Halloween Birthdays: A Shout Out to Scorpios

jack-o-lanterns-in-the-cemetery-holiday-hd-wallpaper-1920x1080-3896October 23 to November 22 is Scorpio month if you’re an astrology fan. Today is Halloween, and if you have a birthday on this day you have a sun sign in Scorpio. I know a few people born on this day, including my best friend Douglas, happy birthday Doug!

In fact, I have a great many close friends and acquaintances that are Scorpios, more than I should have as a Leo, and I have been trying to think why. I love Scorpios; I adore Scorpios. Who would have thought so with an astrological symbol of such a spikey, creepy crawly thing as a scorpion? So what’s so good about these scary creatures? Scorpios feel things more deeply than you and I are capable of (no matter what sign you are), and you can learn a lot from that if you pay attention.   They are passionate and devoted people who make fiercely loyal friends.

If you will forgive more astrological generalizations, and allow for the variance in the art, Scorpios are one of the few signs that will look directly at you, straight into your eyes without the slightest hesitation. Most people will turn away from that deep watery stare, not because its scary, but because there is so much beauty revealed there that it could be overwhelming. Not me, I love it, then again I’m a Leo, and we love the challenge.

Scorpion3Everyone knows that scorpions have those big nasty stingers on their tail always poised to strike. So too do Scorpios, you don’t want to piss one off, those suckers hurt like hell. It helps to understand that they have to have that defense to protect all that deep emotion they carry around. If you are lucky enough to have one love you, in friendship, family or love relationship, they also use it to protect and defend you; they are incredibly devoted to those they care about. Besides, everyone knows that most scorpions are not poisonous, and of the few that are, very few are deadly.

One of the things I love most about Scorpios is their tendency to be blunt. When they do have something to say, you will hear it, loudly and clearly, and I so appreciate that. That puts some people off, but that’s just because they’re stupid.

I am a man, and a confirmed hetero at that, (that means straight), and so my relating between Scorpio men and women is different. With Scorpio men I befriend, I find a deep abiding trust and mutual admiration. They are a lot of fun to hang around with, and conversations are always useful and engaging. They are the best of friends; smart, honest, and loyal.  When they are angry, you can smell the smoke from a block away. When they vent, you just have to stand there and wait until they’re done, and for God’s sake don’t try to talk them out of it. They know how they feel and you are not going to change that, so never try to “talk them down”.

I have a great many Scorpio women friends, and I just love them.  Oddly, I have never had a love relationship with one, but then again I have the idiotic habit of choosing every other choice other than the ones I know I like, just in case. You know what I mean? Hand me a box of chocolates and I’ll pick the nasty strawberry creams before the caramels, and why? Why? Because I’m an idiot, that’s why. (I mean no offence to strawberry creams; many people find them delicious!). Scorpio women are right up there with Aries and Libra in my book of dreams, but they do make excellent friends.

I would rather have a conversation with a Scorpio woman than any other person. They are brilliant, all of them, and endlessly fascinating. Oh yes, and blunt, when they know what they want to say. The downside to Scorpio women, generally, is that they have a very difficult time articulating their feelings. For creatures that feel more than any other creature on the planet, you’d think they would, but perhaps that is precisely why they do not. You just have to grant them that, and deal with the quiet.  This can be quite frustrating, unless you enjoy puzzles.

Want to have some fun? Try opening a door for a Scorpio woman (this cracks me up!). Gender equality my foot, they just want to keep you in range of that stinger! I have observed that many men avoid Scorpio women, but that’s just because they’re woosies (right ladies?).

It is sad in a way that Scorpios have such an off-putting symbol. Scorpions are the most feared of insects. Most people will face a spider over a scorpion any day. I wonder why we don’t see more of them on Halloween? To me they are mysterious and fascinating things, and the danger is part of the appeal.

Scorpio people are not scary, and perhaps they are unfairly regarded as such. So on this Halloween, a night we revel in scary things, I would like to give a shout out to my Scorpio friends, and ask that you all take a closer look at Scorpios. They are truly miraculous, brilliant, and lovely people. You needn’t be so cautious, just keep an eye on that stinger!

There is a lesser known, but none-the-less fully attributable symbol used in association with the astrological sign of Scorpio, and that is the Eagle.

Happy birthday Doug!

The Kachina Woman: A Battle of Conscience and Compassion

SedonaYou may as well know now that I am prone to “odd” or what some would call mystical experiences. No more than many, and far less than some I am certain, but I cannot do much justice to The Amber Road without letting you in on a few of my secrets. That being said, this is not a blog about religion, faith, or even God for that matter. For the big questions I tend toward a more secular spirituality, lean Zen, and don’t go in for Dogma much, despite being raised a Catholic. Sorry, my religious friends, more power to you. I grant a wide-open space for anyone who finds what works for him or her so long as it harms none, and I hope you’ll do the same for me.

I have finally embraced the idea that I am “highly intuitive”, mostly because it explains a lot, but I still hold that everyone else is as well, if they only pay attention and explore it. The following story is excerpted from an old journal entry and details my first experience with The Kachina Woman.

A Kachina (kah-chee-nah) is a spiritual being central to the religious life of the Hopi Indians, who live in the arid highlands of northern Arizona, and have done so for twelve hundred years. The “Kachina Woman” is a particular spirit said to inhabit a rock formation of the same name in Boynton Canyon, near Sedona. This first visit of mine has inspired a number of others in the years since, and has offered me some powerful insights. Since it is my intention to share a few of the more recent insights, it only makes sense that I begin at the beginning.

Before we head back to 1996 for this story, let it be said that I do not have a “Belief” in past lives, rather I hold an “Openness” to it. Belief is a strict and stringent concretization of a perception that I try hard to avoid. Blame it on my practice of the creative process, but I would rather embrace ambiguity than do battle with conflicting ideas that I will never understand anyway. It doesn’t matter whether we see “past lives” as a returning on a great wheel of existence, or an active subconscious, or a parallel existence, or the shared Now of a Multiverse, what matters are the lessons and insights we gain from their stories, if we allow ourselves to be available to them, and that we use those lessons to better our experience of life here and now. Fair enough?

