title inspired by the wonderful Lynn Miles, whose new album Fall for Beauty I highly recommend
I had a dream the other night, and what I can tell you is that the least surreal part of it was that in the dream I was having a conversation with a dead man (he wasn't dead in the dream). When he was alive, I cannot think of any possible scenario where I'd be sitting in with a friend interviewing him in a living room, but that's what happened in the dream. Then I had an ethical dilemma, did the right thing, and faced an even more wrenching emotional dilemma. I held my phone tightly in my hand and was so immersed in that decision that when I woke up because my neighbor was storming into their apartment, for a few seconds, I was still in that foggy dreamlike state. I thought I still had to make that decision: to call or not to call? I know that sounds vague, but that's the best I can do. I can tell you that the dream was a giant reminder of a lot of things that have been haunting me this year, my subconscious' way of saying: Don't let go, don't let go, don't let go. Oh, subconscious, if you only knew how little I've let go, you wouldn't need to send me such an insane, easily decipherable reminder, like a child's jigsaw puzzle of, say, 24 pieces, when I'm more of a 1,000-word piece puzzle type.
This is a weird time for me, both the wrapping up of a year that I'm in some ways very ready to leave behind, but also am clutching to, trying to rectify mistakes, make amends, catch up on work and all the goals I had for this year that I have to admit are not going to be done before January 1st. I'm excited about so many new possibilities next year offers, starting with just the idea of a clean slate. But a clean slate is not the same as a blank slate. I'm entering it with everything I've been and done, but I am trying, by any means necessary, really, to use that history to help me navigate the present and future, rather than keep me stuck in that past.
I don't always want to be the girl who is so immersed in one way of thinking, especially to the point that I can't step back, outside myself, and try to see life from someone else's point of view. That has been a huge challenge this year, but I am working on it. Charlotte Kasl writes in If The Buddha Got Stuck, in a chapter called "Notice the Stories You Tell Yourself:"
You can also notice how your stories can stop you from feeling joy or happiness. Many people get scared at the fullness and expansiveness of joy and try to push it away by jumping out of the experience and into a story. Instead of feeling awe at a glorious sunset, they distance themselves with a torrent of words or, even more removed, they bring up some problem they are having, or suddenly say, "Time to go now." Any form of strong energy, be it joy or sorrow, has the potential to shake loose parts of us that are hiding. It's like a big wind blowing through us. To get unstuck is to invite the wind in.
I haven't been the best about recognizing that a lot of the things I told myself this year, last year, maybe my whole life, were not necessarily true. They felt true, so I thought they were. Sometimes I wanted them to be true, wanted them so badly I was willing to ignore any evidence to the contrary. I catastrophize and I also do the opposite (is there a word for way too positive thinking?) and have trouble recognizing reality. When I do, especially the last week or two, I've been shocked at how when someone asks me how I'm doing I can actually say, "Good." And it has nothing to do with things or money or, for the most part, other people. Sometimes it's literally just the sun making its way through my mostly bare windows, or splashing down the street as I walk from my deli to my coffeeshop (I'm pretty sure that since I go to each almost every day and almost all the staff know me by sight, I can claim possession of them). Sometimes it's geeking out when I get to meet a little kid who melts my heart in approximately .01 seconds. Sometimes it's just sheer fucking gratitude, for not having to haul myself through the MTA every day. I always thought I was so grateful to live in New York for its public transportation, and while I am, this is the first time in ages that I haven't been utterly dependent on the subway, haven't had to race the clock, have been able to find my own rhythms, which sometimes means making awesome discoveries late at night.
Last week I got this Modern Love rejection and my first thought was not "That sucks" but "Ooooh, I am really proud of that essay, let me send it out to another editor." I was almost excited. It was surprising and awesome. Am I still impatient? Of course. I want to know right this second whether that editor likes it, or if I should send it elsewhere. I'm rarely that into something I write; usually I'm mentally on to the next thing, even while in the middle of one thing. It's part of what I'm trying to work through; if you can afford it, I recommend Vyvanse for cutting through that overthinking, but I don't have that luxury right now. My point was, though, that that rejection didn't send me into the "you suck" mindset it normally would.
Life is up and down; I'm up and down. I can't get too complacent, because the moment I do, I'm in trouble. So, yes, I may find myself when, reading Holly Cupala's excellent YA novel Don't Breathe a Word, immersed in the story, and then not. I see "Capitol Hill" and I'm in Capitol Hill, on my last trip there, so fully that I have to stop reading for a moment to process that. I don't know even what to wish for: to be someone who keeps reading? Who doesn't remember? Who smiles and nods, or medicates herself into a state of complete equilibrium so nothing can get past it?
I'm not gonna lie: I'm getting out of town for a little while next month partly because winter is not my ideal time of year. I'm already cold, and yes, I am going to Milwaukee in February (9th-12th, more on that soon), but it's a strategically planned trip to the beach, a little escape that I have high hopes for (but not opposite-of-catastrophizing-my-life-will-change-completely hopes). I got this vision in my head of me on a beach in my purple bathing suit, no phone, no distractions, just time and warmth. It sounded flighty and fantastical and then I realized I could make it happen and no matter how much transforming I do or don't do, I'm proud that I was able to make it happen. It's both an escape and an escapade. But you can't live your life in search of permanent escape. Okay, you totally can, and plenty of people do, but I don't want to be one of them. Instead of fixating on the transformation of escapism, I'm trying to be as present as I can possibly be, in the haunting moments, the mundane ones, and the blissful ones.