Dreams From My Father

My dad came to me several times in the days following his death. Two of those visitations were in dreams.

In the first dream two hummingbirds flew into the enclosed porch where I was sitting with him, the room he spent most of his last 11 months in, recovering from chemo and radiation treatments, and when I put up my hand for them to land on, they instead hovered above it, boring their long, narrow beaks into the space between my first and second knuckles. I writhed with pain, inside, but didn’t flinch, holding still while they…sucked out nectar? Pollinated me?

As they flew off, I turned and thrust my wounded hand in his direction, imploring my dad to “help me, fix me, I’m hurt,” like I often did in real life. As a doctor, a veterinarian, he was who I turned to when sick or hurt, knowing his gift for healing. Especially of those who couldn’t explain what was the matter.

I looked at the sizeable hole the hummingbirds made – a small marble could have fit, yet there was no bleeding, and it was deep black, the darkest color I ever saw. The closer I peered, the more I realized I was looking into the abyss. Endless, boundless universe.

In the second dream, I was alone at my sister’s house and opened the door to let her cat out. Shortly afterwards, I saw a fox leaping gracefully across the yard, playful, yet intent. Entranced for a moment, I then suddenly remembered the cat was outside, nearby, and I rushed out the door, but couldn’t reach her fast enough. I helplessly watched as the fox grabbed her, sank its claws, and rendered her defenseless. She immediately relaxed, her body slumped and stopped struggling. It happened so fast. Alive one moment, surrendered the next.

That was 3 months ago. I haven’t dreamt since.

Until last night.

In this dream, my friends Tammy and Geof were showing me their grandfather’s house and the rural hamlet he lived in. I was looking to move and wanted to be someone’s roommate, and they thought we’d be a perfect match.

On our way there, I walked ahead of them into town, searching for something. Everything was intensely magnified. The green was greener than where I live now, the surrounding mountains were higher and more thickly forested. The few houses were old, and made of stone, just like the ones I coveted as a child and still hope to someday live in. No one was one the street at all, the townspeople all tucked inside. The scene was clean, orderly, pristine, natural, beautiful.

I walked into one of only two establishments and it was filled with kids – an ice cream shop. The brightness of overhead lights was strong and the hubbub overstimulating, so I left. I didn’t go into the other place – a serious, upscale restaurant, but I knew I would eventually – the twinkling lights on the windows highlighted the warm festivities inside. When I get settled in…

Then, feeling guilty I had rushed ahead without my friends, I walked briskly back down to the park, and found them relaxing with their grandfather and their son. We reunited.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After the first 2 dreams, I looked up Hummingbird and Fox in Ted Andrews’ book of animal totems, “Animal Speak, The Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures Great & Small.”

Hummingbirds represent tireless joy and the nectar of life. The most skilled flyer, they can change direction on a dime, fly thousands of miles – a seemingly impossible journey for a bird who needs to eat constantly, and are fiercely independent and revel in their freedom.

Foxes are a symbol of shapeshifting and camouflage, a sign of a new world growing and opening up, a beneficial creation in the works. They’re charming, and will distract you with jumping and leaping antics, until they pounce and capture their prize.

Now, a little back story about the small town and my friends’ role in it. Three years ago while visiting Tammy and Geof, who live in a small New England town, I listen while Geof shares some crazy thought he has that I might be happier moving out of NYC and to someplace like Vermont or Maine. I mostly ignore this idea at the time.

Months later, I’m invited to Maine, and suddenly remember Geof’s words. I rediscover Camden, where I once wanted to move, two decades earlier. It feels right this time. I pack up my life in the city, and here I am today, loving it.

Sooo…are T & G arbiters of my geography, and if so – is this about my inner landscape or the outer one? Is everything about to become more orderly and amped up?

How is my life shapeshifting? Am I about to capture my prize? Surrender to something?

Was one of my dad’s last gifts to empower me to live joyfully, on purpose, and suck from the nectar of life?

I figure my subconscious has been at work these months integrating the wisdom of my father and of the animals he tended, with my own beliefs, gut feelings from friends, and divine guidance. The unfolding ways of how I’ll live the rest of my life.

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Contemplating Suicide? Wait.

1. In the gaping sinkhole of earlier days, kicking and screaming served no discernible purpose, it only made me sink deeper, and tired from flailing and wailing, I’d give in, spent.

(Did no one hear me? ‘Cause I was making quite a ruckus.)

I lay in bed, an anesthetic veil pulled between me and all of you normal, smiley people, and I drifted, waiting to bump up against something, anything, just to be jarred. Between numbness and despair, I preferred despair. Feeling its wretched undertow was actually molten relief.

