The road taken

A dream the other night had me rounding a bend onto a city waterfront. I was alone, walking, backpack on my shoulder, no sense of any particular destination along that waterfront.

Isn’t that the way it is in dreams—the tease they bring to the waking mind, figure out this one, no neatly spelled out narrative to make sense of, their messages delivered like postcards from the unconscious mind?

Here’s what I see in this dream: a road, a journey, water. That I’m by myself speaks to a place deep in me, possibly archetypal and mythic, that some journeys are meant to be taken alone. There is no destination I’m aware of in the dream, only a sense that I’m here, in a state of relative peace, and I’ve come this far.

There is rarely ever a smooth path on a journey. We hit psychic snags, bumpy roads. We make choices, we let choices be made for us. We hit crossroads, we think about the roads not taken with or without regret.  Not for nothing is Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” such a popular poem for the suggestion that personal and spiritual satisfaction comes from taking the road less traveled. In fact, a close reading of the poem shows the narrator deliberating, never really choosing which way to go, except to imagine from some future point in time what it would mean to take the metaphoric road less traveled.

I take the dreams I remember to heart. Modern neuroscience may tell us how we dream but the jury is still out on what dreams reveal. Are they rich in symbolism à la the theories of Freud and Jung? Or are they simply a side effect of random neural impulses? Either way, my dream has me thinking a lot about how we make peace with the mix of choice and circumstance that determines where our personal journeys lead us. It takes a lot of internal work to keep from being weighted by the past or restrained by future anxieties. If you’re lucky, something eases along the way, says to you this moment is all there is: sink into it, let it inform your choices. Let go of regrets.  Don’t be deluded by expectation.  This is the road you’ve taken.

If you’re a fiction writer, you get to fully imagine alternatives as Lionel Shriver does so cleverly and convincingly in The Post-Birthday World.

If you’re a poet, you write poems with beautiful, resonant, moving lines that say as much about making art as they do about introspection and self-discovery. “A wild patience has taken me this far,” writes Adrienne Rich in poem entitled “Integrity,” in a collection that takes its title from that line.

And if you’re someone who gives credence to her dreams, you remind yourself that their secrets are really no mystery if you pay attention to them.  Sometimes they echo with profound experiences, childhood memories, past loves. Other times they’re riddled with uncertainty and insecurity. As my inner life evolves, hopefully with the kind of acceptance and wisdom that come with age, how can I help but see dreams as barometers of change along my very own long and winding road?

My Sentimental Journey Playist

Empty nest

This morning I woke to an unfamiliar sound, the gentle beep of a new alarm clock. I’d finally replaced the bulky digital one on my night table. The shop owner promised the mechanism was quiet, no ticking.

I almost always wake around the same time every morning, no alarm necessary. It’s a funny thing about body clocks. More to the point, I was in the middle of a dream that had something do with a combination lock I couldn’t open. It took a few dream minutes to realize the lock I was trying to open really looked unfamiliar and had numbers rounded off in fives so that finding the precise combination was tricky indeed. That was my key to realizing I was trying to open the wrong lock. So I pulled out a different one from my bag.

Voila! Mystery solved although the greater mystery might be why I carried more than one lock in my gym bag. Isn’t there something so satisfying about the right-left-right of a combination lock, and the way it lets you know, by a certain feel, when you’ve hit the final digit?

I could analyze, connect the dots of the dream to aspects of my life, the distress of not being able to open a lock, the search for the right (winning?) combination as obvious a metaphor as it gets. The Zen master Bassui says, “It doesn’t matter how much you search for something in a dream, you will never find it.” I say: Don’t we all know when something isn’t quite right, if we’re truly listening?

Case in point: I originally planned a piece that begins like this:

‘These days I’m thinking a lot about curses. Mostly the superstitious kind though it’s no surprise to learn that the word itself is rooted in anger: Cursian (Old English, to swear profanely). A character in a story I’m working on becomes a little obsessed with the notion when a great-aunt from Italy comes to America to live with her family. Once this great-aunt (sister of the girl’s grandmother) enters the picture, there’s no explaining anything except in terms of a curse. If a girl is too tall, a boy too short, it’s a curse. The very arrival of the great-aunt herself years after her sister came to America is readily explained by a love affair, cursed from the start.’

That beginning would have taken me to the closest thing to a rant on what promises to be the ugliest presidential election ever, which (no glibness intended) has all the markings of a curse. The presumptive Republican candidate (I can’t say his name without feeling physically ill) riles people with the most undignified words anyone, running for president or not, should say. The presumptive Democratic candidate does her best to keep the conversation dignified. The rest of us watch, believe we’re listening even if what we hear is only what we wanted to hear in the first place.

What was wrong with that piece was the rant direction it took me on, not really my blogging style. Everyone has an opinion, yes, and everyone thinks that whomever he/she supports is going to save the day (never mind the planet).

No one is perfect. All politicians stretch the truth.

In the best of all possible mindsets, I’d ask for reason (and heart) to rule. In the reality-TV-driven mindset that threatens all sense and sensibility, it takes a village to stomp the anger (never mind the tears).

In the early days of the blogging bandwagon, there was an implicit sense of immediacy, giving voice to what’s going on in the world, shaping a personal vision. Favorite blogs of mine have spurred interesting conversations re: books/writing/spirit/politics/feminist issues. Some are on hiatus, others posting with less frequency at a time when, alas, we need those voices more than ever.

We need to reverse the curse. BIlogging overload, election burnout, a flimflam man emerging in ways that echo the actor who fooled everyone in the Eighties somehow combine to have me recalling (ironic as it seems) a cult book, The Aquarian Conspiracy, that promised a paradigm shift in consciousness, one that would make the world a better place. We all do our part, one by one, most often without fanfare. Here’s what I do: Any magazine, literary or otherwise, with a cover blurb/story about the presumptive Republican candidate gets tossed into the trash. Immediately. If I can’t fight the media forces that lifted the candidate no one thought would ever get this far but has gained strength from the no-such-thing-as-bad-publicity wave, I can make a statement of my own.
nest1

The nest in the joists under my kitchen deck has toppled over. Hard to know if a predator, or the wind and rain, got to it. There are no eggs anywhere around, though I have noticed a bird swooping under the deck. I like to think the eggs were not yet laid, even if it means all the building has to begin again.