Saturday, April 27, 2013

Divination (In the Category of Say What You Mean.)

Divination, Tweeps, or Whining? I narrow it down to these three possibilities for this week’s blog post. All of them make me say,hmmm?” They may all yet make it here in one form or another. But it’s the weekend. My deadline looms.

From across the room, a glint catches my eye – our crystal ball collection throws glimmers in the day’s failing light. It’s sparkly; I’m a magpie. Prisms have ever fascinated me. And kaleidoscopes. Divination -- like a whisper.

The Sun in Pisces at the time of my birth predicates a fascination with prophecy, spiritualism, the occult. I have always been intrigued, but blog-wise, I’m still not sure what direction to take. I experience  the usual hebdomadal panic: #52weeks. I want to meet this goal, but can I? I grab my newest tarot deck (I collect them…this one has a Lord of the Rings theme…). I shuffle the cards.

I shuffle adroitly; I’ve had years of practice. The technique is simple: split the deck; interlace the top ten cards of each side; arch both, and slowly cascade them together. Tap the deck on the table to smooth the sides, repeat until the desired comfort level of randomness has been achieved. As I shuffle I mutter my query: Why am I blogging? Why the hell am I blogging?

Kim’s Rules of Tarot:
  1. Follow the instructions. (This requires reading them.)
  2. Read directly from The Book* (applies to any deck, regardless of how long you have owned it).
  3. Believe none of it. In the words of Alice, “You’re nothing but a pack of cards!”** 
I throw a new spread. I generally deal the 10-card Celtic Cross, but this deck has Middle Earth-ian themes, so I go with Gandalf’s Spread, a 7-card variant laid out on the table to resemble a runic G. I grab The Book. I’ve already marked the three sections I’ll need to read the cards: the throw and its meanings, interpretations for the Major Arcana cards and the Minor Arcanas. I turn the cards face up one at a time.

Card # 1, present situation: represents the querent’s current working and living conditions and the area of present influence.*** I reveal the Empress, a Major Arcana card (represented by Galadriel, Belladonna Took & Rose Gamgee…the triple feminine aspects of maid, mother and crone). I flip to the correct page and read. “The Empress Card shows the mighty ability of the earthly plane to create new forms of physical life and support them.”  Do blogs count as physical life?

Card # 2, the near future: the sphere of influence coming into being, in a broad sense. The Queen of Swords (Lady Eowyn) joins the Empress It’s a girl-power throw. I can feel it. I find the page. “A determined woman who will not be swayed from her purpose.” I can relate to that…I am stubborn, damn stubborn.

Card # 3, the recent past: shows the most recent sphere of influence, which has just passed or is passing – Another strong-looking woman, this time it’s the Queen of Wands (Theodwyn, Sister of Theoden). I’ve never heard of Theodwyn, but the book explains she is  the mother of Eomer and Eowyn. “An independent-minded woman who intends to exert her influence, either directly or indirectly, on the situation as it develops.” I mull this one for a bit. Somehow, it’s discomforting.

Card # 4 shows the querent’s present position or attitude…it attempts to place the querent in the proper perspective. The Emperor (Elrond), I’m taken aback…all that girl power, and now, a dude. And in the querent position no less! Still, it’s a pretty cool dude and another Major Arcana card. (The Major Arcana comprise only 1/3 of the tarot deck and, as such, are given greater relevance in the interpretation of the throw.) “The Emperor card is a strong one, denoting the principle of self-determination, the way the individual will may be taken and channeled with unswerving sense of direction.” Another “tenacious” card. I begin to feel bullied. It is only a pack of cards, but damn it… .

Card # 5, hopes and anxieties: shows the inner hopes, fears, anxieties and hidden emotions of the querent. I draw the Ace of Swords (Gwaihir the Eagle). “A liberating situation or opportunity that enables rapid progress to be made now. Breakthrough.” Hmmm.

