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In Dreams September 23, 2011

Posted by J. in FYI, Genius.
1 comment so far

I have a question for anyone reading this who is well-versed in either psychiatry or dream interpretation. I’ll take either–or both–at this point.

We all have dreams. Everyone dreams, only some don’t remember it and some do. Some people apparently dream in color and others don’t. Some dreams make sense and others are complete nonsense, right?

I have two kinds of dreams. The first kind are what I think of as the “usual” kind of dreams. You know where you’re trying to tell your dream to someone else and you’re all “You were at my house, only it wasn’t my house, but in my dream it was…anyway, you were there, but you had three eyes, and right before you started speaking you turned into a raccoon. Then the Archbishop of Canterbury came in riding a moose…” That kind of thing. There are elements of reality in there, but just elements. Mostly it’s just the randomly assembled flotsam and jetsam of the things you’ve heard or read or thought about or seen in the course of your day making their way to the top of your brain milk and getting skimmed off like heavy cream.

When I have those kinds of dream, they’re always very disjointed. The dream makes no real sense, there’s no “plot” to the thing, and one minute I’m here and the next I’m there with no logical progression at all. I’ll have five of these a night sometimes. And usually I don’t remember them, or if I can recall one, it’s not for long.

When I have this kind of dream, I’m always in the dream looking at things from my own POV. I’m in my body. I can’t see myself, I can only see what I see, like in real life, only the dream is usually anything but real.

I also have a second type of dream. They’re few and far between and when I have them, they stick with me for a really long time and I think about them over and over again.

In this kind of dream, I’m always in it, but I’m watching myself in it as if I’m starring in a movie. And the dream is very, very real. These are situations that could feasably happen, even if they’re entirely unlikely (in as much as no one turns into a raccoon), and the people in it with me act in much the way they would if this was actually happening. The “story” is usually continuous, or if there’s a change in scene, it almost dissolves out and then fades back in like in a movie.

I realized I dream this way when I recently had a dream that was the combination of the two.  It occurred to me that the first half of the dream was me watching the dream happen, and it was so real that it seems like if I opened my eyes, I’d be watching it in real life or on a giant TV screen or something like that.  But then the second half was the “dreamy” part of the dream where things didn’t make sense and I realized I was now inside my own head looking out, being part of the dream instead of watching it.  And it went from a continuous “scene” to bits and pieces here and there.  And I don’t remember those details much now, but I could tell you complete conversations from the first part.

What does this mean?  Do all people have different types of dreams and are they caused by something in particular?  I know my dreams spring up from whatever I was thinking about recently, and usually the people in them have something to do with my real life for one reason or another.  I get that part of it.  But  I wonder about the different types, and why one kind seems so very real and why I don’t have that kind more often, and why the other type is such a useless mishmash of nothing and I have them all the time.

I wonder what it all means, if anything.


True Confessions September 21, 2011

Posted by J. in Genius.

No matter how many times I protest that my life between the ages of 15 and 25 wasn’t all that interesting, it is still suggested from time to time that more tales of my colorfully checkered past need to be properly blogged.

I wonder if everyone has the same experiences that I do when looking back at their own past.  It seems like whenever the occasion arises to share chapters from my well-lived life, I always have stories to tell, yet when I look at events as a whole–the Big Picture–my life seems pretty dull.

But today I’m rethinking that idea in light of something my sister wrote to me in a letter many years ago.  She likened her job at the time to a tour in Vietnam: long periods of mind-numbing boredom punctuated by heart-stopping excitement.  The hours of routine don’t make for a compelling war story, and that’s how it is with my life, too.  When I think of my life the way I would consider any memoir, it seems natural to mention the boring bits so that they can be officially set aside.  That, of course, leaves the stories.

The people in my current Real Life know lots of my tales at this point, and still from time to time insist that they’d make great blog fodder.  I can’t argue with that.  When you strip away the tedium, in my case what’s left is pretty goddamn entertaining.  But the problem in a nutshell is that a lot of the stuff I’d love to talk about on this blog are wildly off-color and in some cases, truly scandalous.

You know, the BEST kind of stories.  The kind of stories where you pee your pants laughing, say “OH MY GOD” at least three times, admit, “Wait, I don’t understand…” and a week later think of it randomly in the shower or a stall in the men’s room and laugh out loud about it all over again.