Other than the Kachiona Woman herself, the other character in this story is Nancy, my first wife. If you’re going to be divorced, it’s best to do it twice so that you can use a number rather than the “X” prefix, which is no way to refer to a person. Nancy and I spent a good deal of the 90’s exploring all manner of spirituality, and that lead us to Sedona and the Hopi.

I love the Sedona dessert, and the red rock canyons, the sweet pinch of conifer in your nose and the bare blue sky. I could walk it until I drop, which is what Nancy and I tried to do that week on our quest to walk all of the energy vortexes that abound in the area. The New Agers will tell you that they are earth mother energies, and the scientists will tell you they are magnetic fields generated by iron deposits in the rock. I don’t much care, I just feel better here, more connected, and strangely at home.

We made our way up the canyon to the base of the Kachina Woman. The formation itself was a tall spire set apart from the cliff face at the very end of the canyon wall. It had a roundish mass of stone at its peak, which made a sphinxlike head, and gave the vague appearance of a human form. It was easy to imagine a presence inside the rock.Kachina IMG_3435

When we reached the base, I set my pack down and Nancy and I sat with our backs to the rock and began meditating.

I am no master at the art of meditation even today; I do okay, but I was certainly less so then, so I was completely unprepared for what happened. Never before, and nowhere since, have I ever had a more immediate, visceral, and impactful connection to something outside myself. This place is my little mecca.

I closed my eyes, slowed my breathing, and following the Hopi aphorism, “Keep the top of your head open.” I prepared for the usual vague dance of thoughts and impressions, uncertain of what was merely my imagination and what is not. Instead, I felt my consciousness suddenly drawn up into the spire of rock like smoke through a flue, imbedding me in the red stone. It was a force quite outside myself. My vision was clear and waking. I looked out over the canyon from the top of the spire, high above the man seated against the rock below.

I was with a very powerful presence, wrapped in it in fact, unmistakably real and distinctly feminine, but larger. I made my greeting and asked if the Kachina Woman had any messages for me.

“Many roads,” she said. The words were loud and clearly audible in my mind. Her communication was a mix of spoken word and emotional impressions.

“Many roads?” I asked.

“You have traveled many roads”, she replied, referring to many past lives, and that I was an old soul. Yes, it sounded corny to me too, but it was part message, part observation. I felt her regard me with some openness and acceptance. I responded in kind, trusting, and was taken further into the rock. I was enfolded in its arms, embraced, cradled as in a mother’s arms, and felt such a solid, peaceful serenity!

“Do you remember me?” she said with a meaningful curiosity. The feeling is impossible to describe in words, a safety and belonging deeper than bedrock and so familiar! “Yes I do remember you,” I said. The Kachina Woman was showing me my connection with a more expansive realm than I could have imagined possible. It was deliberate, instructional. I was in school it seemed, only I felt like a toddler at a Doctoral dissertation defense.

My analytical nature took over, as it often does when I am fearful that I am becoming “embarrassingly New Age.” I thought about how long she had been in this rock, the millions of years it took to form this canyon, and the improbability of the whole thing. Here I was, in the presence of a great spirit playing with the Tinker Toys of intellect, I should have been embarrassed about that.

I no sooner held the thought out to her, than she showed me her age. My mind expanded across time, silent ages, sand and wind over stone. Then, briefly, she allowed me to glimpse the ages she had passed. My consciousness stretched needle–thin as though forced through a wormhole. I saw before me every instant of countless millennia, every minute detail of every moment, drawn out in an impossibly long line. This line had no perspective, no vanishing point, I saw all of it, and it was endless. Each instant I saw singularly, and I saw every instant simultaneously, at the same instant, the original instant, the perfect Now. She did not sit for ages inside a rock.  Her mind exists outside time.  She had always been there, and it has always been the present.  I experienced a moment well beyond my mind’s reach, she had granted me a part of her “ageless mind” in order that I could know it. It hurt, I must tell you. I do not retain this experience directly; rather I retain the impression of it.

Now fully sober, and still reeling from the experience of being afforded a glimpse of the unknowable true nature of time. Again, ouch! I put away my intellectual Tinker Toys and decided to go for broke. I asked her what my purpose in this life is.

“It is yours to find,” I appreciated the candor of her answer, the celestial equivalent of, “go fish.” What was I expecting? I tried again, choosing my words carefully.

“How can I come to know this purpose?”

“Through faith, trust, honesty, and truth to your Self,” she replied.

“How about a hint as to what my life purpose is, if you care to offer one,” I ventured.

“It is who you are.” She answered.

“Whatever that means,” I thought. “Okay, thank you. I’ll have to chew on that, but later.” I decided that it was much better to let her offer information rather than my asking insipid and shortsighted questions.

I relaxed, refocused, and invited her to send me a message of her own choosing.

A vision came immediately into view. I was looking at a cliff face of red rock, though not quite as red as the Sedona rock. In the side of the cliff face was an angular cave. A long flat ledge extended from the base of the cave and gently sloped away from the entrance. A small promontory on the ledge held the figure of an Indian warrior. Just inside the cave entrance could be seen an Indian woman and an infant child.

The Indian was a warrior, and those in the cave were his wife and daughter. The emotional impressions came: He lived on this rock, she was his whole life, and the child was the gem of his life. I gathered that this was one of my “many roads.” My attention kept coming back to the rock. It was so vivid. Its color and texture stood out. It seemed alive.

“Fine, I thought, another Indian past life. What’s all this with Indians?” As I said this, I felt I knew where it was going, and I didn’t like it. Greyness came over the scene like a mist, and I knew I would see what befell the family next.

“Nope. No thank you! I’ll have none of this.” What approached hurt in too familiar a way, pain like an old wound rubbed raw again.

A few noisy climbers jarred my concentration just then, and I used it to wriggle free of the arms of this vision like a panicked rabbit. “Nope, nope, nope.” I opened my eyes and sat forward to get up, and felt decidedly uneasy. It was as if I still had part of my consciousness inside the stone.

“Oh no you don’t,” I heard as an unseen hand grabbed me by the back of my collar and physically yanked me back against the wall hard enough to whip my head back and smack it into the stone.

