do know is that I don’t want my client to be dependent on me as a card reader to be the determining factor of what they do in their lives. That’s my client’s responsibility, the burden, the obligation of free will.

The words we’re all searching for are “thank you”.

Best wishes.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Uncharacteristically early for a rendezvous with the relatives, I sat down at a large round table on the back porch of the coffee shop. There would be at least six of us. The HUBS was parking the car, no small problem. Apparently, we in the SF Bay Area like to drink the morning after a sad defeat for our San Francisco 49-ers and we drink coffee.

We had met with Patti and Bob Saturday night in San Francisco at Capp’s Corners. Capp’s is just a block off busier Stockton Street, near where Chinatown and North Beach bump up against each other like the tectonic plates along the San Andreas Fault. In this case, the plates are often more of the culinary sort and no matter which neighborhood you’re in, the food is delicious.

Capp’s is in the same block as Beach Blanket Babylon and has an almost-fixed price menu for dinner, pasta is something like $18.50 and other entrees are something like $21.50. Dinner comes with minestrone soup and a salad, both served family style on checked tablecloths. It’s like being at home in a way, but home is a place with a lot of noisy people after 7 pm.

At about 5 pm, though, I was the only one there besides a regular named Tommy who was leaving. We were supposed to meet at 4 pm but one thing led to another and we are relaxed with each other mostly. I wasn’t sure if we had reservations. I had my cell phone, checking for messages. I ordered a Zinfandel. I enjoyed it.

After a while we caught up with Patti and Bob and then Andy and his adorable friend Jeannette from New Zealand. She’s an orthopedic surgical nurse and we agreed that talking about her work in detail at the dinner table was probably not the best. She did confirm that tourists fall off mountains and drive on the wrong side of the road just often enough to keep her quite busy.

I had steak.

Andy and Jeannette had to drive to southern California the next day, so by Monday, holiday for me, breakfast in Alamo near Danville was at a place called Cherubini near the creek. It’s January after all so they had the outdoor overhead heaters on, but they weren’t really necessary.

We’re in a drought this year. Water is so low in the local reservoirs that they are talking about mandatory rationing. The newscasts are talking about the droughts in the 1970’s, before I came to California, but when I moved here in 1989 there was a drought too.

Every toilet flush, every glass of water at the restaurant, every load of laundry or shower was something to be mindful of. House-proud new homeowners in bedroom communities like Benicia saw their expensive lawns dry up to crackling. Xeriscape lawns became the rage, with stones and benches and wooden slat overhead trellises to create shady earth and the illusion of a cool retreat from the unrelenting sun.

Adding to the drought’s bad effects on tourism was the Loma Prieta earthquake in October 1989. In Monterey the following January, Cannery Row was a ghost town, the natural disasters having shooed vacationers to “safer” places. While I was there for a week, tagging along on HUBS2’s business trip, I had what everyone in California wants: I had the place to myself. I started conversations with otters and harbor seals. I continued them with gulls and ground squirrels. I watched the two scuba divers fiddle with their gear and waddle into the seaweed jungle of the bay. For a brief moment that week, time stood still again. But there was a drought, true enough. I had arrived on Thanksgiving Day 1989 in pouring rain and I didn’t see a drop until May the following year. I thought I was in heaven.

Now I’ve lived in California long enough to worry about the day-after-day of “perfect” weather, the low reservoirs, the anticipation of a bad fire season. I sat on the too-warm deck behind the coffee shop and waited for HUBS3 and his sweet family to arrive. I would wait to get something to drink. It’s a drought year.

I looked toward the creek nearby, wondering at the flowers blooming in January. I used to be startled at January flowers, having suffered too long in Missouri and Illinois winters whose only colors were white, and ice and grey and sometimes charcoal where a tarred road lay scraped and still treacherous or where dark tree trunks lined with clinging frost and snow slatted the edge of my sight. Color here in January may be white and green and pink and red and sometimes yellow. It is the time after fall and not yet summer here. It is the time when birds eat.

Art Postcard Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord
It was a quiet time, as if January had taken a quick breath and held it for a moment. A few coffee-lovers nodded at me on the way to the bathroom, questions unasked about why one person sat alone at so big a table. And yet, wasn’t this the California everyone wanted? The one all to themselves?

I read somewhere that the Ace of Pentacles was the most fortunate card in the deck. It is the big round reality, the essence of material comfort like the sun’s big gold coin in the morning sky, like the big round table all to myself on the back deck of a cozy coffee shop with its good smells that made the air taste like omelets and pastry and java or cappuccino. Being here right now, that was the Ace of Pentacles. This one thing, this disc of the world in its tactile form, this table here was the Ace of Pentacles. I reached out and touched the edge of it in wonder of the tactile universe.

“I got you a coffee,” the HUBS said, setting the Cherubini’s mug with its corseted form in front of me. “I put in the cream but wasn’t sure how much sugar you wanted.”

I was only briefly startled and smiled. I picked up the mug and sipped.

“It’s OK,” I murmured. “It’s sweet enough.”

Best wishes.