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

It’s a beautiful day; so why are you on Facebook?

Sure, you’re outside on your deck, laptop/iPad/iPhone/iWhatever at the ready. And you’ve set yourself a time limit, twenty minutes max. Only curiosity trumps will power once you start scrolling through status updates of friends, perusing pages you follow. Overload is an understatement, but something is bound to slow you down, make you take note; how quickly twenty minutes roll into thirty.
Ruscha copyNo matter how you slice it, you’re kind of hooked. ‘Vacation from Facebook’ should be a hashtag (if it isn’t already), considering the growing body of commentary on what-Facebook-has-wrought. I Liked Everything I Saw on Facebook for Two Days. Here’s What It Did to Me, writes Matt Honan in a piece largely about the FB algorithm and its insidious effect on his news feed. Laura Dimon’s piece in The Atlantic last year, What Witchcraft Is Facebook?, considers whether a woman’s symptoms of conversion disorder were ‘contracted’ via social media. The comments the piece engendered tell a story all their own. Then there’s the blog, Facebook Detox, or you can cut to the chase and read Heather Hummel’s Huffington Post piece, How a 21-Day Facebook Detox Makes you More Creative.


I’ve backed off a little of late. No epiphany or demanding life circumstances pushing me in that direction except maybe the sense that there is no revelation without some reflection. Maybe, too, my curiosity re: how our neurology got so entangled in social media has gotten me searching for answers. Didn’t have to look very far. An opinion piece in the New York Times Sunday Review two weeks ago (Hit the Reset Button in Your Brain), tells me that on a typical day we take in five times as much information as we did in 1986. The time we spend reading status updates, tweets and text messages competes with time spent on often meatier issues. It’s a brain drain.

So why do we do it? A friend of mine (prior to our Facebook days and forever), a sensitive, poetic soul, once likened Facebook to the town square. We share thoughts, post photos, foster interaction. When it’s good, it’s really really good. Connecting with long-lost friends is a blessing. Connecting with kindred spirits in that serendipitous way Cyberspace brings us into circles outside of our immediate, physical world, gives a different meaning to friendship.

What I genuinely love most is the give and take. Show me a striking photo or piece of art, link me to a poem, post a quote about or by a writer I admire and I stop scrolling. I pay attention. I share.  Everyone needs a good music break during the day, give the brain some relief from headline news with its pounding repetition.

What I like least—and I know I’m not alone here—is the diminishment of boundaries a public forum like Facebook fosters. Its very framework makes us feel the need to say something—about ourselves, about a friend’s status update, about world affairs. If you can’t change a cousin’s political persuasions at a family gathering, what makes you think you’ll fare better on his Facebook wall? Of course, those gatherings may be few and far between these days, what with families more dispersed, but the need to connect is as primal as it gets. And a world that seems smaller and scarier by the day has us reaching for all the reassurances we can find. Or playing the provocateur.

We all want to be heard, if not seen. A selfie that goes unnoticed only affirms the delusion that there’s nothing we can’t do ourselves; what does it take, really, to let someone know you saw/you liked/you commented?

We want all our needs met. We want the president we like to do the humanitarian thing/we trust his motives.  Except if we don’t. Except if he’s the president we don’t like, in which case everything he says is suspect.

It’s too easy to be cynical but let’s not kid ourselves, we’re in collusion. We’ve given so much away in terms of privacy (unless there really is something insidious in the Facebook framework akin to the amount of nicotine that gets smokers hooked). Can’t turn back the clock, and you’d be hard put to go home again; the metaphor of cozy comfort may be ingrained in the word but neighborhoods change, parents move to retirement communities, and what we think of as ‘home’ needs some rethinking.

Facebook is a far cry from home; it negates intimacy even as we share our griefs and joys, and there’s every good reason some of my closest friends won’t go near it. But those of us who see it for what it is at least have the option of what we choose to be swept into on a day-to-day basis.

And when that sea of ships passing in the night starts to overwhelm, it’s a sign to drop anchor. Someplace. Anywhere but Cyberspace.

wall detail copyThese days my curiosity takes me outside. The excavation of my front yard is finally taking a new step – literally, as I watch the front entrance become grander than ever. I’m especially fascinated with the methodical work of the stone masons—combing the property for stones, pounding away at the large ones, chiseling them to fit the puzzle of the beautiful wall they’re building. Pouring concrete for footings. Placing a tier of concrete block for the steps.

Such attention to precision leaves no time for taking a break to check in on Facebook.