Contemplating suicide was how I nestled with that despair, after the daily masquerade of pretending ceased. It was comforting, like the activities of childhood we revisit when under pressure: coloring, doodling, stacking blocks and knocking them down, just to see them fall.

In this secret room my fantasies of escape could gently inhale, exhale. Spaciousness dwelt in macabre scenarios. Imagining how I could die was my oxygen tank and I pulled on that tank as if……….as if my life depended on it.

And it did.

I had no control in my life. Nothing happened the way I wanted it to. Hell, I didn’t even know what I wanted, other than to stop feeling this way. Helpless and victim to everyone, to all the circumstances I was born into. All I knew were puppeteers and wardens.

And then it dawned – my first moment of light – If I had the power to kill myself, then I had the power to choose not to.

Slowly, more light crept under the door, washing across the floor and up along the bedcovers.

My mind split in two. Cleaved open. I was not just suffering anymore, I was the one witnessing the suffering.

And if one of those voices had the wherewithal to choose, even if the other one couldn’t see it, then there was still a way out. All I had to do was acknowledge it. I didn’t even have to decide. Not yet.

Just knowing an option existed was the most roof-raising, holy-fucking-shit revelation I ever had.

2. I think it’s time to start throwing parties again.

Not the sophisticated dinner party variety that I’m age appropriate for, where all the guests read the same online news reports and exchange their latest restaurant and movie reviews, and flatter each other’s weight loss, but the Sunday stew pot Bacchanalias I hosted in my twenties. Disparate groups showing up at my house wondering if they got the date wrong because while, yes…there I was, who were all these people?

Gay boys dancing, pickup-driving rednecks drinking beer, long-haired metalheads surrounded by the prettiest girls, stiff brainiacs from class, and the neighbors who weren’t sure if they were more nervous about the rowdy, muscled jocks or if they might actually be having fun amidst the cornucopia of humanity.

What I mean to say is, maybe it’s time to raise the roof again and watch the festivities commence. Remind myself of all the characters I’ve cast myself as, and all these other fabulous expressions I’ve gallivanted through the seasons with.

Who can I resurrect that will be the most playful?

The giant instigator?

The sexy flirt in leather boots?

The smarty-pants?

Damn the torpedos! Someone turn up the music, will ya? And make a beer run; it’s gonna be a late one.

3. I have a box on my desk with five passports in it. Four of them are mine and one belonged to my father, who passed in November. His was issued the year we met him (technically, he’s my stepfather); he went to Germany with his mother and sister.

It used to be that when you went to Europe, you got a stamp for each country visited, and collecting these inked pages was like those old photo albums that sat on your grandparents’ coffee table – signposts of a time and place that only exists in memory. Now that we have the EU and global connectivity and paperless paper, aren’t we playing in a unified field of dreams, where everybody’s simultaneously in costume on stage and clapping from the orchestra seats?

If we’re all collective conscious-ing and retina-scanning, how will I remember what my dad looked like in 1976?

4. Recall those T-shirts from the 80’s, the ones that said in bold letters “Frankie Says Relax” and “Choose Life?”

Yeah, those.

5. This year, I’m throwing a balls-out, come-as-you-were or who-you-want to-be party and all of you and all of me are invited. Shakespeare said so.

Do you want to join me? I think it’ll be a rollicking good time.

The choice is always yours to make.

The Hardest Thing To Do

Devoting to a meditation practice reaps the highest rewards I’ve ever experienced. Sitting on a cushion, walking in the woods, gazing at the ocean ~ a practice comes in many forms, but time alone, emptying hamster-wheel aggravations, worries, conflicts…anything redundant and mindless…this quieting is luxuriously restorative.

Understanding that our outer world perfectly reflects our inner state is what we need to bring us back into the present moment and connect with stillness. Knowing all we have to do is let go and allow what will be, to be…without judgment or control is the hardest thing and the easiest thing to do. 

When I don’t meditate, I’m anxious, reactive, uncentered, and less trusting that everything will be just fine. I struggle, feel depleted, am problem-focused, and less empathetic. Miss Crankypants.

When I do sit in stillness, even for ten minutes, this is what happens:

* My natural rhythms of eating, sleeping, and being productive emerge and I feel energized.

* Making healthy choices (nutritionally, physically, and emotionally) becomes effortless.

* I see the world as resilient, miraculous, and peaceful.