Alas, as these things so often go and as I’ve said before right here on this very blog, many of these stories of epic debauchery can’t be told in public even if I change the names to protect the wicked.  You see, the things I confess openly to being a part of–things for which I require no absolution–always involve someone else.  And in most cases, I don’t have that someone else’s permission to tell the story in a public forum.  Now, lest you be thinking that “Oh, no one will be able to figure out who you’re talking about,” I can only assure you that my tales are…unique.  They stand out.  There’s nothing particularly generic about some of the capers I’ve been privy to–and a willing and active participant in.

My days of throwing caution to the wind are few and far between, thanks entirely to the Internet age.  One night, after swapping some truly ribald stories of personal defilement and defining moments in substance abuse with a friend, I made the comment that I was so glad that I didn’t grow up in the age of the camera-phone.   I have a feeling I might not have been nearly as brave or as stupid if I thought my picture would wind up on a blog the next day, and my comrade agreed that there would be truly horrifying things on Facebook tagged with our names had that been the case.

Though, just between you, me, and the cat, I say “horrifying” but truth be told, I find them entertaining.  I have no regrets.  Oh, I have a few “I can’t believe I did that,” moments, and even a couple of “I’m not sure why I’ve never been to jail…or rehab” stories, but I don’t regret any of them.  In fact, if I could do it all again, I’d do it bigger, and it’s for damn sure I’d do it better.  And more often.

This has been one weird-ass week, my friends.  It’s been a week of rampant story-telling the likes of which I’ve never seen.  You know how it is when you’re chatting with a friend and you bring up something that just happened: perhaps you mention off-handedly that you might have recently had a wee bit too much of the drink and did something or other that was apparently funny to the people you were with.  Your friend agrees, and says, “That reminds me of the time my friends and I…” and you howl with laughter because your friend is your friend because he’s fucking funny as shit in the first place.

So then, secure in the knowledge that he has friends as dangerously stupid as your own, you tell him a story that involved Wild Turkey, several illegal substances, and a stick of butter and he nearly pisses his pants laughing.  Then he tells you about…see that?  I almost went too far.  GUACAMOLE.

If it had been just once, one random couple of hours of shared delight in our misspent youths, knowing that we both turned out quite alright in the end, it might not have registered, but I’m starting to think these things come in threes.  Or fours, even.

A few nights later, different friends, slightly different location, and the whole thing kicked off with “Tell the butter story.”

Please don’t comment bomb me with “Tell the butter story.”  It involves some serious substance abuse and a class B felony, and since there were at least five other people involved (that I can remember), telling it on this particular platform seems like a bad idea.  Though I can’t imagine the friends of the people involved don’t already know that story.  It’s fucking awesome in so many ways.  Still.

So I told the butter story for the second time that week, and got the usual “OH MY GOD” and sat back to enjoy the looks of combined amusement and horror that inevitably ensue.  And it started off another round of “This one time, at a frat party…” stories.

I love my friends.  Seriously.  You are some funny bastards, and the fact that we share senses of humor that are ridiculously skewed, added to the habit of flashing back to inappropriately funny things at even more inappropriate times just adds the cherry to this luscious karmic cake.  The fact that your stories are often as horrifyingly funny as my own thrills me to my very marrow.

Now, two thoroughly entertaining “I can’t believe I’m not dead” tale-swapping sessions in one week is remarkable.  Unless you’re at a reunion or something, I suppose, but not in day to day life.  Then again, I don’t know.  Maybe it’s your normal modus operandi, but it’s not mine.

I suppose I should have seen it coming when, on the very next night, what started as a casual gathering of a third group of totally different friends devolved into a wine-soaked discussion of virginity-loss and numbers of sexual partners.  At that point I was starting to wonder if I had unknowingly entered into some sort of altered state.  Not that I have any problem with that.  My state has been altered from time to time, so it’s not like I’m a stranger to it.  So I shared…not the butter story this time, since it had no bearing on the conversation, but other stories entirely, and I again managed to be a standout in a crowd.

I believe I am officially what you would call A Woman With a Past.   It’s a good thing, too, since my present is so rarely noteworthy.  Rarely.

