Archives for posts with tag: dreams

letter h

My father tells his students that “hope is a four-letter word.” He means this in the sense that when hope replaces action, it’s useless. “Hoping” that your grades, your job, your relationships, or your skills will improve doesn’t accomplish much of anything.

On the other hand, hope is a necessary prerequisite for action. Why work hard to improve when the situation is hopeless? You can always use a different motivator in place of hope, but as people who work in dead-end jobs with only a paycheck to motivate them show, there’s a difference in quality.

If you believe that no child is incorrigible, then there’s hope.

If you believe that the state of the world reflects a distortion of the human spirit and not its essential nature, then there’s hope.

If you believe in … anything, at all. People. Nature. God. Change. Any brand of goodness, really, take your pick. If you believe that there is or can be a force for good, from whatever source, then there’s hope.

Just be sure to take the next step. Action, practice, movement, service: none of these are four letter words, so don’t hesitate to make them your own.

photo credit: chrisinplymouth via photopin cc


So, I have really vivid dreams.

Full-color, plot-intensive, backstory-including dreams.

Often I’ll dream, then dream that it is the next morning and I’m telling the dream to someone (most often at my mother’s kitchen table), and then re-dream the dream, this time edited for improved dialog.

I’m not always myself in dreams. I’ve been King Arthur, an evil spirit, and even a dog. But the most interesting is when I dream up scenes from novels that don’t exist.

I write them down, because what else should I do? But I’m not a fiction writer. I have zero sense of plot. There’s basically nothing useful I can do with the opening chapter of a science fiction novel, aside from give it to my sister to write. I keep telling the dream world to send these things to her instead, but it never listens.

I have four opening chapters to novels that will never exist, because I dreamed them.

Last night was a little different. I didn’t dream up a new opening chapter. I dreamed up the climax. When the hero (a fourteen-year-old girl) and her father take on the bad guy (a giant evil thing that eats peoples’ souls).

And for the first time, I have something to work with. Because I know exactly where this is going. A showdown in a grassy area that looks suspiciously like the one next to the B-W Conservatory.

(Who am I kidding? It looked exactly the same. This lawn is basically the generic backdrop to my entire childhood.)

So … it appears that I’m about to be writing a YA fantasy novel. I’ve never, never, NEVER written fiction before. I’m a pretty strictly nonfiction and poetry kind of gal. But I know Point A, and I know Point Z, and I’ve got a pretty clear picture of why it has to happen that way, if not all the details of how.

Any tips from those who know how to do this sort of thing are very welcome! It will be an interesting adventure, to say the least.

Scintilla prompt: Talk about your childhood bedroom.

My first bedroom I shared with my sister. It had bright orange carpeting, white metal bunk beds with Garfield sheets, and wallpaper that had a repeating pattern of Picasso faces on it.

For real. Picasso wallpaper.

So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I grew up with a vigorous imagination.

I had my earliest dreams in that room. Then, just as now, I dreamed in incredible detail. Complete storylines and all that. Lucid dreaming would start later, at about 14, after I’d moved into the guest room and painted it robin’s egg blue. In my early 20s I started dreaming about discussing my dreams with others, and then going back and re-dreaming the original dream, but edited to include better quality plot and dialogue. But back to the orange room for now:

It was a friendly sort of place. But one nightmare changed all that for nearly a month.

In the dream, my family was at a nameless fast food restaurant. We ordered our food (I got a hot dog), put it on trays, and carried it to the next room where the seating area was. Where the two rooms met were two tall statues, one ketchup bottle and one mustard bottle. As we passed between them, the mustard statue asked me, “Can I have a bite of your hot dog?”

I held my hot dog up to its mouth, and it bit off my index finger.

The next day, we were at the same place. The mustard bottle again asked, “Can I have a bite of your hot dog?” so I held up the hot dog, and the statue bit off my middle finger.

The third day, down to only two fingers and a thumb on my right hand, I devised a plan. I ordered a foot-long hot dog. I walked up to the mustard bottle, and sweetly asked, “Would you like a bite of my hot dog?”

“Yes, I would!” answered the mustard bottle statue, sounding genuinely pleased and surprised. But because the hot dog was so long, it could not bite my finger. It screamed and cried, and the walls began to cave in as I woke up, terrified, my fingers throbbing.

I must have been reading fairy tales. Aside from the odd setting, the whole story feels like something out of Grimm’s.

Now, for some reason, my father’s binoculars in their tan leather case had been left on our dresser. And for some reason, having just woken up in the night, I thought it looked very similar to the base on which the mustard bottle statue sat in my dream. So naturally, I came to the conclusion that the mustard bottle was, in fact, hanging upside down behind my dresser and waiting to get revenge for the hot dog incident.

Unfortunately, I was little enough that this knowledge didn’t disappear with the light of day.

For several weeks, I ran past that dresser as quickly as I could. Evil mustard statues could bide their time, I knew. They could wait until the perfect moment to eat the rest of your fingers. Maybe your toes. Maybe you would die. Who knew what might happen? But it would not be good, and I wasn’t going to get close enough to let it happen.

