Monday, January 26, 2009

Dream: Woman, thy name is anxiety

As my life becomes less fulfilling, my dreams seem to be losing their rich mixture of visuals and symbols.

I wasn't looking forward to today. I did not dream of demons or vampires, trains or tunnels, or even of the "cold Sargasso Sea." I dreamed that, at lunch time, I looked into my wallet and found everything but money, my debit and credit cards, and my state ID. I was a person with neither resources nor identity.

I think that must be how I feel.

I found it mysterious and amazing that these items, and only them, had disappeared, and that my wallet was intact. How could that have happened? It puzzled and disturbed me, as did the fact I did not know who to turn to for lunch funds.

Later I dreamed that at work my hearing had worsened and that I could not understand anyone. I didn't want to admit it, but it frightened me.

I am all anxiety.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Dream: The phaser

It's happened before that I've served aboard the USS Enterprise, although it's not always the same iteration. This time I was in front of something dangerous that seemed to require me to get a phaser and fire at it—but I could not make a decision. I didn't know where I was, what I was dealing with, what the rules were, or even who I was.

When finally I decided to get the phaser and fire it (hoping not to be caught if I were doing the wrong thing), I wasn't sure it was at the correct setting or that was aiming at the right spot to eliminate the danger. I pushed buttons randomly, not knowing what they did. I was petrified of killing. But I felt an overpowering urge to take control and do something.

I lived through two variations of this scenario. In both, I had to make a decision. In both, I dreaded being caught.

It's interesting how I translated my anxiety about the meeting today into the opportunity to be a confused and anxious Star Trek adventurer.

I woke up thinking there should have been a difference between "defense" and "security."

Friday, January 16, 2009

Deep freeze

This has been one of those weeks in which I work hard, accomplish little due to factors beyond my control, and do not experience the human warmth that even a small amount of appreciation would provide.

To make life even colder, the temperature this morning was -17 degrees Fahrenheit. That was the actual temperature without wind chill factored in. That said, a little winter chill like that doesn't faze me nearly as much as the lack of acknowledgment of the value that I struggle to remember I have.

To top it off, once again I experienced PMS-like symptoms that caused a lot of physical and emotional discomfort. Since the UFE, I've had no recognizable periods, although there have been occasional signs. This week one seemed to try to get started, but went nowhere. I feel all of the misery and none of the relief.

Thanks to a cancellation, I got in two weeks early at the dentist's, where I learned that, unbeknownst to me, I've had pockets and gum recession for a while. The former haven't been a topic of discussion because they're stabilized, while I'm told (but am not convinced) the latter is the result of the teeth clenching I did before I started to wear a night guard. Although I can't say for sure, I suspect all these problems are attributable to midlife orthodontia, which fixed my bite so that my teeth meet, and I am now able to clench effectively. To give you an idea of how forcefully I bite down involuntarily, I've bitten through the night guard and broke off a piece of enamel. (Imagine waking up to a gritty sensation between your molars and slowly realizing that it's part of one of them.) The dentist and hygienist suggested I take a tropical vacation and work on reducing my stress level. Unfortunately, I'm not in a financial position to make either bit of well-intentioned advice happen, so I am stuck with my cracked bed partner and its future replacements for life.

Speaking of bed, this morning I was in so little pain and was so comfortable that I had a difficult time getting out of mine. Earlier in the wee hours I had had a dream that has come to me before, in one form or another. I am within an area crisscrossed by train tracks, with trains constantly coming from different directions so that I am afraid to move for fear of being hit. Despite the terrifying aspect of the scenario, there was something pleasant or interesting about it that made me reluctant to leave the dream behind.

When I finally woke up a little after 6 o'clock, to the temperature reading of -17 degrees Fahrenheit mentioned earlier, I looked out the window. Below, a figure strode in a determined way toward the lakefront—without a dog, the only reason other than work or an immediate need for a commodity that would get me out the door so early on such a morning. Perhaps he was like me one Saturday morning in college, when I walked over to campus and back and noted that it had seemed a little colder than usual. I found out only later that the wind chill had been a negative number so low that even now I am not sure I believe it.