Case in point:  Monday night, after one final parting story from a not-entirely-unexpected source, I re-ran the list of the men and boys who have had supporting roles and cameo appearances in my life, and went to bed secure in the knowledge that I knew everyone I had known.  In the Biblical sense.  I had categorized them, put them in chronological (and in one case, synchronous) order, and had separated out the ones best described with a Clinton-esque “I did not have sexual relations with that man,” caveat.  You know, depending on what your definition of “is” is.

Tuesday morning at 6:14, my eyes snapped open.  I was WRONG.  I had forgotten one, and in a rush it aaaaaaalllllll came back.  I remembered where we were, how we went from talking, to flirting, to making out, and how “It’s warmer in my room” was all the encouragement I needed at the time.  I also remember how I had sense enough to go back to my own bed at some point, thus avoiding the walk of shame, and how neither of us ever spoke of it again.  And how he had a girlfriend who came up that very weekend to celebrate their anniversary.  Niiiiiice.

Dude, I remember lots of details about that night, right down to what I was wearing, but for the life of me, I can’t get a picture of this guy’s face in my head.  I couldn’t remember his name at all.

This is what I get for my smugness about being able to remember all my conquests.  It’s what I get for laughing at the notion that one would need a friend to remind you that the person that just walked into the bar looks familiar because you once nailed her like a two-by-four.  With God as my witness, if that guy showed up on my front porch right now, I wouldn’t recognize him.

Well, that started me going through my hope chest.  I have pictures and letters and playbills and notes people have left for me from everywhere I’ve worked and every school I’ve attended.  I may be a level 4 hoarder, but the upside to that is that there’s some great, funny, heartwarming things in there.  Not to mention a tangible record of shit I did.  Useful information to have when you consider that I may or may not have killed off too many brain cells in the intervening years to remember everything adequately.

I swear to you that at one point I had everything organized.    My plan was to eventually put everything neatly into scrapbooks.  In the meantime, though, I tend to dive in looking for something and mess up my own filing system.  I promise myself every time that one of these days I’ll go in there when I have time and get it in order so stuff is easy to find, but…yeah.  That never happens.  So as of yesterday, it’s a big old jumbled mess.

I know I have playbills from that particular summer–all the summers I worked in stock, in fact.   Ever since yesterday, I felt like if I could just figure out his name, the face would follow.

I was wrong.  I did find the book with all my pictures and playbills and I know his name.  But the one group pic I have is taken from too far away to make out features.

As a side note, I did find a picture of another carpenter that I distinctly remember snogging in the car on the way to a party, so there’s yet another gap in my memory somewhat accounted for.    I had totally forgotten about him, too.  I wish I were still capable of blushing about such things, but alas.  I am a woman with no sense of shame.

I’m not sure exactly when I started making better decisions about my life, or why.  Having sex in public no longer seems like fun.  I haven’t considered stealing a road sign in years.  I turn down tequila shots when they’re offered because I know I don’t recover from them like I used to.  Now, when someone says, “I triple-dog dare you,” I tell them to fuck right off.

And the only wild oats I have left are from Trader Joe’s.

Hop on the Bus, Gus September 4, 2011

Posted by J. in FYI, Genius.

School is back in session–THANK YOU BABY JESUS.

Are you humming "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?" 'Cause I am.

I love my kids.  But summer vacation is too damn long.

I believe in school.  I think it’s a great idea for kids to be away from their parents in the company of other kids and adults.  I glad kids are always going to have not just amazing teachers but piss-poor teachers, too, because you can learn some pretty important life lessons from shitty teachers.

I also believe in school because I think it’s imperative that parents spend time away from their kids, and that’s not just because I’m a selfish git and I like my alone time.  School is their place, not mine.

I have mixed feelings about sending Dave off, though.  He’s only three, and while I’m a firm believer in cutting that umbilical cord and sending them off without a backwards glance, I also know that there are precious few years that they get to be by my side.  My time to imprint my particular brand of weirdness on them is short as it is, and sending him off to school two years earlier than his sisters made me feel bad that he’s not going to get the full benefit of my particular brand of humor.  He seems to get my jokes, so that’s encouraging, anyway.