“Oww! Fine, show me! (as if I had a choice)”

The first thing I saw was the mist clearing. It wasted no time to reveal the woman and child lying across the sloping entrance; their bodies slit open, gushing blood onto the rock, a dark deep red flowing over the stone. The warrior was there. There had been an attack and he had failed to protect his family, his one greatest charge. I felt the man’s rage, sorrow, and isolation. I knew his shame and self-hatred had only vengeance and anger to act upon, there was no redemption.

I had seen plenty, and I was livid for being forced to see it. “Yes, yes, betrayal and abandonment! I know this place; abused women, dead mothers, absent children. I’ve seen this play! So what!? So I am supposed to have lived another life as some poor bastard who lived these things and they have significance for me this time around too, I get it. Big deal!! I know my demons Kachina Woman, tell me something new!”

She did.

“You are the rock.” Her voice was soft, absolute, and breathtakingly kind.

“I’m the what? I thought I was the warrior guy?”

Slowly and very patiently, she repeated, “You are the rock.”

She then showed me an impression of the rock ledge and mountainside holding, supporting, and cradling this family. A new door in my understanding began to move on its hinges. I asked her to show me what happened to the warrior.

The scene returned with my knowing that with vengeance as his only remaining purpose, he had found his battle and he had lost it. He was lying on the same ledge, cut open and dying. His loss and despair was incomprehensible, I pushed with all my strength to keep it at arms length. He had failed in his sacred charge to protect what he loved; he failed himself, and even failed in his useless vengeance. The emptiness in him was vast.

There alone, his blood flowed over the same stone. In his final agony, buried in his shame, he became distracted by the sparkling in the red stone. He watched his own blood pool and flow into view. He became absorbed by the contrast of his red blood and the redness of the stone, and thought how beautiful it was. He was glad to die, glad to be rid of his life that now held no meaning for him. As his strength faded, his anger gave up and let go. In his final moment, he embraced surrender. He himself thought it strange, but he rejoiced as he died, and in his agony thanked in his heart those who took his life.

Stories have happy endings, I thought, but life sometimes does not. I watched then as his spirit arched up from his form. Behind him, from the spot where they perished, the spirits of his wife and child also rose. Once beyond the earth, they were rejoined. I saw the three glittering spirits embrace, swirling in an ecstasy of reunion. They seemed to merge into one shining mist, and then they rose again, up and away from me to some higher place.

“You are the rock”, she said again.

The epiphany landed, “Oooooh..” I finally caught the leap in understanding that she was bringing me to all along. I am not the man who lived these events, I, the truer, deeper self she knew me as, am like the rock that held these lives, kept them, created them. The man, the entire family for that matter, was an aspect of me. I am not a character in my past lives; I am the rock upon which they play out their pageants, the foundation; deep, solid, whole.

This was the purpose of her playful question, “Do you recognize me?” She was asking if I could see her as she sees me; the greater self that I am. Her message was planned from the moment I sat down. She answered my question about time to show me how much greater the breadth of existence is than the tiny one I thought I knew. She wanted me to know that all of the pain I knew had a purpose and a meaning, and that I was the one who chose it. There is no such thing as a victim.

The Kachina Woman made me aware of a whole new truth. Once I am able to see myself as she does, my whole sense of reality changes. I create my own meaning, direct my own life purpose, and it has all to do with who I am. How can I come to know this purpose?

“Through faith, trust, honesty, and truth to your Self,” she said.

My poor mind was stretched to its limit. I had to leave. I thanked the Kachina Woman for her wisdom and patience. She seemed pleased with me. I slowly drew my consciousness from the spire, and gathered myself back into this my current pageant.

I have since that time began a practice of trying to see others the way she saw me, and I have gotten pretty good at it. We all walk through life carrying a collection of luggage in the form of fears, doubts, anger, questions of self worth, inhibitions, insecurities, mistrust, misconceptions, projections, lies, and a sense of separateness.

In my work as a director and teacher, it is my job to cut through the luggage to discover the artist inside. In my relationships it is my job to see most clearly the person I love. It is easy to get lost in all that garbage we tote around, unless you know how to keep your focus on the prize.

It’s not that hard to do. You just find them in a quiet moment when they have no one to perform for, and watch their eyes. Then look. Don’t look into their eyes, because that makes you an active player, watch them when they are not looking at you. The hardest part is not to see through your eyes. We all look at others through the lens of our own expectation, perspective, and judgment. You’ll have to learn how to see through your own greater self first.

If you do this, you will see them as their original self, in the same way we see a child, before all of that luggage is acquired. If you can do this, no matter who it is, you will be rewarded with a view of an absolute and perfect beauty. Once you have this picture, you will find all the patience you’ll ever need to deal with the luggage.

I don’t try this with everyone; I will pick and choose when the need or desire arises. I think if I tried to do this with everyone my head would explode. My only caution is to be prepared for something quite powerful, and don’t mistake it for something else.

If there is a word for people who can see everyone this way, it must be Greatness. This is its architecture.

For we mortals, I know for certain that there is a word for setting yourself aside in order to see through to the truth and beauty of another.

It is Compassion.

PART VI: Father/Daughter Stories–Lemonade

making-lemonadeMy daughter Madi loves nature. She loves learning all about animals, plants, and insects, and since she’s fascinated by it, she retains every detail of what she learns. We live in the Finger Lakes, in a region that is rife with nature camps, some of them surprisingly hard-core for the age they serve, sending kids foraging and shelter building, learning survival as they learn about nature.

She’ll often come back with “Did you know” stories about nature, most of them I pretend not to know, a few I actually have no clue about. During a Spring break, she went on a survival camp. As she returned, peeling off layer upon layer of wet muddy clothes, she talked excitedly about the adventure.

“And we built a shelter, and collected wood, and built a fire…”

“But, the counselors actually built the fire right?”

“Yeah…, sort of.”

(Parental wince)

“And we heated up our water over the fire and made tea!”

“Cool!”

“No, it was hot tea.”

“I get it. So you foraged for stuff to make the tea from nature? What did you find, chamomile, rose hips?”

“We made Hemlock Tea.”

“Guh… What?   Hemlock! That’s deadly poison! You couldn’t have made Hemlock tea.”

Yet, she was sure. It was Hemlock, they made it from the bark they peeled off the tree. Visions of my daughter lying next to Socrates flashed into view. I considered calling 911, but googled first instead. Yes, there is the Hemlock tree and the Hemlock plant. The plant is poisonous; presumably the tree is tasty. Lesson learned.