I no longer have that marvelous and sometimes useful sense of obliviousness to the world around me.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The saga of Sunday

1. Get dressed.
2. Get stuff together for bakery/grocery trip/letter writing.
3. Walk around building because back door locked.
4. Trudge through unshoveled ice/snow in front of stores.
5. At the 1/4-mile mark, contemplate how much you're going to buy and how you may need to take a bus back.
6. Wonder if you brought CTA pass.
7. Realize you didn't bring CTA pass.
8. Remember that CTA pass is in purse. So is wallet with money and credit/debit card.
9. Purse is in hallway at home.
10. Trudge 1/4 mile back through ice and snow. Note that feet are pleasantly wet and frozen.
11. Retrieve purse with purchasing power.
12. Walk 1/4 mile you've just walked to and from, finish the other 1/4 mile, and actually get to destination.

Time wasted? Priceless.

In the mood for chores now? Noooooo.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Dream: Like "City on the Edge of Forever"

I had discovered a vintage box that somehow showed amazing scenes and items from the past. When I peered into it, I could see scenes of an uncle in action during a war. It was realistic, yet tiny—a strange, magical, and priceless memento of someone I did not know. I imagined this clunky clear plastic brick held infinite memories of the past. Now that I had found it, I could not conceive of life without it.

I may have bumped a corner accidentally and fretted that I had damaged it. In a while, the scene went black, and nothing else came on. I noticed a wet spot on the brick and wondered if it were leaking water and if that were causing the malfunction.

I was anxious to have it repaired, hoping that the functionality and the memories had not leaked out with the water. I gave it to my mother and asked her to take it somewhere for repair, but she put it aside in a place and way that made me afraid that she was simply going to throw it out. I became terribly upset, wishing that I had been more careful if it really were my fault, hopeful that I was wrong about her intentions, and fearful that I was right. Part of me tried to understand that neither memories nor magic is forever.

Dream: Tree of terror

I don't seem to dream, or at least to remember dreams, during times of petty stress. Perhaps even in my sleep, my subconscious doesn't have time to relax and stretch its imagination.

I was back in college and could not explain in a satisfactory way, to myself or anyone else, why. Not only was I aiming for the same degree, but I had a loan, no, a grant, to fund this futile exercise in "doing it better." It sounded ridiculous to me and my listeners.

Back in my room, I found that my computer speakers played a video of whatever I was listening to, but I had to have a CD designed for it. When I tried it again, the speakers went dark. Or were they now the wrong kind of speakers?

ECP parked in front of the house we rented, bumping the tree in front. Judging from the scar on its trunk, it had been bumped before. I worried because it seemed loose, and I had a vision of it falling over onto the house so that I lost everything I owned, including my computer and backups. I sent AP to the town hall to have it removed, even as I contemplated how it was at the corner of the house and was unlikely to fall onto it, and how barren life would be without it.

At town hall, a block away, the functionary told AP that he seemed to be nervous. AP replied, or thought he replied, "Of course—bureaucracy makes everyone nervous!" This surprised the clerk.

At the house, I kept trying to see how unstable the tree really was, probably making it even worse. (Did the tree represent my teeth?) Finally, I had ECP take a Polaroid photo of it, although this doesn't seem logical now. When she turned to me with the camera, unbeknownst to her, her face was screwed up in a combination of pain and horror as though she had been burned. Forgetting that it was a Polaroid camera, I was impatient to see what was wrong, but noticed the photo spitting out. It showed the tree engulfed in flames. The concept that this was happening in another dimension was horrifying to me. We were both frightened by more than a tree potentially falling over.

I was watching an old monochrome movie on campus in which men in medieval gear were told there would be a bounty awarded to the man who returned with the king's right arm. In the next scene, a man cornered another, who I sensed was not the king, and with a short sword hacked at his right arm at the shoulder repeatedly to sever it. The victim, who offered little if any resistance, fell to the ground as the other chopped. Each time a blow was struck, he'd cry out, "ARRR! ARRR! ARRR!" It was terrible to see, but the rhythmic nature of his cries distracted me.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Monday, January 5, 2009

Eyes on the prize

My two weeks and one day of vacation are over, so I have to adjust myself from expectant to adaptive mode. My time is no longer my own, and the rest of a long, cold, gloomy winter looms.

At Bonjour the day of New Year’s Eve, I heard a man who was sharing his table with two older women explain what he was doing. Every year, he writes his list of goals for the new year and mails it to himself on December 31. Although he always has access to it on his computer and to the mailed printout, something about the formality of receiving mail, opening it at the end of the year, and assessing his success works for him. I may try this. If I don’t formalize what I want, the odds are excellent that I will never achieve it.

