Incarnation.

Dear friends,

I have a recurring dream that has punctuated most of my adult life.

The details vary from occasion to occasion, but the theme is the same: I’m in between semesters, in between jobs, in between places to live. I don’t know exactly where to go or how to support myself. Graduation is still a few classes away, so adulthood is just around the corner, but not quite here yet.  Sometimes I imagine I will go back to my mother’s home and other times I imagine my father’s. (Neither landing strip is attractive to me so I try to keep moving.) Always, I am unsure – how to stay afloat just a little longer until I can earn my degree and get a real job.

Unlike a lot of my friends, my college experience was not idyllic. I worked three jobs and took out loans to get myself through, so I was certainly not carefree. Honestly, I don’t remember having much fun. I remember stress and worry. I remember being restless and melancholy and impatient. I remember getting my heart broken by a boy and feeling adrift. I remember just trying to get through another semester, then another, and another, just hoping something better was in store for me beyond graduation.

It doesn’t surprise me, then, that the old anxieties of my early 20s come back to me through dreams.  What does sometimes surprise me is how far I’ve come since then, how a girl who didn’t have a clue who she wanted to be or how to be it managed to find her place in the world and put down stakes,  how the ennui of my youth became the equanimity of my adulthood.

A friend of mine started an interesting thread on Facebook the other day about graduation memories, in which he said: “I think my 1988 self wouldn’t be comfortable with my 2012 self, but could recognize him dimly.”

His words gave me pause because it’s the opposite of my experience. I’m pretty sure my 2012 self isn’t comfortable with my 1988 self, or any of my selves before it.  Sometimes I think my recurring dream is suggesting that my 2012 self is still trying to outrun my 1988 self.

Maybe that’s why I’m so fascinated by the AMC series “Mad Men” and its protagonist Don Draper, a man who recreates himself at will, over and over again, at no small cost to those around him.  I’d like to think I’m not nearly as self-centered and detached as Don, but a piece of me understands his shark-like instinct to keep swimming or die.

Middle age (as I define it) officially arrives for me in 2012. My “big” birthday is in December and after I cross that line of demarcation, I am no longer young. But I often think youth, except for the stamina and the slenderness – and, lord, that taut, tan skin – is vastly overrated.  I think I’ve arrived at a place unimaginable in my teens and 20s  – a place amply comfortable, and peaceful, and stable, despite my peripatetic beginning.

Maybe I didn’t really run away from myself as much as I ran into myself, into the heart of a girl who couldn’t see the destination but clung to the path anyway, jaw set, hopeful the margin would widen over time, only to look up one day and see the self she never imagined but whose reflection is startlingly satisfactory.

Or maybe my previous selves coalesced, a collage of incarnations, each of them contributing a piece of my existential puzzle that is never really solved but whose mystery is nevertheless a glorious, curious, amaranthine quest for the single self which eludes us all.

With gratitude {for all my selves},

Joan, who offers many thanks to her friends and fellow lovers of words, Dave and Maridel, whose sentence and word, respectively, inspired this post

“And only the enlightened can recall their former lives; for the rest of us, the memories of past existences are but glints of light, twinges of longing, passing shadows, disturbingly familiar, that are gone before they can be grasped, like the passage of that silver bird on Dhaulagiri.”

– Peter Matthiessen, in The Snow Leopard

“I am no Hindu, but I hold the doctrine of the Hindus concerning a future state (rebirth) to be incomparably more rational, more pious, and more likely to deter men from vice than the horrid opinions inculcated by Christians on punishments without end.” 

– William Jones


On this day.

Dear friends,

There’s no better way to sum up my week than this:

Source: Wisuella

There’s so many thoughts I want to share with you, so much fun I want to have with my friends, so much love I want to give to my family.

This week, I’m not keeping up. I never do, keep up that is, with all I aspire to. But this week — filled with late nights at work and birthday preparations and tending to people that need tending to — is kicking my butt.

If yours is like mine, don’t spend an extra minute here. Exit your browser and take a deep breath. Close your eyes and spend that minute or more focusing on a few of your heart’s fondest dreams — your thoughts, your walks, your books, your friends. Then open your eyes and pursue as many as you can.

On.This.Day.

And I’ll catch you back here another time.

With gratitude {for the blessings of a full life},

Joan, who can’t wait to wake up Thursday morning and whisper happy birthday to her beautiful CupKate

Dreamweaver.

Dear Friends,

If you read this essay about how Mr. Mom got his gig, you know I suffer from nightmares about losing my children.

When Kate was two, I lost her at a water park. When Parker was six, I lost him at a Florida resort. Both times, my kids were gone only a short while (about 15 minutes) and were returned unharmed. But if you are a parent and were ever unintentionally separated from your child, you know the horror of what I’m talking about. In my case, it really did scar my psyche. And I don’t say that to be dramatic (although I’m not above saying things to be dramatic; I’m a writer, after all). Combine the trauma of losing track of your child with run-of-the-mill working-mother guilt, and it’s no surprise I have nightmares. Recurring nightmares.

I had one two nights ago, this time about Kate, but with a couple of new twists. I was home at night and she was out. She needed a ride home and for some reason she didn’t have one and I didn’t go after her. (By the way, isn’t it funny how there are always unknown reasons for implausible situations in dreams?) She decided to walk the very long way home. The wait was interminable and my fear kept escalating. Just as I was about to panic, she walked in the door. I was sick with guilt that I hadn’t gone after her, but so relieved she made it home safe and sound.

The twists on this dream are that 1) Kate was her current age rather than being a child, and 2) she appeared before I woke up panicked and nauseous. The dream was enough of a jolt that I didn’t go back to sleep for more than two hours (ugh!) but, still, I was amazed that I had a nightmare where my endangered son or daughter actually turned up safe. (By the way, if Kate was safe, does that make it a dream instead of a nightmare?)

I have a friend who is brilliant at interpreting dreams. (K, if you’re reading this, give me a call and let’s discuss!) I’m not brilliant at it, but I can’t help but think this dream was a very good sign.

Maybe it’s a sign that I’m shedding irrational fear. Or that I’ve released some measure of unnecessary working-mother guilt. Or that there’s a limit on how many times a poor mother can wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night and I finally, mercifully, reached my limit (ie: my subconscious brain has learned a coping technique).

Or maybe it’s that my children are growing up and getting increasingly good at making choices and managing themselves in this world.

Or maybe it’s all of the above.  I vote for all of the above, don’t you?

With gratitude {for dreams with happy endings and kids who are doing just fine},

Joan, who could tell you more than one doozy of a story about her dreams — including one about an “affair” with Bill Clinton in the back of a limousine and one about harvesting flowers from her derriere — but is afraid if she says too much you’ll brand her a wack-job

I know what you’re thinking. How in the world did that woman lose not one but both of her children?! I have no answer for you except: it happens. To the best of us and to the worst of us. You will never, ever catch me saying an unkind word about mothers who lose track of their little ones. My heart always breaks for parents whose children are abducted and they live on, burdened by an unimaginable guilt. And I’m guessing you won’t be surprised to hear that I vividly remember the day Elizabeth Smart was found. I was driving to work and I was so overcome by the news report I pulled over and sobbed in my car for 10 minutes.  Talk about a happy ending!

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