But every kid is different, and like Emma needed a full-day of kindergarten, Dave needs special preschool so that he can be all he can be.  The school can offer him the things he needs at this point in his life that I can’t give him, so off to school he goes.  I can only hope he’s absorbed enough of my particular brand of humor to see him through.  And fuck it: if they can get him potty trained, power to them.  He’s not catching on to it here, that’s for sure.

I’m proud to say I’m not the kind of mother that stands and wipes away a sad tear as her baby gets on the bus like a big boy with his blue backpack.  God help me, I don’t miss him even once while he’s gone.  I swear on my mother’s liver that I don’t miss any of them for even one second.

For two and half short hours a day, this house is a still and quiet as a tomb.  And it is AWESOME.  Mind you, it’s only been a couple of weeks and I still find myself thinking, “It’s too quiet in here,” and I almost get up and see if the boy is knuckle deep in a poop-filled diaper or if he’s dumped his juice into my recliner.

And then I remember he’s someone else’s responsibility for the morning, and my heart swells with joy. And gratitude.  The only voices I can hear are the ones in my head, and they’ve stopped telling me to kill quite so often.

In case you’re wondering, I’m pretty sure I get my laissez-faire attitude towards my children from my own mother.  As my friends send their kids off to college for the first time with their cell phones, computers, Facebook, Skype, blogs and unlimited texting, I remember the day my mother drove into the driveway of Ochre Lodge, tossed me and my luggage out onto the front lawn and blew me a kiss while Robin pulled the door shut as they left on two wheels, gravel spitting up from the back tires and Janis Joplin blasting from the car speakers.

I got there a day early for orientation, attending the sessions designed for the 20 or so kids that were coming from other countries, so the rest of the dorm wasn’t expected to arrive until the next day.  I chose the bed in the corner, unpacked my stuff and…waited.

It had been drizzling on and off all day, but I guess no one in my house realized that it might occasionally rain in Newport (it was sunny in all the brochures!), so wandering around campus getting wet seemed stupid.  I arranged and re-arranged my stuff and explored the empty dorm to kill some time.  There was an orientation Mass that day for new students that I was expected to be at, but by the time I had to leave, the rain was coming down in buckets.  Biblical.  Like you read about.  If you’ve spent any time on Aquidneck Island, you know what I’m talking about.

Sans protective rain gear, I wrapped my biggest, thickest red sweater around me, ducked my head in and walked as fast as I could up Ochre Point Avenue, past the Breakers and Wakehurst and into the great hall of Ochre Court.

In the five minutes it took me to walk/run up the avenue, I was soaked to the skin.  I found the bathroom down in the basement and dried my hair as best I could with half a roll of brown paper towels and took my sweater off and rung it out in the sink.  I walked back up the marble stairs watching water ooze out of my sneakers on each tread, leaving a puddle with every step.  Is there anything sadder than a lonely, homesick freshman sitting by herself, dripping onto the carpet?  It was fucking pathetic.

There were no websites when I went off to school.  You couldn’t just Google “Newport weather” and find out that it pissed down rain every five out of seven days from September to May.  There was no handy Google answers about what I’d need to pack, so I had no idea that dorm mattresses were made of institutional plastic and would require a thick mattress pad to be comfortable.  For some reason, it didn’t even occur to anyone that I’d need a freaking backpack to carry my books to and from my classes.  What did we know from college?  I was the first to go.

I sat alone in the dorm that night and started making a list of the things I was going to need so that I could have them sent down.

Needless to say, this would have been handy. 8.5 MILLION hits on what you'll need for your dorm room. I bet at least one of them mentions a mattress pad, an umbrella, and a backpack. Whippersnappers have it easy these days.

Once I knew what I was missing, I had to wait until my first weekly call home, though.  There was one pay phone on the second floor for our dorm and you had to feed it quarters.  I had been sent off to school with one roll of quarters until I got to go home for Columbus Day weekend in October.  Calling collect was expensive and reserved for emergencies.  Being wet and stuck to a sweaty mattress was not an emergency.

