“I’m afraid of being made fun of.”
How many times have my students confided this fear in me? Ashamed to struggle, flustered at their mistakes, looking like they want to disappear.
I wonder, What’s the big deal?
Since when do strangers’ opinions matter? Why are we so ready to give away our confidence to imaginary people who fictionally criticize us?
This mentality seems to speak to the greater idea that unless you’re going to be great at something, it’s not worth trying. Anything less than excellence is insufficient. You run the risk of entering the annals of history as a Failure.
Is our sense of self-importance that inflated, that our failures, never mind our very existences, will be remembered for more than 5 nanoseconds?
Push the logic a bit further, and it falls to pieces.
I screw up, forget things, commit acts of thoughtlessness.
I have a funny accent when I speak foreign languages.
I’m sure my lipstick is never smooth and flawless.
I trip over my feet, my skirts ride up, I get parsley in my teeth.
At times, I have no idea what to say. I get testy on occasion.
I ruin recipes and often write what I think is garbage.
So what? We all do.
Criticism from one person is fleeting. As is the embarrassment of screwing up.
More than fictional criticism that hasn’t happened yet, we should be afraid of leaving this world with regret in our hearts, at not having tried.
Let’s get over ourselves, and just do it.
I broke down crying at my desk before class.
I shook my booty to reggaeton music.
I bit my nails.
I had private telephone conversations.
I did unladylike things.
Those shining moments were captured, in addition to my horrific first forays into teaching: kids scribbling on the walls, scooting around the classroom, slinging various objects, and stupefied Me in the eye of the pandemonium, pulling my hair out.
I wake up and try to remember what day it is. Thursday. F is still in dreamland next to me. I wonder what he’s dreaming about, because he’s chuckling lightly into his pillow. I exit the bedroom on tiptoes, and come out to sit at our table by the window. It overlooks the garden, and from where I’m sitting, I see nothing but green: all those tree leaves take on a yellowy brilliance in the morning sunlight. I open the window to let in the fresh clean air. The world is silent, except for one faraway cheeping bird. There’s some leftover coffee in the pot, so I add it to a glass with some ice and toast some bread. It’s going to be another hot day, and I’m glad to eat while it’s still cool enough to satiate my appetite, before the heat steals it away.
Today’s brekky: Iced coffee and toasted grain bread spread with butter and crushed raspberries.
I crunch into my toast and wonder. Where F and I will be tomorrow, next year, in 5 years. Where we’ll travel next. Why the Incas practiced cranial binding. What my family’s doing at the moment. How the Ellis book I’m reading will finish, and what I should read next. How the word “toejam” came to be. Whether I’ve got it in me to accomplish anything resembling greatness. What New Zealand is like. What I can whip up for lunch today. How humans first invented butter. What I would do if I didn’t have to work today…
I would close all the blinds and shutters to keep out the heat. In the cool darkness of our apartment, I would bake a walnut coffee cake with a thin layer of coffee buttercream icing, and keep it in the fridge. Like those impossibly hot summer days when I was a girl, I would curl up with iced coffee and a good book; the bits of sunlight that get past the shades would offer just enough light to read by. In those days, my mother would warn me that it was bad for my vision; now it’s F who doesn’t want me straining my eyes. But I’ve always loved the cozy feeling of hunkering down in the dark while the outside world is screaming hot.
I turn back to my iced coffee, of which I’ve just taken the last gulp, and sigh. Work starts in a couple hours.
It’s summertime. I don’t know what day it is, nor does it matter. Summer days tended to flow from one to the next, and the memories stick together as if I lived a whole summer’s worth of adventures in one long day. I wake up with a start, with the thrill of excitement at starting a new day. The first lazy rays of sunlight seep into my room, bringing the silent air of mystery that I’m enamored with. Nobody else is awake, nothing moves. I’ve got this special time all to myself.
I slide out of bed, barefoot and already dressed in shorts and a t-shirt. No need to change, I’m fine just as I am. From the kitchen I grab a little plastic bowl, then slip on my sandals and quietly sneak out the back door into the garden.
The sky is still an inviting shade of bluish-violet, which means today I’ll be able to see the watercolor sky redden until the first shock of sunlight spills over the horizon. That special kind of sunlight that tints everything it touches and makes it glow, like I’m looking through rose-colored glasses. The birds are yawning out their first peeps and chirps of the day. As the sky warms gradually, the birdsong swells and the air fills to saturation. The smell of the dew on the grass is uplifting, and the unmoving air leaves a refreshing chill on my skin.
I like being here alone. The presence of anyone else here in my special world would undo its perfection.
In this calm, still moment, I don’t even want to breathe too loudly, for fear of disrupting the sanctity of it all. The whispers of last night’s dreams are still in my head, and reality feels abstract. Time is immaterial, and it feels like anything and everything is possible. I feel capable and independent, like I have no limitations and the world is mine to discover.