At some point, Dad moved the binoculars. I saw that they weren’t connected to anything at all, much less a statue bent on consuming my appendages. The room went back to being a gentle place. Picasso faces still stared from all the walls, and most of them were friendly. When I was eight, I would finally move into the guest room, where another nightmare would leave me terrified of mirrors in dark rooms for years.

Now my nightmares are filled with more adult fears. Murder, genocide, the end of the world. A girl, two feet tall with gold eyes, who appears once every few years at the foot of my bed and fills me with terror without ever saying a word. But it’s a curious thing: whenever I wake from a nightmare, there is an awful pain in my hands and wrists that fades only with a few minutes of time.

It’s a strange carryover from that friendly orange room. I wonder why.

This is a dream I had when I was 17. I have never written it down, and I have never forgotten it.

In the beginning, I am little, wearing a party dress. I run from my backyard because two grownups, amorphous in the way all big people are when you only come up to their waists, are chasing me.

I run for a long time.

I end up in a tunnel, deep underground. The grown people are still chasing me, but I have gained ground and they are far behind. I am myself now, my teenage self.

I turn a corner, and suddenly I am in my older brother’s room. In real life, my parents had a boy named David before me who died shortly after being born. In the dream, though, David grew up with us, then disappeared as a youth. This ordinary blue bedroom underground was apparently his hiding place from those who were chasing him.

There are papers on top of his desk, in his handwriting, which I recognize. I read them, and from them learn the secret of walking through the earth. No longer afraid of being caught by those who pursue me, I smile and pass through the wall, and into the earth.

On the other side, I come out into a large room like a school cafeteria. At the other side of the room is a large table at which a number of people are seated. One, an enormously fat woman, stands up and gives me a hug. “Welcome!” she says.

Then she puts a hand on her hip and chides the others: “Well, aren’t you going to welcome the girl?”

One man stands. He is thin, with dark hair and a crooked nose. Looking at his eyes, I realize he is blind. Next to him is seated a frail looking, ancient woman. This is his lover.

He explains to me that there are brief times when he is able to see. When this happens, he is unable to look at his love, because he becomes overwhelmed by emotion and the shock of it drives him immediately back into blindness. Instead, he reads everything she has written, as fast as he can, for as long as he is able. He tells me, “When you love someone, read what they have written. This is how you will know who they are.”

I woke up feeling weighted down by responsibility.

I have remembered every detail for 10 years, and I don’t even know why.

Question: How do I do this meditation thing without falling asleep?

I can block out the outside sights and sounds. I’ve always been able to do that.

I can even turn off the narrator.

If  need to control the images and internal thought-sounds, I can do that to varying degrees. But I can’t do it without the aid of the narrator.

The narrator is the one in my head who bosses everyone around and puts things in order. When I turn off the narrator, I get a slippery, nonsensical parade of images and sounds that slide around without pattern. Also known as dreaming.

I know this, because this is how I’ve been able to make myself sleep since I was a teenager.

It’s great for insomniac nights. Less great for trying to focus.

So how do I do this? Keep the narrator going until I’ve got a grip on the slideshow? Or just sleep?

What should you have done this year but didn’t because you were too scared, worried, unsure, busy or otherwise deterred from doing?

I really, really wanted to take the online course, Constructing a Conceptual Framework for Social Action.  I’ve been so busy and overwhelmed with my current studies, and simply haven’t had the time.  There’s also the part of me that worries about taking a graduate-level course.  The part of me that thinks of myself as a college dropout, rather than a gifted  nontraditional student who learns best through the exact method of study, action, and reflection that this course employs.  I feel like this could really give me an academic framework for the intensive learning I undergo through my service in the community.

They’re accepting applications right now for the course starting in January.  I won’t be applying.

I graduate in May and take my licensing exams in June, though.

Then there’s no stopping me.

What was the best thing you learned about yourself this past year? And how will you apply that lesson going forward?

I learned that there is time. 

There is time in my life to work full-time, go to school at night, be involved in the community, write every day, study enough to maintain a 97% average, and still get a little bit of exercise in.  There are certainly days that I cried from the overwhelm of attempting it, and I don’t always like the relative proportions in the slices of my lifepie, but I CAN make it happen.  If I want to.  (And I do.)

The first steps were the trickiest.  I’m a planner.  I like plans.  I like planning even more than I like doing, which is where I run into trouble.  This year I’ve learned that I can actually DO the things I think about.  If I want to.  (And I do.)

I also get frustrated easily.  I hate not seeing any progress.  I get completely ground down by embarrassment, awkwardness, and having my plans dissolve into uselessness.  I get stressed out from having to invest energy in relationships with people I don’t know very well.  I fall into funks and technical difficulties and throw tantrums at myself.  But I can keep going through difficulties.  If I want to.  (And I do.)

This year, I learned how to want.  To want and then throw myself at my goal so headlong that I couldn’t pull back to save myself if I tried. 