So that first night of college, my first night away from home, I sat alone in my sparsely furnished room and read one of my summer reading books for class.  I’d read it twice already, but there wasn’t anything else to do.  I hadn’t brought anything that passed for entertainment in those olden days.  I didn’t pack any novels to read for fun.  I didn’t bring a deck of cards to play solitaire.  The TV in the common room didn’t have cable so it got one local station, and badly at that.  There was a fridge in the kitchen, but no one had bought me anything to put in it.

In short, my first night away from home was like solitary confinement.  Dinner in the cafeteria, followed by water torture and reading alone in my cell. No need to feel bad for Poops, though.  Being abandoned on a rainy night in an empty old house builds character.

I'm 99% sure this is an actual picture of my freshman dorm room from the Salve Regina website. Click the picture to see what Ochre Lodge looks like. Now picture it dark with the rain coming down in sheets. Yeah, there's nothing scary about spending the night there alone. Nothing at all...

So I laugh to myself when I think of these college freshmen going off to school, arriving on campus with their phones already out so that they can tell their best friends how much they miss them in real time, and can Skype their mommies every night before bed.  In the age of email, they’ll never know what it’s like to go to the mail room every day looking for a letter from home and feeling like everyone has forgotten about you when the box is empty.

I never breathed a word of any of that until many, many years later.  I didn’t want my parents to know that I was so homesick it hurt.  I didn’t want anyone to know how many times I cried myself to sleep or what a loser I felt like when I had trouble making friends and fitting in.  I fought like hell to go to Salve and I’d be damned if I’d admit that I hated it.

I’m glad I was pushed out of the nest, and while it was horrible at the time, I’m kind of proud of the fact that I’d rather have chewed off my own tongue than admit that I wanted back in.  I suspect that if I’d had even an inkling that my mom was sad to see me go, I don’t know if I’d have had the balls to keep a stiff upper lip.

Weird as it sounds, I think today’s freshmen arriving on campus have it harder.  The positive part of being dropped off with no easily accessible support network in place is that you’re forced out of your comfort zone into making new friends.  My best friends from high school weren’t there to talk to every day, so I had to set about making new friends, and it was harder than I thought it was going to be.  I think if I’d have been able to text my high school friends every day from college, I wouldn’t have made the college friends I did.  I wouldn’t have had to try.  If I could have spent the evening in my room on Skype, I don’t know that I’d have been fully involved in college life.

As it worked out for me, by the end of the first semester, that sink-or-swim approach to college life meant that I was forced to make some new friends, if only so that I didn’t die of loneliness or become an emo twat.  Being lonely was the impetus I needed to seek out things to do, and to find those kids with whom I had something in common.  I even learned to adapt and adjust and get along with those who were not.

Some you throw back. The good ones you hang onto forever.

So no, I don’t think twice about my kids once they’re out of the house.  You’d think that remembering that horrible feeling of abandonment would make me more sympathetic–maybe even clingy.  But it’s just the opposite.  I’m ruthless in my detachment parenting.  They need to be out of the house.  They need to be away from me so that they can make new friends and figure out their own lives.  They need to be able to figure out who they are without me being at their shoulder telling them who I think they are.  They have to be able to fight their battles and soothe their own wounded souls.  I can’t always be there to kiss boo-boos, so it’s best that they learn some basic first aid.

If God is indeed a merciful God, someday they’ll be leaving home and going someplace unfamiliar with a bunch of people they neither know nor particularly like.  I hope they don’t call home every day, and I hope they do find themselves dreadfully sad and lonely at some point so that they, too, have an incentive to fill that emptiness with new friends.

The Passion of the Poops September 3, 2011

Posted by J. in FYI, Genius.
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I remembered this morning that I had bookmarked a site awhile back that was full of journaling prompts. I don’t keep a journal–I have explained why I hate that kind of introspective bullshit on previous occasions, though whether the reasons are clear or not are probably still pretty far up in the air.  At any rate, most of these prompts were about at insightful and inspiring as a bag of used napkins.

But damn it, I’m at a loss. I’m all out of practice with the writing thing again and figured a jumping off place was probably a good idea, since nothing in my life seems at all interesting or amusing at this point.  I do love me some hypothetical questions, though, and in a sea of the pedantic, this one managed to catch my attention: “If you were free from want and need, and could live a life of unfettered creativity and passion, what would be your reason for living?”