I walk slowly and deliberately toward the back of the garden, where the raspberry bushes sit. The raspberries wink at me from their hiding spots, scattered among vibrant leaves. The color combination is deeply attractive: variegated shades of green leaves and beautifully arched stems are punctuated with the luminous red berries.
I pick the first raspberry of the day and pop it straight into my mouth: the seeds crunch and the fragrant, sweet, slightly sour berry flavor overpowers my taste buds. The flavor is so concentrated that I can both smell and taste it at the same time. Glorious. I continue to hunt through the thorny vines to fill my plastic bowl with more. I love the satisfying feeling of a freshly-ripened raspberry slipping off the vine–to me, they look like little crocheted hats meant for garden gnomes.
As my bowl fills, I dream about the raspberry waffles that Mom will make in my favorite Bugs Bunny waffle iron. Maybe she’ll let me pour the batter and make my own waffles today…
The flavor of that first berry fades, and I consecrate myself to my task. The day has begun.
<When I have such vivid dreams as this, I wonder whether or not the brain really does produce DMT during REM sleep… But that’s a WHOLE other topic for discussion… That aside, here are a few recent dreams.>
Dream sequence I
I’m on a date with a football-jersey wearing black man with long thin dreads. I feel inadequate and when he sees me, he leaves. We both leave things behind (as a matter of course/politeness?) because I guess we both don’t want to be there. The date is in a grocery store/Michael’s-type place. I randomly see a childhood friend in an aisle of the store; we say hi and pass ways, nothing more. I decide I need to put more makeup on, so I quickly duck out of the store, and go next door. It’s very dark out, and there are intimidating-looking groups of Russian men and women hanging out. We’re on a sidewalk outside, and there’s a bar next door. One group of 3 people is standing nearby the body of a barefoot man lying in a pile of mulch. I go inside this ragtag-type bar with dark carpeting on the inside, and people are dancing bizarrely, with no rhythm. I need a quiet corner. I find a stool at the corner of the bar, and as soon as I grab the chair, the bartender, a heavily painted woman, approaches. “Mind if I sit here for a minute to do my makeup?” I ask. “Sure, no problem.” I proceed to line my eyes, but it’s all wrong, too thick, and little bits get smeared. I’ll worry about it later. Then on to the mascara; my lashes are as long as my chin, and terribly knotted at the end. I try untangling them. My face is streaked with black by now. I know I need to leave, but I take a napkin and try to dab the streaks with a folded edge.
Dream sequence II
Myself and a group of about 5 people are struggling in the dark… we’re in some kind of prison, chain-link fence compound, where there’s a threat of zombies. I’m hiding in a room with one person, and we see a zombie; the light catches its rotting face and its mouth hangs open crookedly, impossibly wide. It groans terribly, and then I realize the groan is from my comrade, who has been bitten. I run off, and realize that we’re being picked off one by one. Another person in our group gets hit, and it launches him into a nearby garbage can… but when we look closer, the garbage can is connected to a HUGE garbage chute, and by now we see he’s a tiny writhing figure, and we know he’s gone. 2 left. Then we start getting pursued through the woods by a tribe of Native Americans. They’re shooting at us with guns and arrows, and their war cries are terrifying. My partner and I swim and run for our lives, but eventually we get caught. But instead of hurting us, we make a truce. One of the Native American men wants me as his wife; if I accept, my friend can go home, unharmed. I decide I want to be his wife, and send my friend off with well wishes and a message for my family.
Dream sequence III
Going to Mecca with Malcom X and others. This is my second time going; the first time, I did a ritual involving my written dreams, and a copier incinerated them. I can’t work the apparatus properly this time around, I need help. Malcom X helps me work the machine, and I think he inadvertently saw my dreams on the paper as he was helping me. This takes place in a gymnasium with golden wood floors, and Malcom X transforms into a colleague. He talks to a Caucasian girl with long curly hair in Arabic; she was from somewhere in northern Africa, and absolutely beautiful. I lay out a blanket I brought with me on the gym floor, and notice she didn’t have anywhere to rest. So I moved over and she laid down next to me. Her boyfriend joined her here, and because the blanket was so small, I could feel her toes touching my arm. No matter how I moved, I couldn’t get away from the feeling, so eventually I just accepted her little toes dancing on my arm.
Then I’m moved to a restaurant, where up front I can’t hear anyone talking anymore, just feeling lighter, happier, and more spiritual. We walk down a sunny road with a strange outcropping of asphalt over a storm drain that I tightrope-walk over, and we find ourselves in a backyard, with Aziz Ansari opening up the chain-link door, surrounded by sunlight and green, holding a large blue camera in his hands.