A few weeks later we encountered something festering on our front walk, and Madi, now an expert in all things natural, stopped to investigate.

“Oooo Daddy look!”

“Yes I see, don’t touch them please honey they’re maggots. Something died and they can carry disease.”

“No, they’re not … mag… what did you say?”

“Maggots, they’re maggots.”

“No Daddy they’re not, they’re fly larvae. I know because we collected them at camp.”

“You didn’t make tea out of them I hope.”

“Daddy!”

She went into a short dissertation on the stages of insect life.

“Okay, to you they are fly larvae, to me they are maggots, and they are disgusting.”

A short while later, as I was making her lunch, I found her walking around the house with a small plastic bowl full of said “larvae.” I reminded her that I had asked her not to touch them, let alone bring them into the house, and she explained how she deferred the request for good reason. She planned to sell them.IMG_1954 Madi had recently worked out that if she had money of her own, daddy was less particular about what stuff she bought, so she was all about finding ways to make it. I had suggested that she could earn an allowance by doing more chores around the house, but she declined, citing that she would rather make her money doing what she wanted to do. I found it difficult to argue that point since I had made a pretty good living in the arts, not doing what my parents would have called “real work”, so I let it go.

Her plan was to create a roadside stand to sell her fly larvae, and was gathering supplies for a sign and searching for an adequate table to put by the curb. She set the price at 25 cents per larva, and had already counted the squirmy little things to calculate her max profit.

“Sweetie, you can’t set up a stand to sell maggots.”

“Fly larvae. Why not?”

“Because nobody is going to buy mag… fly larva. You have to sell something that people will want to buy, in order to make money. What reason would they have to buy fly larvae?”

I felt a teaching moment coming on; I silently dared her to contradict that one.

“Frogs daddy, people feed them to their fish tank frogs, remember? We saw them at the pet store.”

Touché child of mine. Yes, we had indeed learned that at the last trip to the pet store to replace tropical fish that died of perfectly natural causes. This kid can’t be right all day!

“Yes, but look at your market demographic and point of sale location. Okay, advertising and overhead costs are low, your supply factor is reasonable, at least in the short term, and your mark-up is excellent, but you can’t reach your customer base.”

“huh?”

“How many people do you think will walk by our house who have fish tank frogs??

She began counting her larvae as if that would give her the required number.

“Look, if they don’t have fish tank frogs then they won’t need to buy fly larvae for them, right? Why don’t you do what most kids do and set up a lemonade stand? We can go to the store, by some lemons and make a pitcher. You’ll see, there are a lot more people who would buy a glass of lemonade from a cute little girl than would buy a 25-cent maggot.“

“They’ll be here.” She said with a knowing look.

She had been right a lot that day so far, so what did I know? I helped her make her sign, got her a tray table, and insisted at least that she eat her lunch while she sold.

Sales were grim, as in none; lunch was cold. She valiantly held up her sign on our quiet, country road getting more and more despondent. I took a few photos, because I wanted something to remind me that my kid was an iconoclast. She was no cliché, cookie-cutter kid from some Norman Rockwell culture; my kid had the courage and vision to sell maggots on a deserted road! How can you not love that!?

IMG_1955 One man actually walked by her stand. Her eyes lit up as she made her pitch. The fellow looked at me cautiously, and I’m certain I caught him glance around for a hidden camera. I just returned a look of, “Don’t look at me dude, I’m just a Dad along for the ride.” He left without a purchase. (Heartless bastard.)

When she finally gave up, she carried in her stuff, grumbling to herself.

“…stupid people.. stupid fly larvae… stupid stupid fish tank frogs… shoulda sold lemonade instead.”

“What was that Madi?!”

“Nothin’”

“Listen my sweet pea, everybody has days like this. Sometimes you make a good plan, but it doesn’t turn out the way you expect. Sometimes you want one thing that’s sweet, but you get something sour instead. Sometimes, life hands you a lemon.”IMG_1957

“Yeah, I guess.”

“So what do you think you should do when life hands you a lemon?”

She stopped. Her eyes rolled a bit in her head as she worked the problem. Her lower lip that had been turned out in a pout rolled inward as she gummed it, thinking. Then she smiled.

“Make lemonade?”

“THAT’S my girl!!”

PART V: Father/Daughter Stories–Magic

I know that there are some things a father just cannot give a daughter (this haunts me), but of the things that I can, one of the most important to me is to inspire a sense of Magic. Acquainting Madi with Santa, the Easter Bunny, the tooth Fairy, leprechauns, sprites, and a host of others has been a huge delight for me. I know a time will come when these particular characters will begin to fade, and I am not concerned. In fact, I am dauntless. I will bear their torches straight through Middle School if I have to.

DSC_0018c

To me, Magic isn’t a trick. Magic isn’t a Disney princess. Magic isn’t a frivolous childish thing. A sense of Magic is a willingness to consider the unseen, an innate knowledge that something doesn’t have to be actual in order to be real. If we lose this willingness as we grow up, we lose our ability to recognize beauty. We will never notice the gossamer threads that hold our existence together and give it meaning; the invisible, unknowable things like chance, truth, trust, and love. It doesn’t matter if there is anything at the bottom of Loch Ness; that same quality of openness allows us to believe in ourselves, to imagine our own potential, and consider our own possibilities as real.

Granting this gift to a child takes good slight-of-hand and some fast thinking, but that’s the fun of it. As Daddy moments go, this was one of my best ever:

It was a rainy Sterling Renaissance Festival day. I don’t mind a rainy day in general, but a rainy day at Sterling is absolutely my least favorite kind of day. Some people like it, but to me it is nature taking a piss on my show, making it unnaturally long, cold and uncomfortable, and giving me hours of dullness punctuated with having to make decisions that are always the lesser of a variety of evils.

Madi’s Mom was dropping her off to me at the Festival on this day, and it was to be one of the first chances I had to just take her around the Faire myself. Since I had the option (and not the will) I did not get into costume that day. I wore my yellow raincoat as my sole source of comfort. Before we opened, I wandered bleakly through the Remembrance Shoppe, which is the place we keep all the decidedly un-renaissance souvenirs, trinkets and treats, thinking about my kid and the day we might have if it wasn’t raining.