Well hell, my reason for living every day is the simple fact that I have a life.  I have never quite understood feeling like I have nothing to live for.  Maybe it’s because things have never been bad enough in my life for me to despair of living it, or maybe I just have a well-honed sense of self-preservation.  Maybe I’m a true optimist, or a combination of all those things, but most likely it’s just that I know deep in my heart that this, too, shall pass.

Whatever the reason, it doesn’t take much to get me out of bed in the morning, so to pinpoint one reason–one thing–that I feel so strongly about that it would become my reason for living is a hard question to answer, and it’s why I chose it.

Let’s think of this in a different way: if I could do anything, provided that the basic wants and needs of my family were not a deciding factor, what dream would I pursue?  That, my friends, is where Poops is left hanging.

I have no idea.  Unlike Dr. King, I don’t have a dream of my own.  There is no passion that drives me.  There is nothing that given all the resources and time in the world, that if rearranging the circumstances of my life were indeed possible, I’d go for. I’m 42 years old and I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up.

However, the older I get, the less it seems to matter to me.   I start to consider the things that I do that I enjoy and ask myself, if I had all the time and money in the world and had nothing to tie me down, what would I do?   The answer is that I would probably keep following a path that is astoundingly similar to what I’m doing right now, even though the status quo leaves me with a little time, less money, and family keeping me rooted firmly to this spot.

For instance, I was asked what I’d go back to school to study if I had the time and money (since several of my friends have done that very thing once their kids were all in school) and if that were the question, the one thing I would love to study is theology.  I’d love to earn a Master’s degree from a Catholic university.  Yes, I realize that I have an undergraduate degree from a Catholic university that’s worth less than the paper it’s printed on, and realistically I know that even if I got a Master’s there’s nothing I want to do with it.  There’s no career path that I’d follow that requires that degree.  I’d do it for the sheer fun of learning.

But then I realize that there’s not a damn thing keeping me from sucking up all the theology I can hold any time I want.  I don’t need a university to do it.  I figured out that taking one or two adult faith formation classes at church has whetted my appetite for more, having discovered that it’s a topic that really interests me.  Right now I’m sitting here with the green flyer in front of me from the bulletin announcing the class dates for the third part of the class Sistah and I have been taking on the Gospel of John and I’m looking forward to it more than seems reasonable.

And yet, it’s not.  I think I get that the excitement of this little class would go away if I had to seriously pursue advanced schooling.  I doubt I’d look forward to my classes for very long and I’m pretty sure that I’d wind up hating the drudgery of it before very long.  I think I know somewhere in my heart that if this little thing I enjoy became Big, I’d like it less.

Maybe I’m not made to Think Big.  Or Dream Big.

It seems like whenever there is a next step to take or a path to follow, there’s usually so much more that goes into realizing a dream that it has the potential to turn into a nightmare.  Even with unlimited time and money and nothing tying me down, at what point does the dream lose its sparkle?

I’ve discovered it with my knitting.  I love to knit, and I love to create things.  I make patterns up all the time and I’ve written a very few of them to sell or give away.  They’ve been pretty well received on a very modest scale.  Why don’t I pursue that?  Why not write up patterns for all the awesome things I’ve made and sell them?  Get them marketed and promote them?  Get my name on blogs and have knitters around the world waiting for my latest publication?  Can’t I have my own yarn line?  Why can’t I be Debbie Bliss?

Because everything past the knitting of the item and jotting down the notes is just work.  Drudgery, in fact.   It’s something that the passion I have for it is so modest as to make it unsustainable in the long run.  In short, is it worth it?

Probably not.  I think, after all this navel-gazing and rampant speculation which perhaps does have a purpose, I’m probably better focusing on the here and now, and continuing to think small.  Maybe it’s okay to not have a dream or a passion that drives your every breath.  I know people, and don’t we all, whose passions consume them.  Individuals who have a Big Dream and pursue it doggedly, missing a lot of small stuff on the way.

Can living in the moment, just for today, be a passion?  I hope so, because I seem to find it sustaining.

(Author’s Note:  Oh, my God, that was some of the worst dreck ever, wasn’t it?   I’m going to want to kill myself when I stumble across this someday.  You mark my words.  *cringes inwardly*)