Card # 6, opposing, contrary influences: shows the nature of obstacles that may lie just ahead. I always get a little thrill of dread when I reveal this position’s card. The Lightning Struck Tower has yet to show itself, a transformation card, yes, but with baggage. The Six of Wands turns up instead. “Victory against the forces of negativity. Take time out to take a bow.”

Take a bow? Really? But then I think about it. I would never tell you the contents of this blog are bow-worthy. They are not. But they never had to be Pulitzer material. They just had to be, once a week, every week, for 52 weeks. And maybe these weekly posts, these burps, as I sometimes call them, don’t completely suck. Maybe they do. That isn’t the point.

In the Gandalf Spread of the Lord of the Rings Tarot, the given meaning of card # 7, the final position, confuses me: helpful, supportive influences? I’ve never seen it in a tarot book before. The last position usually represents the final outcome of the query, the culmination of the preceding cards. The notion of helpful and supportive influences makes the entire reading feel open-ended and unfinished.

But I follow the instructions. I flip the last unrevealed card. It is the Nine of Coins, “Recognition and acknowledgment for an accomplishment or completion of a task.”

I smile broadly. #52Weeks

*In this particular case, the book is: Donaldson, Terry. The Lord of the Rings Tarot. Stamford, CT:  U.S. Game Systems, 1997. Printed book.

**Carroll, Lewis. Alice In Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass. Kingsport, TN: Grosset & Dunlap, Inc., 1946. p. 133.

***Descriptions of the cards position are from Tarot: Cards for Fun and Fortune Telling. (Kaplan, S.R. New York, NY: U.S. Game Systems, 1970.)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Only Santa guards his list more closely. (In the Category of Mean What You Say.)

I started thinking about Christmas this morning.  I wanted to post (on Facebook) the number of days left until Christmas (250). Part of me was curious to see whom it would goad.  It’s only just April – Spring, I thought the idea of counting the days until Winter would rouse some of my friends better than their morning coffee.

But part of me wants to think about Christmas. Not the tree decorating (which I love), or the gift shopping and wrapping (which I loathe); I want to think about baking Christmas cookies.

I have many happy, sugary childhood memories of time spent in the kitchen with my mom and sister, stirring nougat-colored chocolate chip batter, sprinkling the pale sugar cookies with red, green, blue, yellow – primary sugars that stained my finger tips and tongue.

In addition to cookies, Mom always baked (and still bakes) cranberry bread. The sharp smell of orange zest and chopped cranberries would permeate the kitchen. The batter flavor, when done correctly, strikes a perfect balance between salty and sweet.  Add the chopped walnuts, and as far as I was concerned, the baking process was completely superfluous. Just give me a spoon.

It’s a family tradition, actually, cookie baking. As my sister, older and stronger, stirred chocolate chips into the stiff batter, and I sprinkled the Santa shaped cookies with red sugar, Mom would manage the hot baking sheets as they emerged from the oven; tantalizing scents wafted as they cooled.

“I remember doing this with my mother,” she would say as she carefully moved the cookies from the baking sheet to the wire cooling rack. “Your grandmother.”

My mouth would start to water immediately, triggered by the smell of the cooling cookies and thoughts of Grandmother’s also delicious cookies…and pies. I’d sit up a bit straighter too, though, try to sprinkle the sugar more precisely. This was a family tradition. No slouching. No sloppiness.  We took pride in our cookies and shared them with friends and family… if I didn’t eat them all.

I don’t recall exactly when in my adult life baking got good to me, but it did. These days, what I call the “baking fit” hits, and I am powerless to refrain. It’s compulsive. I have baking OCD. And I don’t just bake cookies. I have a jar of sourdough starter in my fridge, proof that baking bread, too, has therapeutic value. (Truly, the starter, a living wild yeast culture, hasn’t been fed in six weeks and is probably plotting my demise…I’ll feed it tomorrow.) Oh, and have you tasted my salted caramel brownies? 