Next year, I’ll keep refining what it is I want.  How much of this do I want?  What am I willing to sacrifice to get it?  What am I unwilling to sacrifice, and what does this mean for what I really want? 

Then I’ll figure out my next steps, and decide when to do them.  Because I can certainly make the time.  If I want it.

(And I do.)

How has a friend changed you or your perspective on the world this year? Was this change gradual, or a sudden burst?

On one hand I ever had a friend who hasn’t changed or my perspective?

Jef, with his eyes on justice in all things.  Afsaneh and her perpetual enthusiasm.  Greg and his insights from Israel.  Farah and her deepening confidence.  Shannon, living her dream in China.  Judy and (other) Greg’s loving encouragement.  Eileen’s artsy, hilarious take on the world around us.  Allissa and her entrepreneurial determination.  Matt’s two answers to all problems (good tea and high-fives).

But I’m going to dedicate this to Joy.

Joy and I began as friends of circumstance, having moved onto the same hall of the same building at the same time in 2002.  But while I don’t really keep up with most of my friends from that time, Joy is still essential to me.  She changes my perspective on life every day.

Sure, we’re different.  My heart’s in Malawi and hers is in Palestine.  We’re different religions (unless you count “don’t be mean” as a single religion; maybe it should be), live in different states, and focus our efforts on different topics.  But we love to write, we love to serve, and we love to use our ridiculous brains to imagine how to make things better.

Joy changes me because every time we speak, my perspective shifts from “I’m crazy and alone and none of this is possible,” to “I’m crazy but the world needs crazy to get us out of the insanity we’re in, and I know we can do this thing because Joy knows all my cracked-out ideas and still believes in me.”

Sudden as an email, gradual as an eight-year friendship.  Call it what you like.

Love you, Joy.  Thanks for changing me.

What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?

This answer won’t surprise anyone: the last thing I made was dinner!  Actually, I only made the salad, while Jef dealt with the cooked stuff.  I used fresh spinach, a carrot, and half a red pepper.  Also, extra virgin olive oil, apple cider vinegar, tahini, garlic powder, and black pepper.  I used a medium-sized mixing bowl, a knife, and a bottle with a lid.  That’s it!  The whole process couldn’t have taken more than seven minutes.  I like to keep things simple and delicious. 

Some things I want to make next year include:

  • a vermicomposting bin
  • a heatable rice bag for my feet at night
  • vegan pierogi
  • a plan for what to do after I graduate

My mother would probably prefer that I added “babies” to the list, but I don’t think we’re there quite yet!

What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it?

Each day I get up, fix my oats with soymilk and fruit, and re-read the soymilk carton for the millionth time while I eat.  The oats help my writing.  The mindless reading does not, and can be eliminated, replaced with a more mindful appreciation of the morning.

Each day I go to work.  I play with children.  I engage their parents in both frivolous and meaningful conversations.  I observe and foster development.  I comfort and love and admonish.  I guide and I model.  I also fill out a huge amount of bureaucratic paperwork.  The human interaction, the discovery, the cycles of action, reflection and planning help my writing.  The busywork does not.  It cannot be eliminated, but maybe my attitude about it can be transformed into something more beneficial.

Each day I study my anatomy and physiology.  I take notes, I recite, I test myself, I memorize.  I create diagrams and models.  All of it helps my writing, especially since this is one of the major subjects I write about.  There is not a single aspect of my schooling at the moment that is not infomative and empowering to me as a writer and human being.

Each day I worry.  I worry about money.  I worry about my character.  I worry about my habits.  I worry about my dreams.  I worry about my friends.  I worry about my family.  I worry about the world.  My worrying is almost never helpful, except when I manage to write about the worrying, which is occasionally hilarious.  I could eliminate the worry by replacing it with action and acquiescence.  The old AA prayer stands so true here:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Each day I destroy myself.  I pick at the skin on my fingertips.  I chew my lips and the insides of my mouth.  I scratch myself, and the places I scratch habitually are raw.  It doesn’t help.  It’s never helped.  As a young girl, I practiced gymnastics and ballet until I was aching and bleeding and in tears, but refused to stop until my knees gave out in middle school.  When I was a teenager, I would burn myself on lightbulbs, and the scar on my arm reminds me of the desperation of those days.  This is the adult facet of a habit that hasn’t changed since childhood.  It’s less desperate, less dangerous, but has no more place in my life than it ever has.  It must be eliminated.

Each day I write.  I write on my massage therapy blog.  I write on my computer and in my journal.  I write thank-you notes and reminders and love letters.  All of it contributes.  All of it matters.

Each day I read.  Each day I pray.  Each day I perform my ablutions and recite “Allah-u-Abha” 95 times.  My religious discipline, my background in service and fasting and faith, these are the only reasons I have developed the strength of will to write.  My writing would be lost without them.

Each day I dream.  Some of the dreams are foolish.  They are rehashings of realities and fantasies pieced together from bits of the past.  These I would better do without.  But some are meaningful.  They bring an energy and creativity and joyfulness into my life that would otherwise not exist.  And these I will keep.  Keep, and nurture, and grow.