It was Pirate Weekend, and before long Madi and I were sitting on wet benches at the Merchants Bend Stage listening to Empty Hats play delightful Celtic music. There were the usual dedicated fans, seasons pass holders mostly, and many dressed as pirates. Madi was four and not yet versed in the sanctity of a live stage performance, so she was busy chatting up the pirates in the second row, who also seemed inured to the sanctity of live performance and the indignant glances from the band. I noticed. I did my best, what the hell, it was raining.

I suppose that both parties could be forgiven, because for the pirates, Madi was impeccably cute, and for Madi, the pirates had gold coins. Those big plastic shinny gold doubloons were being passed about and Madi just had to have one. A kindly pirate gave her a few, and I used the exchange to settle her back onto her wet bench to listen to the show. It didn’t last long.

Madi Coin_08_1177cNext, she was all on about getting herself some candy. For some reason I will never know, she was insistent on me buying her a lollypop, not just any run of the mill sucker mind you, she wanted one of those big multi-colored ones made of the rolled candy set in a spiral. The old fashioned kind that are the size of a tea saucer. I kept telling her that it was too early for candy and that renaissance festivals did not sell that kind of candy, in fact they didn’t sell candy at all. She was desperate for it, kept whining on about it and was starting to make a scene, so after putting up the good fight, I caved.

In truth, I was dumbfounded at the very specific request. I was thrilled. I could not believe my luck. I had a daddy moment in the making that would never be forgotten. I told her that if she really wanted a big lollypop, I would have to make one by Magic.

“Really?? By magic?”

“Yup, but it’s not easy, and it’s going to cost you that gold doubloon.”

This was a no brainer for her, and she thrust the coin in my face and said, “Do it Daddy!” I took the coin, hefted it, rolled it through my fingers and told her it would take an incantation, then expMadi Coin_8_1192clained what an incantation was. She repeated after me, “Lollypop, lollypop, pretty and sweet, turn this coin into a big fat treat.” I then placed the coin very deliberately into my big raincoat pocket, so that she could see that it was in there. Palming coins is not my specialty, but I did it.

“Okay, reach in and see what you can feel.”

The look on her face was something between surprise and terror. She pulled out a big old-fashioned lollypop exactly like the one she described.

“OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD YOU DID IT!!”

“Oh my GOSH Madi, say gosh.”

“HE DID IT, HE DID IT, HE TURNED MY COIN INTO A MAGIC LOLLYPOP!!! HOW DID YOU DOOO THAT!!!”

(Boom. Magic.)

Madi was truly beside herself. She took off, stopping at everyone she saw to exclaim that her dad turned her coin into this lollypop. I mean that quite literally, she ran from stranger to stranger, like a deranged candy toting Paul Revere. I had to chase her down. She spent the day showing anyone who would stop, her progressively smaller magic lollypop. The magic lollypop has been done many many times since, with a variety of gold coins.

Last week I was setting up a Halloween show on the festival site on another wet and miserable day. I had dug my old raincoat out of the trunk, the same one I wore years earlier. While walking the chilly site, I put my hand in my coat pocket and pulled out the original coin I had used.

Do I believe in magic?

What would YOU call it when a child asks for exactly the same thing her father saw in a gift shop that morning while thinking of her?

I call it Magic.

PART IV: Father/Daughter Stories–The Blue Frog

I’m okay with divorce, I really am. I’m a big boy now, and I like to think that I take responsibility for my choices, but I never planned on, nor was I prepared for, raising a child in what when I was growing up was called a broken home. Double household kids are as common today as spilled milk, and I’m not sure what they are calling it these days, but it is talked about with an air of acceptability that I find unsettling. What substitutes for a home with a mother and a father and a singular sense of belonging for something as fragile as a new life?

Starting out life in a toxic or loveless place can be far worse; I know that, we all do the best we know how. Psychologists now site new studies (and I’ve read them) that reveal that children of divorced parents learn better relationship skills and can become stronger and more productive people. I accept that, yet none of that matters one tiny little bit the to heart of a small child. These are the same psychologists who like to point out the rising dysfunction in young people today.

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A kid can get good parenting, and know that they are loved, and that matters immensely, but it is the fractured sense of belonging that is the hurt that cannot be undone. I have always referred to my place as “home” or “our house,” but Madi still talks of Mama’s house or Daddy’s house, as though she is somewhere in-between.

People would tell me, “Don’t let it bother you, children are amazingly resilient.” I never bought that crap, platitudes for the guilty mind. With all due respect, I’ll take my reality the way my child takes it thank you very much.

The first hurdle was figuring out how to tell a three and a half year old girl that her Mama was not going to be living here anymore. I did my research and spoke to friends, and professionals, and Mama, and found the latest thing. They say tell them only what they can understand at their age, then update as they get older and ask again. It was good advice, and it worked, but the plan only addresses HOW to tell them, WHAT to tell them is the hard part. We started with Mama staying at an apartment because it was easier for late nights at work, and went from there.

It took me some time, but I did figure out, with a little help, what my job was, and it had nothing to do with anger, blame, and resentment. My job as Madi’s Dad is to LIFT. I am relied upon to support and guide in whatever my little charge came here to do, no more. Each of us comes to this world, presumably by choice, with our own unique tasks and challenges, and with our own specific destiny. It is not for me to choose or manage her path, that’s her job. This realization made single parenting one whole hell of a lot easier for me, but there are days that are not so easy, days where you just have to put your head down and do the work.

One night, after about the third or fourth iteration of the on-going explanation, Madi woke up in the dead of night screaming. I thought she had been hurt, because she got right out of bed and walked across the scary dark hallway straight to my bed, which was unheard of. Any parent knows that there are many types of crying. There are cries that say, I want, I’m hurt, I’m hungry, I’m angry, I’m sad, and more. Kids cry. It’s one of the things they do. I am as good as any at flipping the parental switch and letting them cry without a lot of emotional attachment. There is nothing wrong with crying, kids need to cry sometimes, and often you need to let them do so before you step in to help. This night, the cry was none of that, it was something altogether different. It had a sound to it that I had only heard once before from her. This sound seizes the spine and gives you a rush of hot nausea. It is the sound of human suffering, of desperate sorrow, and it is awful. And, when it is coming from your baby, it is excruciating!