Cookie baking isn’t really seasonally appropriate in the Spring. I’ve got them – you probably do too -- those lingering Winter pounds, the promise (threat?) of bathing suit weather, that make it harder to accept, and thus give away, a butter soaked chocolate chip cookie. But it’s been a stressful Spring. I have baking OCD. It always starts with itchy palms. Then the little voice chimes in…

“Baaaaake. You know you want to. Use real sugar this time. Fuck a bunch of Splenda. Baaaaake. Wheat flour…gluten…you know you want to.”

In my last effort to fight the most recent compulsion, I opened my 2012 Christmas Cookie Recipient List. (Yes, I keep one. No, you cannot see it. Only Santa guards his list more closely.) I rationalized that by planning  the 2013 Christmas cookies, I could assuage the ill-timed baking fit, put off the actual baking and save us all the temptation of a) seriously yummy cookie dough and b) fresh baked cookies.

Seconds after reading the list, I realized I had to delete names. It broke my heart to do it. In any given year, The List is in no particular order, but on the 2012 list, Daddy was number two (send 2 doz. cookies, 2 Brownies, all candy). Aunt Nancy was number  nine (1 doz. cookies – sugar/gluten free, 2 Brownies, all candy). I hit delete. Crap. Delete again.

(I know you are wondering. Mom is first on the list.)

So I put it out there: Who wants cookies this Christmas? So far, I have been able to add two new names to the list. I appreciate that the balance is restored. I always loved the song I learned in Girl Scouts: Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold.

In the meantime, I’m still having a baking fit. It’s on. Cookies? Any one?

[Author’s note: It’s been a rough week for the writers I follow in the #52Weeks project. (Hell, it’s been a rough week for America.) Most of you wrote your memories of the April 16th massacre at Virginia Tech or the Boston marathon bombs and what exploded thereafter. I wrote about cookies.  If any of you want me to send some fresh baked cookies, just DM your address. The baking fit has hit.]

The 2012 Cookie Selection

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

An Old Hotel Near the Airport (In the category of Be Where You Are.) #52Weeks

The planes are on time tonight --
From the sounds, both
Departures and arrivals.

My journey only half
Complete, I envy the arrivals
their homecoming,

I know no antonym
For envy. I would not
Wish to  have only just

Departed. I am halfway
Home.  Only a few
Promises left to keep.

I am not waiting to fly.
You are
Not here at all. I am

Alone in an old
Hotel near the airport. Very near
From the sounds of things.

The planes are on time tonight--
Like surf on sand,
The regular roar

Lulls me. Even so, I can
Only dream that I will
Sleep tonight.

The planes are on time...

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Kindness of Strangers (In the category of Want What You Have.)

“Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” – Blanche Du Bois, A Streetcar Named Desire.

I’ve quit worrying about why things happen the way they happen. I used to obsess over them, the reasons why. I thought if I understood why things were as they were I could better control the positive and negative implications as they cropped up in my day-to-day. I believed that knowing why something happened allowed me to prevent (or ensure) such a thing happening again. I doubt I am unique in this regard. I think we all try to establish some sense of control over our lives, some framework of purpose and drive. It helps us cope with the stark truth of our powerlessness as mere mortals, foolish monkeys, self-absorbed egos and ids clamoring for the lion’s share of attention (only to be eaten by the lion). It allows us to impose the illusion of order onto the chaos that rules us all.

I was wrong, of course, about needing to know why. I’ve since learned: Sometimes you get to understand why, but it is rarely useful information. It rarely comforts. Worse, I think it has the potential to hold us all back. Insistence on the need to understand why can prevent us from moving onto what and how. “Why” is a cerebral process; it happens in our heads. It teaches us to be cautious when it comes to connecting with others. (Why should I be their friend?) “Where” and “how” are processes that confront the outside world, where we connect with strangers who may or may not show us kindness.