As Susie Bright points out, the goal is not what we think it is. For example, my real goal is not to lose weight. It’s to experience the health, well being, enhanced physical ability, and perhaps improved confidence that weight loss would bring. Weight loss is a step toward that objective, and understanding that may make it easier to reach. It’s not about cutting fats and carbohydrates. It’s about the freedom of feeling healthy and energized. If, to use the jargon of business borrowed in part from war, we focus on strategies and outcomes, not on tasks, how much more we might accomplish.

Beating yourself up over a failed or missed task, a slice of cake eaten, or a pound or two gained doesn’t do any good. Perhaps great people know this instinctively, and that is part of what makes them great. They “don’t sweat the small stuff.”

I don’t profess to be great, but I can stop being stubborn and refusing to set goals because I feel disappointed by setbacks and doomed to fail. Taking the weight-loss example (one of myriad possibilities), I don’t have to set a goal of losing 20 pounds and then fret when the scale is disagreeable or my clothes are uncooperative. Instead, I’ll try to think about how I feel, why I feel that way, and, most important, how I can feel better. And I can feel better by doing, not just by wishing, much as I love to dream. Dreaming is important, but so too is living.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

An erotic treasury's journey

A couple of months ago, I bought an ex-library copy of An Uninhibited Treasury of Erotic Poetry edited by Louis Untermeyer and published in 1963 from Andrew Halldorson Books through AbeBooks. Tonight when I was putting a cloth dust jacket on it, I noticed there was a slip in the old-style library pocket. It was due back to the Lansing, Michigan, library on January 15, 1968—forty-one years ago, when I was six years old. In all this time, no one had removed what was possibly the book’s final due date slip. Had this copy been retired after only five years?

Beyond the written words, I wonder how much history is in that book.

Bush the Third

Not to my surprise, Former President George H. W. Bush apparently doesn’t agree with my ideas about the family business. The New York Times The Caucus blog reports:

You may think you’ve seen the last of the Bushes in the White House, but the Bush family seems to have other ideas.

Former President George H. W. Bush said today that he would like to see another Bush in the Oval Office.

Speaking on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, Mr. Bush said he thought his son Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, should run for the Senate when Mel Martinz vacates the seat in Florida in 2010 — if he wants to.

He then added, “I’d like to see him run for president some day.”

Mr. Wallace seemed a bit surprised. The elder Bush had just been saying that he thought the attacks on his son George W. Bush, the current president, were unfair. (Well, he said he thought most of them were unfair; some were fair, he said, but he declined to say which ones.)

But after all that the current president has been through, Mr. Wallace asked, why would the father want to expose another son to such attacks?

“It’s about service,” Mr. Bush said.

The former president added: “Right now is probably a bad time because maybe we’ve had enough Bushes in there.”
Next up: Jenna Bush.

It's about service, after all.

Hint: It's okay if others wish to serve, too.

Friday, January 2, 2009

I am not a time lord

When I talked to J. on the phone, I attributed his raspy voice and half-coughs to the dust he must have kicked up while he's been cleaning his apartment. Wrong again. It seems he has a half cold—the condition that feels like the beginnings of a cold but that never quite advances to full-fledged, stuffed-up misery. Now I've started sneezing and feeling that tell-tale tingling in the sinuses—a happy way to start the year. I'll keep reminding myself that calendars and dates are human fabrications.

J. met me at Bonjour New Year's eve, ordered sandwiches and treats to go, then trotted off to Homemade Pizza for a menu, trotted back to discuss, then trotted back to order a large spinach pie and cookie. I stood corrected. Their pizzas are not frozen or ready made. When I joined him after he'd returned to check on our order, there were a half dozen people watching as three employees scrambled to put all their orders together, from rolling out the crust to sprinkling on the spices. We had not been the only ones to think of pizza at home for New Year's eve dinner.

After a detour to Treasure Island and Walgreens, we came here to confront the question of what to do with ourselves. I picked an uplifting movie on demand, Journey Into Fear (Orson Welles), then puttered around so much with tea, pizza, cookie, sparkling cider, wine, and coffee that I missed most of it. Why it doesn't occur to me to relinquish control of the remote I will never understand.

For the big moment, the two primary choices seemed to be a party at a casino in Hammond, Indiana, with an awful band, or the scene at Times Square. Times Square it was, then. Ten seconds before the ball dropped, suddenly I recalled the bag of noisemakers and toys in my closet, where they remained. With that kind of lapse in my cognitive ability, I don't think I'm ready to return to work.