Physically she was fine. It took some time before I could get any words out of her other than something about a blue frog. She had had a dream. It wasn’t a bad dream, it was a beautiful dream. I pieced together a story about a blue frog who lived near a tree. Mr. Blue Frog was her friend, and he talked to her a really long time under his tree about many things, and these things made her so happy. She loved Mr. Blue Frog, and Mr. Blue Frog loved her. They were very happy that they were friends. Then Mr. Blue Frog told her that he had to go away. He was going to the North Pole to live with Santa, and he would never be coming back. He had to go, and he would never see her again. He told her that he loved her very much, but he had to say good-bye forever. Then Mr. Blue Frog left.

If I can get her to tell me her dreams, I can usually figure out what is going on with her. This dream was a dread realization that was all too clear to me. Her little subconscious had finally figured it out, and was letting her know that her life would never again be what it was. That the two people she loved and depended on the most, did not love and depend upon each other; that the home she knew, the original place of her belonging, the place she was safe and sure and happy in was torn in a way she did not understand. Personified in this little blue frog, the force of its finality was devastating to her.

The wailing was explosive, and intense, and continuous, and always there was that sound in it. I did everything I could to calm her down; I held her, rocked her, and talked to her. Nothing made even a tiny dent. She had absolute trust in Mr. Blue Frog, and HE said he was never coming back.

Between the wails there were pleas for me to help. “Please Daddy make him come back!” “I want him back again!” Madi was missing her friend Mr. Blue Frog, but I knew what Mr. Blue Frog meant. I remember these pleas like you remember the slow motion details of a traffic accident, and every one cut. “Help me Daddy, bring him back.” “I don’t want him to go! Why did he have to go?! Why did this happen??! Why?!! Tell me!!” “I don’t understand why he had to go!” “I need him Daddy please, help me! Do something! Bring him back! “ “Tell me what to do! I need him with me! I love him! I want my blue frog back!” “TELL ME WHAT TO DO!!”

For my part, I was being lashed, and I knew I probably deserved it. If you had given me the choice then of feeling this, or having the inside of my heart scooped hollow with a rusty spoon, I’d have chosen the spoon!

The wailing and pleading and my feeble attempts to ease them went on unabated for forty minutes. I tried everything I knew to help change the outcome, “maybe he’ll come visit you at Christmas with Santa. Maybe you can dream of going to see him. I’m sure if he loves you he’ll change his mind,” but the blue frog was telling the truth, he really was never coming back, she knew it, and I knew it. Finally I just ran out, I had noting left so I gave up. That’s when the first honest words came rolling out of my mouth as I tried to hide my own tears.

“I am SO sorry Madi, I don’t KNOW what to do, I JUST DON”T KNOW what to do!”

Silence.

We both just sat, numb.

Then, in a tiny, trembling voice she says, “We can write him a letter.”

[POING!!]

“Yes, yes we can. We can write him a letter! What would you want to say in the letter?” She explained what she wanted to say, and then asked, “Can we write a real letter?”

“Sure we can, we’ll turn on the lights, go downstairs, find some paper and a pen and we will write this letter!”

“Can we put it in an envelope?”

“We will put it in an envelope.”

“And put his address on it?”

“Of course we will! Do you know his address?”

“Um, Near a tree.”

“Good enough, that’ll do.”

“And can we put a stamp on it?”

“Yes. We have plenty of stamps.”

“And put it in the mail box for the mailman to take?”

“Absolutely!”

“Okay.”

“Okay!?”

“Let’s go.”

“Let’s go!!”

IMG_3525aThe sun was just coming up when we walked the envelope with the letter to Mr. Blue Frog to the mailbox. Every word carefully dictated, and a special card included for him to return to her when he came back, in the real world. She carefully tucked the envelope into the box and made sure the flag was up so that the mailman would take it. All things considered, we had a good day after that. She never mentioned the little blue frog again, but I have never forgotten him. Later, I pulled the letter out of the box and saved it. I have not opened it until today.

I have not forgotten these posts are about what is GREAT about having a kid, especially mine, so here goes.

Fast-forward four years to this Spring, fathers day I believe. We were visiting grandpa with most of the family there. My sister was going through a divorce of her own at the time, and when she, Madi and I went to take her dog for a walk around the block, she struck up more questions about separation agreements and house selling. Since I had been around that block several times, I was one source of opinion and advice. My sister didn’t know that I had not told Madi of her aunt and uncle’s impending separation. I was unsure how Madi would take it, so I put off telling her about it. By the time the conversation started, it was already too late so I let it run. Madi was happily at the other end of a corgi’s leash and I half hoped she wasn’t paying attention. We finished our walk and went back inside.

Later, my sister recounted to me that once inside, Madi came to her and asked her if she and uncle Steve were getting a divorce. My sister, herself worried about Madi’s reaction, told the truth none-the-less and said that yes, they were. Madi raised her arm to my sister’s shoulder, patted her, and said, “It will be alright aunt Jeanne. I know, it’s hard for a while, but it gets better.”

…And somewhere a little blue frog smiled.

“Reedeep!”

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PART III: Father/Daughter Stories–Flat Tire

I don’t like being angry. I grew up consciously avoiding the emotion, and with good reason. I will get angry, but not often with people. Mostly it’s an inanimate object that refuses to do my bidding then mocks me that really pisses me off. I know what anger is, it is the dispelling of a pretentious assumption. You assume that the lid will come off the jar, that’s what lids are supposed to do, but it doesn’t. The laws of physics have no master, least of all you. You assume that you are in control of your situation and you are not. Causality has its own plans that you are not privy to. Control is an illusion.

Every parent I know has at one time or another lost it in front of his or her kids. Kids can push buttons like chimps in a Soyuz, and if you are not on your game they can catch you out, even without their meaning to.

A few years ago, our late August trip to Nantucket involved going to my Dad’s house in Fayetteville the night before, so that we could leave from there in the morning. We were to meet him for dinner around six at Huller’s Restaurant.