I believe the connection matters, kindness notwithstanding. I think it is our life’s purpose to reach out and interact with as many strangers as possible, and, if possible, turn them into friends. Friendship creates a synergy that allows both parties to feel a little less isolated or misunderstood. We teach each other, we learn, we find common ground and ways to make the chaos less terrifying, even if only for a short time. We come to feel that we are not alone, at least not always.

Please don’t ask me to explain why I like you and want to be your friend. Chances are I have no articulable reason. It was something you said, the way you said it, or some way you moved or something you did for someone or for me. It comes from my heart. My heart says, “Hey, there’s a possible friend,” and I go with it. I don’t hold back. I’m in 100%. Until you prove me wrong, I trust you not to deliberately hurt me. My philosophy is no risk, no reward, and I would rather risk the hurt than miss the rewards that come with friendship, with any relationship.

It wasn’t always so simple. Let’s go back in time.

I attended the same elementary school (Malibu Elementary in Virginia Beach, Virginia) for grades 1-7. My classmates for the most part did, too, and we usually ended up in the same classroom every year. Together, we moved up through the grades, out of childhood and into puberty. You’d think that under these conditions, we would all have become bosom buddies, lifelong chums who stood by each other year in and year out as we tackled the common challenges of learning to read, write cursive, add, subtract, and sustain two minutes of doing the bent arm hang. You’d be wrong.

I was an awkward child anyway, very self-conscious about having to wear glasses and about being taller than most everyone in my class (certainly all of the boys). I lacked confidence, though I am sure my parents did not intend for me to interpret the constant admonishment, “You can do better, Kim” as “You’re not good enough, Kim.” I was also very bookish, and my vocabulary at that age outpaced that of my classmates, which, in hindsight, I think was probably off-putting.

Something certainly put my classmates off. I don’t know if it was an odd-year even-year thing or what, but every other year I attended that elementary school, my friends turned on me. First grade, no problem -- I didn’t have many friends, but I joined the Brownies, and made a few, especially Lora, Kathy, and Michelle. Second grade started out okay but halfway through the year, Lora, Kathy and Michelle decided to quit speaking to me (which made Brownies very awkward as Lora’s mother was the troop leader). I begged to know why, but even at the age of seven, these little bitches had mastered the cold shoulder. Worse, they seemed to have convinced the rest of the class that I was persona non grata. Third grade started rocky, but then the three decided they had missed me and couldn’t remember why they had quit speaking to me in the first place.

All was right with the world.

This pattern repeated itself throughout the next few years. I’d fall out of their graces one year only to be miraculously brought back into the fold the next, but without ever knowing why I’d been kicked out in the first place. They were lonely years. I shed many tears. I learned to hold back.

Fifth Grade Class Picture. In the back row again.

We moved to Norfolk, Virginia the summer before I started 8th grade, effectively breaking the love-me-hate-me cycle that these girls had put me through. I was more cautious about forming friendships in Norfolk. I think I instinctively shielded myself from possible rejection. It didn’t help that my high school peers put me through a very similar pattern of love-me-hate-me, but the name calling gets nastier as we age. One year everyone called me a lesbian. The next year everyone called me a slut (truth: getting boobs young REALLY sucks). I continued to struggle with why. Why were they calling me a slut this year and not a lesbian? (They more correctly could have called me a virgin.) Why did they need to call me names at all?

No one in high school ever asked me out on a date. I turned to my male “platonic” friends to sort out things like the finer points of necking, how to give an outstanding hickey and just what constituted second base. It was more casual that way, without all the worry of being liked or getting it wrong. We were only practicing. We understood that. I went without a date to my senior prom and danced with most every guy there.
Prom Night

Things got easier in college. I found it liberating to move to a new town where the only person who had any preconceived beliefs about me was my sister, and she thought I was okay, if something of a pest. No one called me names anymore. Finally, I wasn’t the tallest in class. I didn’t have the biggest boobs. Strangers became friends, and some of them went out of their way to hurt me. Others did it inadvertently.