Dream sequence IV
I’m in ‘France’ at this furnished shack-type place with F. Then I come home to the US, and I’m meant to have a photo session/professional meeting in my bedroom with a girl that reminds me of a friend. She’s very pretty and dressed in all black… we have a short meeting, then I move on. I go back to France without telling F, and settle in the shack next door to him. (F transforms into a heavy-set woman with black hair?) S/he hugs me, says hello when s/he realizes I’ve returned from the States, then leaves me to deal with my business. I’m left to deal with flooding water, bathing a small child that resembles F, all while “someone” watches me with amusement… is it F watching me? I don’t recall.
CUT to me on a deserted tropical island. There are 2 rickety houses on the beach, and I’m stuck with a group of women. We’re cut off from the world, so we try different things to make money/get attention, so we can be saved. Eventually we leave our rickety houses, disillusioned, going in different directions. I’m walking on the beach, and it’s almost dusk. The ocean is on my left, and lush green forest is visible to my right. As I walk along the beach, away from the plywood buildings that look like they’re about to collapse, I remember someone telling me once that if I leave, I might run into savage people that will kill me (strangers they don’t know). I decide to continue, and take my chances. As I go further, I find more and more development/civilization. I enter a library, and by now I’m dressed nicely. I go further and further upstairs, and the people there are quietly studying, not really paying attention to me. The stairs get narrower each flight, and the last flight, I need to wait for a stern woman to descend first, and she takes a while. Nevertheless, I wait, and make my way upstairs.
It’s a recording studio, and as I’ve been walking this whole time, I realize I just want to sing. Whether or not I’m amazing, I just want to sing. So there’s a funk tune being played at the moment. The stern woman appears behind me, suggesting we put on a Drake and Josh album, it’ll be more suited to me. I say no, please wait until this song is over. I take out the album book to this funk tune (it’s all black with white indeterminable words), and I sing with the words I know. I feel content and productive.
Dream sequence V
I went back to France, and I’m in an apartment that I share with F; it seems vaguely familiar, and everything is white/beige. There’s a party going on with his friends, but I don’t recognize any of them, and I want to make a good impression. They all brought items like booze and yogurt, so I was running around, mixing drinks and getting out spoons.
I can’t find enough spoons, I keep spilling drinks, my efforts seem to be falling flat.. so I ask F to put on some music. Everyone seems energized, and then they all get up, with the exception of one girl sitting on the couch. They all go in the bathroom and I feel kind of hurt that he didn’t invite me. So I talk to the girl and her story doesn’t make sense to me at all. I keep asking her to repeat the story, and it seems to keep changing; she doesn’t get annoyed with me, no matter how many times I ask her to repeat. I’m drinking a milky-white drink that has bits of ice floating on the top, staying around the inner rim of the glass. So I keep drinking and listening to the story, concentrating my hardest, and everyone soon comes out. Everyone’s got tobacco/cigarettes that they were smoking. They open up the windows and F comes over, sits down with me and the girl, and offers me a cigarette. I bite off the filter end, and then get a bunch of tobacco in my mouth, and I keep trying to sputter and pick them out, like little ants. When we speak with the girl, all 3 of us, her story seems to make more sense. I tease F that I hadn’t had a cigarette in the 3 weeks since we’d seen each other, and he looks annoyed, so I quickly change the subject. I don’t want to make him feel bad. So I ask what he’d been doing with everyone in the bathroom, and he invites me to see. It wasn’t such a big deal, and I could have asked to join. So I walk behind him to see what was up, and then it occurs to me: Why am I back in France after 3 weeks? I don’t have a job or a work visa yet!
Like many others, I’m fascinated by dreams. Since I was a kid, I’ve paid close attention to my dreams, and in turn, they have been quite vivid. Some are funny, some awesomely surreal, many are dark and disturbing. After hearing about the possibility of lucid dreaming, I even went to bed every night with the intention of practicing–in a few cases, I remember succeeding. I almost always remember at least 1 dream per night, and I’ve been keeping dream journals for a few years, to record the most vivid and meaningful. Some I plan to use as a base for some short stories.
As an aside, let me say that I don’t believe in those “dream books,” in which you reference an encyclopedic collection of random symbols, read the definitions, and get a conveyor-belt instant analysis of your dream. Using those books is a lazy thing to do, and relying on them is a substitution for self-introspection. The images your brain produces while asleep is something unique to every person, and I believe it’s a fascinating, not to mention immensely useful, tool for personal reflection.
Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest…
Whenever I’m facing a tough dilemma, I always take a day and follow my mother’s advice: “Sleep on it.” Whatever’s on your mind gets worked on during REM sleep, and when I wake up fresh and rested, I feel the problem usually becomes so much clearer the next day. It makes sense; my brain’s continued considering it throughout the night, without my silly consciousness and ego in the way.
My dreams show me what’s bothering me, what I’m afraid of, who I feel estranged from (or wish I were closer to), expose my deepest and most disturbing fears, express my emotional state in the form of images, and so on and so on and so on.
So, what’s rolling around your head while you’re sleeping?