I had gotten very little sleep for several days prior, a condition I do not function well under, and was more than uncommonly stressed on the lead up to the exodus. I packed the Nissan Murano to the gills with a precision I like to describe as NEARLY obsessive, but I could be wrong. We used to bring EVERYTHING. Madi was six, and very excited about going on vacation. She was delighted, sitting in her booster seat with her snacks and her video player lashed to the passenger headrest, all set for her big adventure.

I have in my time produced massive productions, with hundreds of people and myriad detail, but nothing was ever as hard as getting a six-year-old packed and in the car for a vacation. Dinner at six became dinner at eight by the time we left the driveway. It was dark and rainy, Madi was chatty and needy, and I was exhausted and hungry, and doing my best to stoke a pleasant façade.

We were just outside of Cortland when I felt that funny pull and knew I had a flat tire, right rear by the feel of it. I pulled over on a narrow shoulder on a long dark stretch of route 13 with heavy, fast traffic, and rain; I get out to look, yup, right rear, “Son of a bitch, that’s all I f*ucking need!”

I got back in the car and searched my phone for a garage, but it was Friday night and nothing was open. I could probably fix a flat tire blindfolded, but I just wanted someone to come out, take my tire, plug it and put it back on so I didn’t have to drive a spare (fearing it was a half spare) to Massachusetts to catch a ferry. I also knew where the spare lived. “Suck it up dude, change the frickin’ tire and get movin’, you’re already late.”

I backed onto a small side road I had just passed, and Madi caught on that something was up. “What’s happening Daddy?” Now, suffice it to say that when I was a child, going on vacation sometimes seemed more like visiting an anxiety ward, so I was going to be damned if I was going to inflict my anger and lack of grace on my kid. Period. “No problem sweet pea, we just got a flat tire.”

“Oh no! Daddy does this mean we can’t go to Nantucket!”

“Gosh no, I’ll just fix it and we’ll be on our way.”

(She started to look scared) “Are we going to be late for dinner with grandpa?”

“No honey, we’ll make it. Look, Madi, sometimes things don’t go exactly as you planned them to, and you have to adjust and make a new plan. Do you know what we call that? An adventure!”

“Okay.”

GARY’S INNER VOICE: I call it getting f*ucked up the a*ss!

I grabbed a flimsy umbrella from under the seat and went to the back of the car. As the hatchback door lifted, I realized that what once looked like an expert packing job, was actually a cunning barricade. The spare you see, was underneath EVERYTHING I had carefully packed, there was no sliding it out from under the ample gear, it all had to come out, into the rain.

“Daddy.”

“What sweetie?”

“I gotta go pee.”

“uhh… there is no… it’s rain… uh, can you hold it for a little while?”

“No I gotta go really bad!”

INNER VOICE: Jeasus Christ! What the f*uck!? Why didn’t you go before we left!??”

INNER INNER VOICE: Calm down, it’s not her fault, she’s six, you’re the adult here.

“Ooookay, sweetie, I’ll be right there. Noooo problem. You’re just going to have to go outside okay?”

I got her out of the car into the drizzle. Holding the umbrella awkwardly with my chin, I had her squat down, her pants pulled down to her ankles.

“You’ve peed outside before right, with your Mom, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you remember how to do it?”

“I think so.”

INNER VOIVE: Don’t pee on your clothes kid, I’m warning you, do NOT pee on your f*ucking clothes!”

“Let me help you, now, okay, LEAN FORWARD…”

Madi’s aim was perfect, right in the center of her underpants. She was right; she really did have to pee. It soaked through her underwear, her pants, her socks and her sneakers. There in the rain, pee-spray tickling my bare shins, I reached a crossroad. Which path would I take? I summoned every ounce of empathy and love that I had, determined not to make my daughter pay for my frustration. I grabbed the curse as it vaulted up my throat and forced it back down to my spleen. Sensing Madi’s expectation of my response, I countered in my most matter-of-fact tone, “Aw, that’s okay Madi, let ‘er rip kiddo.”

“But Daddy it’s going in my shoe!”

“It’s alright punkin’, we’ve got lots of clothes (buried somewhere), we’ll just take those off and I’ll get you some new clothes and shoes, not a problem… no problem at all.”

INNER VOICE: OK, what the faaack is going on!! What’s wrong with you Izzo? Don’t you know how girls pee?!

Actually, I didn’t. Sure, I have been around plenty of women peeing outdoors, but I was always too polite to watch closely, and frankly, I was never interested enough to ask how they did it. As the pee flowed and mixed with the rain and mud, my anger turned inward where at least Madi would be safe.

INNER VOICE: HOW do you NOT know this!! Asshole! You work at Renaissance Festivals!!! How could you not notice?! Women are peeing in every corner! If you had night vision goggles you could see them perched like seagulls at a landfill!   What do you think Renaissance Festivals ARE? They’re urinals with a theme!! You moron, Jueasas #$@#@%!!

INNER INNER VOICE: Stop being so hard on the guy, you’re not helping.

I put the soaked clothes in a grocery bag I brought as a car trash bag, tied them up and set them on the floor. Madi climbed back in, feeling pretty special sitting in the car with no bottoms on while I went to the trunk and unloaded all the stuff, found her suitcase, got her clothes, dressed her up again with a second pair of sneakers, hauled out the spare and the jack, devised new expletives for the guy who designed the hold downs for Nissan spares, reloaded all the luggage and crap in a messy pile mostly out of the rain, and proceeded to change the tire while holding an umbrella in my teeth.

I was about half way through the change when I looked up to see someone had pulled up and was coming over.

“Need any help?”

“No, thanks, it’s just a flat tire, and I’m almost done. Thanks for stopping, I appreciate it.

INNER VOICE: Wait! Ask him if he has a gun. Hey mister, do you have a gun? If so, please, SHOOT ME!”

INNER INNER VOICE: Come on now, chillax dude, you’ve almost got this.

As I was back at the trunk unloading everything out into the rain again and devising more expletives for the evil genius that designed a hold down for a spare tire that refused to let you replace the tire, Madi piped up again.

“What was that sweet pea?”

“ Daddy, I gotta go pee again.”

“Wha.. d’… Guh… How’d… (breathe) How come you have to go again sweetie, it’s only been fifteen minutes, and you really went quite a lot before. Can you wait a little while for me?”

“No, I really really gotta go like before.”