I still wanted to know, why? Why did he answer the phone when I called, and tell me he wasn’t home? Why was another rerun of Leave It to Beaver a better use of his time than seeing me? Why did he fuck my best friend? Why did she fuck him? Even after college, I still fell into the “why” trap. I was cautious about whom to trust, why to trust them. I would let people get close to me, but I never let myself need them. To do that would mean giving my whole heart, and I couldn’t risk it.

Another decade passed. By 2000, I found myself in a 9-year relationship that had dead-ended for me several years earlier. I had no desire to fix it, and I was afraid to end it. I knew I was being taken for granted. (It’s not hard to spot, especially on Valentine’s Day when you present your card and gift and get in return, “Oh, are we doing that this year?”) I resented it more than I realized, and the resentment began to manifest itself physically.

Though still in my early 30’s, my blood pressure skyrocketed to well above normal. I started clenching my jaws in my sleep, the pain of which left me with paralyzing headaches that never really went away. I developed insomnia and started missing work due to the headaches and sleep deprivation. I felt like I was losing my mind. I’m not overly religious, so I didn’t pray for solutions. I prayed for clarity. Jesus, Buddha, Allah, angels, Universe -- whoever -- please just let me understand what I need to do to feel right.

The answer was ridiculously simple: Risk it.

My moment of clarity was this: If I wasn’t “all in” in the relationship, I wasn’t really in it at all. With this realization, something in me shifted. I started to suspect that I had been too cautious with my life, with my heart. Had I ever been all in with any relationship? Honestly, no. I meditated on the implications. I am the type of person, who, when asked for relationship advice, will generally say it’s better to be alone than stuck in a shitty relationship. It was time to start practicing what I preached.

I knew my next steps would hurt people, but my only other option was to continue hurting myself. I knew I risked loneliness, but I had a faint glimmer of hope. A kind stranger who had become a friend, nothing more, and maybe it would never be more, but he understood me better in the few years of knowing him than Mr. Not Quite had been able to achieve in almost a decade.

Risk it. No risk, no reward.

When I finally jumped, it soon became clear that I had not underestimated the pain I would cause; I still live with that. But the risk paid off in ways that cannot be counted. (“How do I love thee…?”) My blood pressure went down to normal, my TMJ unclenched. The headaches abated, I started sleeping again. That glimmer of hope blazed into something deeper, and it felt real -- more real than any moment of the previous nine years. For once, I didn’t hold any part of me back for safekeeping.

It was all there in that moment of clarity, and I promised myself then, no more holding back. Ever. I get it. What matters in this life is to go all in, give 100%, make as many connections as possible, stop judging people -- always.

I was struggling to end this blog post when I got the word that my father was in the ICU in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he had moved five years earlier. I’m coming back to it now, after the memorial service and two long weekends spent in the town where Dad lived, and I must admit, I have a changed perspective on my ideas about the kindness of strangers -- about going all in, 100%. You see, while I was there, I learned something about my dad and how he comported himself.

He went all in, 100%.

Every person in the long receiving line after the service shared with me how, in one way or another, Dad had embraced the community. They embraced him in return. Over and over I heard, “He’s left a really big hole in our organization…  In only five years.

He sang in no fewer than three choirs, including, the church choir; his vocal range covered basso profundo, highly sought by choirmasters for the musical pieces that become accessible with the deepest male voice in the mix.  Members of all three choirs asked to sing at the memorial service. The choir director at Grace Episcopal welcomed them all

Neighbors, associates from the places he volunteered, folks who worked with him at the local polling station for the board of elections, seniors who he taught how to use a computer or English as a Second Language, students of his Bible study class, “church family” told me exactly how kind my dad was to strangers. How he depended on their kindness in return. How the synergy made it worth the risk.

It comforts me, this previously unknown connection that I have with Dad. It reminds me to always be a kind stranger. We all depend on them.