At least I thought (after I heard them) to look for the fireworks at Navy Pier. They remind me of a Fourth of July party I went to many years ago in Washington, D.C., hosted by a friend of my aunt's. A retired government accountant, the friend lived in a comfortable condo on a hill overlooking the capital's big fireworks display. It was an amazing opportunity and a tantalizing taste of the gregarious urban life I'm too reclusive and too foreign to Chicago to experience every day for myself. As the youngest person with only one connection present (my aunt), I also felt strange and more out of place than usual, but not unwelcome.

On New Year's morn, while most people were recovering from hangovers or rolling in from the night's festivities (debauch), we took it into our heads, around 9:00 a.m., to put together a magazine rack I'd received a few months ago as a birthday gift. J. wanted to do it for me, but—I'm not proud of this—I couldn't just let him. After a little warm discussion about which side out and which side up, we got the rack together and forgave each other's impatience.

I puttered around some more—I've developed an incapacitating inability to get up and go in the morning—and started a Silly String fight, then we took off for Mellow Yellow a little before noon. We've gone there before on New Year's day and found it comfortably busy but uncrowded. This day, however, it was jammed. And jamming with the sounds of a excellent jazz quartet. We enjoyed them, and the little girl next to J. whose crayons kept flying at him somehow. When she rejected her French toast out of hand and it ended up next to me, I said, "Oh, is that for me?" Her dad sighed. "At least someone would eat it."

We stopped at Borders for coffee and found that, as is not unusual there, timed chess games had broken out. This gave J. not only an opportunity to watch something that he enjoys (compared to, say, Journey Into Fear), but the chance to comment to on the style of play of each participant. Who doesn't like to be the expert?

When we returned, I landed on "Unforgettable Elephants," a Nature episode featuring the work of Martyn Colbeck. I can't explain why, but I've gotten away from watching the type of wildlife programs that my parents and I used to love. It's unfortunate because this one was amazing. Spoilers follow.
  • Echo, the matriarch of a family in Ambolesi, gave birth to a calf who couldn't straighten his front legs to stand. I didn't think I could watch this, as I thought I could guess the outcome. At some point, Echo's daughter, the calf's aunt, was clearly torn between helping with the calf and joining the rest of the family to head for food and water. When the calf issued a distress cry, the wavering aunt thundered back to him at a run. By day 2, he was sunburnt and dehydrated and was gamely trying to walk on his bent knees, risking injury, infection, and a painful death. On day 3, Colbeck was there to record an inspiring moment—the calf straightened his front legs and began to walk normally. Apparently he's been too large for Echo's womb and unable to straight or stretch his legs. By somehow surviving his first couple of days, with the encouragement of his mother, aunt, and family, he was able to resolve the problem. Years later, he was left behind by Echo's family to fend for himself, as is the fate of young elephant bulls. It was an incredible survival story.

  • Another elephant gave birth prematurely and managed to lift the tiny white calf between her one tusk and her trunk. At one point, she dropped it accidentally, but, as I told J., that didn't kill it—like any premature infant, it was too undeveloped and frail to live without intensive care. The mother's anguish at not being able to provide it seemed palpable.

  • Echo gave birth to another calf that amused Colbeck with its goofy looks and antics. One day, however, she was kidnapped by another family. Echo rallied hers, and Colbeck captured the moment when they formed an unbroken line of outraged elephant flesh and bulldozed their way in, extracting Echo's little clown.

  • An adult daughter of Echo was seen to be in pain, struggling to walk. Suspecting human culpability, the Kenya Wildlife Service tranquilized and treated her for two deep, septic spear wounds. It was too little too late. She died, leaving a calf too young to take care of itself. Echo and family were there at the end, When they returned from their migratory travels, they visited her bones, gently feeling them with their trunks as though, as Colbeck said, to try to understand what had happened.

  • Colbeck also filmed and photographed forest and desert elephants, noting that the latter do not have the chance to play because of the demands of their harsh environment.
Think of the variety of life, miracles, and tragedies going on all around us, with most of us oblivious to almost all of it.

When J. left, the same feeling came over me that has hit me the evening of every New Year's day of late, when I am left alone—a sense of anxiety about odd things, alienation, strangeness, and sadness. I can't describe it, nor can I explain its source. It could be partly post-holiday blues, but it seems to be something deeper, as though the variation in routine has stripped naked a part of my soul that I need to keep covered at all costs. Within a few days, I will feel better, and within a week or so, normal.

Or as close to normal as I can feel.