INNER VOICE: What the f*uck! Are you bullsh*iting me?! What the hell kid, did you contract Ebola?! @#$%$%*…

“Nooo problemo kiddo, I’ll be right there.”

I came to terms with the hold down for the spare by pulling it out altogether and sneering at it and quickly loaded all the stuff out of the rain again. With Madi back squatting in the rainy pee-ridden mud in her new dry clothes and last pair of clean sneakers, me holding the umbrella as before, I tried again to unravel the mystery.

“OK, we’re gonna get it right this time, ok? You and me, okay kiddo, you ready?   Okay, now, LEAN WAY FORWARD.”

Yes, I know, I thought about it, but leaning back just did not look right. Bull’s-eye, through the pants, the socks, the last pair of clean sneakers; I tried to steer her, but it was no use. I could not believe she could reproduce the same deluge in that short amount of time.

“Daddy, I’m peeing my pants again!”

“Aah go ahead Madi, we don’t care, we got lots of clothes!”

INNER VOICE: Mother f*ucker! Mother F*ucker!!! #@$&@#*$#@#!!

INNER INNER VOICE: …well if you paid more attention to the women you were with maybe…

INNER VOICE:   SHUT The F * UC K up!!

I wrapped up the soaked clothes and went back to her suitcase to get her more dry clothes. I had placed her suitcase at the very bottom of the pile, requiring another unload.

INNER VOICE:  I AM JOB’S BITCH!!!!

I dressed her again; she was getting hungry and tired now. I chatted her up, and then completely repacked the car again. Out of sheer spite, I repacked it EXACTLY as I had originally packed it, in all its quasi-obsessive compulsive glory.

Just as I put the last piece into place, Madi says, “Daddy I’m really really thirsty, can I have my Juicey Juice?”

“Sure you can Sweetie Pea, let me get it for… ‘yu….” The cooler with her Juicey Juice, which I had not planned on using, was at the bottom of the pile.

INNER VOICE: (that sound you make, when there are no more curse words that will satisfy)

One well-rehearsed repack later, Madi had her Jucey Juice and we were on our way to Fayetteville. We were an hour and a half late to Huller’s, but Dad showed up going with the flow, and Madi adopted a booth full of college girls delighted to be the focus of her effervescent showmanship. I eventually allowed her to bring her plate over and they all dined cozied up and giggling. I had a second beer.

The next day brought clean clothes, tire repair, and another vacation adventure started. No big deal.

INNER INNER VOICE: I would just like to say how proud I am of Gary, that through all his rage and folly he never once upset his little girl.

INNER VOICE: Thank you.

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Letting Go

September 13th: Dead Sibling Day. Before I jet off to Sedona today to sweat in the canyons and consult with Hopi spirits, I thought I would get this done. Not one of my usual posts, but I am deciding to do it because I may have something to say that is cogent for some out there, about letting go; and because one should at least occasionally walk the talk.

My younger sister, Jacqueline Ann Izzo, died about eleven years ago, and today is her birthday. More so than her death date, this is the day I remember her. I had five siblings, and there are now three left thanks to our ‘family friend’ cancer. My brother Kenny died this year in March. Grieving is simple; it’s automatic; in 6-9 months the brain chemicals leech out through your eyes and you’re done. After that comes the really hard part, letting go.

Letting go is hard because it means accepting a new life without that which they gave you and you depended upon. It takes guts, and it feels like betrayal until you understand what letting go really means.

My sister and I shared the middle spot in a family of six kids, so we were close, and she was very, very important to me. Growing up, Jackie was my best friend, my biggest fan, and the reason I am funny. She was the best audience a big brother could have. I could make milk spray out her nose on cue, even when she knew it was coming. On any given day you could walk into a room and find Jackie lying on the floor in tears over something that gave her a laughing jag days ago that just popped back into her head. She laughed at human folly, especially her own, and she never once laughed at anyone’s pain. Mostly though, she was important to me because she believed in me, without ever needing a reason.

Jackie was the first person who taught me that true courage had nothing to do with how afraid and timid you were about life, a lesson I have always cherished. My chronically reticent sister went into the medical profession, and countless people benefited from a strength she reserved only for others. During the years she battled for life, she showed an easy bravery, and when she had fought enough, she had the courage to let go. She died gracefully and well.

I didn’t have that courage, not with her. It wasn’t that long ago that I finally stopped reaching for my phone every time I thought, “I’ve GOT to tell Jack about this!” My daughter’s first name is Jacqueline, because Jackie asked me before she died; we call her Madi, because I knew it would be a long time before I could say the name. It was hardest watching Madi grow up never knowing what an amazing aunt she had missed, though fortunately she has another.

I sucked at letting go.

This year I did let go of Jackie. I cut the cords and finally stopped being the brother missing a sister, a friend, a fan, and a believer. I was very surprised to find out how much better it was. In a way, I got her back. Not really back, because she’s still dead, but there is a clear new voice in my ear, and she sounds very excited for me.

There are two places that I remember Jackie best on Dead Sibling Day, the two of us sitting under the kitchen table, me drilling her on her multiplication tables so she wouldn’t fail a grade, and summers in Nantucket. I’ve been going again since Madi was born, and Jackie is the reason I go. It has been a mixture of memory, tribute, promise, and chore, which has darkened and become heavy over the years. This year, thanks to some cord cutting, all the colors have come back to that place, and they are different.

And this is what letting go does. It makes a space for those things you lost to come from others willing to grant them to you. It is what I would have wanted for her if I had gone first.

I had said that letting go of someone feels like betrayal. It can seem as though you are being asked to disown everything they meant to you, but in truth it is not letting go of them at all; it’s letting go of the “you” you were when you had them, and making new room for others, …and it’s a bitch.

So the moral of the story is: attachments are bad, my friends. And not having them does not mean you are disconnected. Quite the opposite. Remember that, because it is very easy to forget.

I would like to state categorically, that talking about my sister does not make me sad, oh no, not one bit, not anymore. She is remembered not nearly loudly enough. So if you should hear me talking about her and notice me well up a bit, know that it is not sadness, … it’s Presence.

Happy Birthday Jack! I hope you are still saving me a good spot, and don’t mind too much that I’m taking my sweet time. I love you, always have, always will.