* Incredibly talented, bright, and successful friends, creatives, innovators, optimists, and solution-creators enter my sphere. 

* I am increasingly recognized financially for my contribution and value I help create.

I don’t know who said this, but it’s so true: If you can’t find five minutes to meditate, then you need an hour.

How can I help you…begin to still your mind, shift you from struggle into ease?

May I Have This Naked Dance?

“I want to dance naked in public.” ~ Jerry Saltz, NY Magazine art critic, speaking at the Rockport Opera House Sunday night, on why we create art.

Yes. It’s why I write. Why I speak. Why I live. I want to be seen and heard and feel ALIVE. And I want you to experience aliveness, to push and pulse with what calls you forth. I resonated with Jerry as he shared his perspective on creating and viewing art. “Art is about experience. It isn’t something you understand. It’s like pleasure – one of the most important forms of knowledge.”

Ah, pleasure…imagine a world in which we allowed the pleasurable to teach and lead us…what a full-of-wonder way to know we are alive.

I watched as he paced the stage, speaking of zones of safety we keep ourselves in, not daring to explore what’s just beyond the light already cast. He called out a few well-known artists, even some who were in the audience, issuing an invitation to exult, to expand, to excavate. Stop repeating what’s worked up until now. But why do we care what a former truck driver has to say?

Meaningful was when Jerry invited his wife, make-or-break you NYTimes art critic Roberta Smith, on stage. During the Q&A, she addressed this very question on why we do care about any one person’s opinion, and riffed on the crucial role culture must provide in our modern world. That without it- without discourse and education on art – we are barren and lost. I need give no examples of this; they are everywhere.

Yet, there is fertility.

As he shared his story of his entry into the art world, which didn’t begin until his forties, we saw validation of the late-bloomer, the demons of insecurity that plague all of us, and a quirky and endearing humor of a humble man who’s been nominated three times for a Pulitzer. How he first mimicked the stance and opinions of others and eventually unfolded himself, and let his voice soar. We saw an authentic presenter, not some stiff lecturer telling us Truth, but simply what he believes, what his eyes see. He urged us onward, away from declaring I Believe in Truth, I Believe in Beauty: “Don’t take refuge there. Find the blood, the sex, the self…the pleasure!”

He was real. Unpredictable. I loved him.

Be born again through art, he seemed to say.

My life changed when I finally ‘got’ all those Madonna and Childs in Italy, and stopped seeing them as authoritative, and merely reflective of that era’s cultural environment. When the work of Alexander Calder and Brancusi inspired me – literally, breathed life into my body – revealing mysteries un-ponderable in paintings, it was like learning another language. When I started scribbling on scraps of paper, then crafted them into essays for others to read, I found context for my joy…and now I’m learning to stand with an audience and speak deep truths out loud. Naked, indeed.

Creating form thrills. Hearing your connecting-of-the-dots excites. Sharing impressions draws us closer.  We are enriched through creation – as producers, as consumers, and yes, even as critics. I care about what you have to say, in the vehicle only you have the key to.

I want to witness you in your moment of creation, to see you translate what’s in your mind and heart and offer it up to us all. I want to dance naked, with you, in public, and have the whole world join us.

OMG. Can you BELIEVE what he just did?

It’s madness I say! All this talk!

Be yourself.

Follow your bliss.

You can be or do anything you want.

…and then…

Did you SEE that dress she was wearing?!

Yeah, but you can’t make money at your art. You have to get a real job.

THIS is how it’s done.

I’m not good / pretty / rich / smart / connected enough.

Pure insanity! …this cognitive dissonance of declaring that we simultaneously have freedom and also must abide. Can we not see the disastrous effects judgment – certainly of others, but most insidiously of ourselves – wreaks? Is there any way out?

I wonder…

What could happen if we:

* unfurl, instead of bind

* celebrate, instead of constructively criticize

* unarm, instead of protect

* radiate, instead of compete

* affirm life, instead of deny it

* loosen, instead of furrow

* shoot from the hip, instead of prepare

* witness, instead of evaluate

* accept, instead of tolerate

* breathe

What if we stopped judging every little damned thing we see? What if we stopped deciding if everything fits neatly into either the Good or Bad column? What if that voluptuous woman wore that dress like no one’s business, painted her way into a living, and did it all on her own terms?

THEN would we shut up that petty little voice in our heads?

What if, I mean, really now…imagine if The Last Judgment wasn’t some day of reckoning, some hierarchical accounting of our sins, layered with the gross humiliation of guilt and blame and deeply rooted shame…and instead was simply…

The very last time we ever judged?

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