Sunday, November 3, 2013

Summertime Headaches

This summer, I got a concussion.  Now, considering how many dangerous and life-threatening things I’ve done in the past, the story of how this happened is rather silly, and I’ll leave it for another day.  But what happened in the days after the concussion wasn’t silly at all—at least not to me.  You see, I forgot how to dream, and it’s one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever experienced.  It shook away my confidence, and briefly took away many of the things I know to be true about myself.  In short, the truth is that I forgot how to be me, and I had to wait—uncomfortably—for my imagination to rescue the self I’ve taken so long to grow into.  Thankfully, it did, and this is that story.

Let me back up.  Once upon a time, I wrote a story about a man who forgot how to dream.  For so long, he dreamed of the same basic things: a good car, a lovely loving wife, and a job he enjoyed that provided a good paycheck.  But then, once all those things were found, he missed the dreaming.  And he realized that ne no longer remembered how to dream because he’d spent so many years dreaming about only those same few things. 

The story came from many places, but especially from the discovery that I spent much more time daydreaming than many of my colleagues and friends did.  For me, daydreaming was a way of life.  I couldn’t imagine a day going by without my imagining what Might be instead of what Was.  Now, this isn’t to say that I was living for tomorrow—I just loved telling myself stories in down-time.  While sitting in traffic, while trying to go to sleep, while killing time between classes or waiting for friends, I’d tell myself stories.  If I was bored, or feeling down, or sick, or lonely, I automatically resorted to daydreams.  And, maybe just as significantly, I’d always imagined that everyone around me was doing the same, carrying on a life in their minds just as they carried on their wonderful lives on the ground.  Suddenly, I found out that my friends’ daydreams weren’t nearly so involved as mine were, that theirs were often repetitive or short lived, whereas mine might continue from one day to the next in installments—one afternoon, I’d pick up where I’d left off the night before, and so on and so on.  My dreams were never simple, and rarely even based in reality, and never complete.  They didn’t have happy endings because they never ended.

Now, saying all that, it may sound like I live my life daydreaming the world away from my couch, but the truth is that most of my daydreaming occurs when I’m telling myself stories to go to sleep at night, or sitting in traffic on the bus.  Otherwise, I’m working, writing, reading, and spending time with family and friends.  I never get bored because I can resort to those daydreams at any given moment, but I don’t spend significant chunks of any given day lost in my mind.  Unless...and there must be an ‘unless’ after all...I’m ill.  I’m lucky enough, admittedly, that this rarely happens.  I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve spent more than one day home from work in the last few years, and only twice before this summer have I missed two or more days in a row—once for my wisdom teeth, and once with an inner ear infection.  In both cases, I went into a semi-hibernation-mode, daydreaming constantly and spending all of my time with my pets, sipping hot tea and watching favorite re-runs in between daydreams.  And, in this fashion, I recovered.  And, in all truth, this is how I am whenever I’m sick—I get better with the help of medicine, but what keeps me sane when I’m stuck at home sick boils down to two key ingredients:  my pets and my daydreams.  And, if more than a day or so goes by with me being stuck on a couch, re-runs of favorite shows for human company, seaQuest in particular.

Well, fast forward to this summer.  I manage to get a concussion when I’m teaching at a boarding school twelve hours away from my animals.  And, to make things worse, the concussion makes it impossible for me to gain enough focus to sustain any sort of daydream at all.  Adding insult to injury, any sort of attempt to tell myself a story gets me no result but a headache, and there’s no television at hand to allow me to listen to that old comfort, seaQuest (my dvds were twelve hours away, anyway, along with my hounddog and cats).  For two days, I was in that hibernation-mode I spoke of, waking long enough to drink some water or eat a banana before going fast back to sleep, doing little more (I think) than grunting a  hello to anyone who might stop in.  After those two days, though, I was awake.  And terrified.  Why?  Because I couldn’t daydream.  Any attempt to call up those old characters and story-lines stalled out at the first picture I could create, leading to either headaches or exhaustion.  I couldn’t explain the problem to my colleagues, and the furred companions who might have provided some relief were too far away to be of any help.  For a full day and a half, it felt as if I couldn’t remember how to be myself at all, and as if that bump on the head had stolen away far more than a few days of work--instead, it had stolen my imagination as a whole.  Mentally, I was in more of a panic than I’ve ever felt in my life, and I was utterly terrified that verbalizing the panic would only make the loss more real.  Plus, how on earth do you tell your colleagues that you've forgotten how to daydream, and  are now living in terror as a result?

Then, three days after getting the concussion, and a day and a half after realizing I couldn’t muster a dream, I went to sleep to discover that my imagination had been concocting a solution.

Now, this may seem an odd way of putting it, but you have to understand: my nightdreams are very different from my daydreams.  My daydreams are continuous, fairly linear, and peopled by consistent characters.  My nightdreams are the same, but far less realistic.  Rarely do I have a simple conversation or any sort of sustained calm scene in my dreams at night.  Somehow, though, my imagination changed habits for some few days to help me heal.

In my dreams, I suddenly found myself surrounded by animals and friends, curled in their apartments for long conversations and time with creatures.  Most especially, I was surrounded by the friends I’ve had over the years who are allergic to animals, some of whom I’ve seen as recently as this summer and some who I haven’t seen in more than a decade.  In the dreams I had on and off over the next forty-eight hours of recovery, I kept on closing my eyes to find myself in the homes of those friends I’ve known who couldn’t be around animals—dogs or cats or both.  In the dreams, I’d be sitting by, surrounded by their animals as they relished the discovery that they were no longer allergic, and adopted countless animals as a result.  In my dreams, I saw my friends’ apartments and houses covered in animals, I held countless cats and dogs, and I discovered the comfort of animals all over again while catching up (in my mind, at least) with old friends.  Each time I slept, my dreams were continuous, calm, and more linear than any (night)dreams I've ever known.  I’d wake up feeling refreshed from conversation with friends and from creature comfort, and knowing I was healing, finally.  For a few days, I still couldn’t dream when awake.  But my nightdreams were so different from those I’d normally have, and what I needed so clearly gifted to me by my imagination, that I suddenly didn’t doubt I was returning to health, and that all would be well. 

Always, I’ve thought of my imagination as my self—it is so much a part of me that I’m simply not anything at all without it.  This summer, I lost it briefly and learned otherwise (in a way), but I also grew to be ever more thankful for my imagination, and for the daydreams that wait to greet me whenever I happen to need them, or simply want them.  And meanwhile, I’m back with my animals, fully recovered, and rather thankful for that terrifying week, strange as it seems.  After all—now I know that my imagination is there to come to the rescue, as needed, as I always somewhat suspected.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Safe Enough to Imagine Safety

It’s something we’d like to forget, but the truth is, we imagine safety.

We imagine that we can keep our loved ones safe, and that we ourselves are kept safe by them.  We imagine that our sense of safety is more than a feeling—that it is something powerful, something worth something, something real.  And, the truth is, it isn’t.

Safety is something I’ve learned to imagine for myself, and while I treasure the power to do so, I know fairly clearly that the comfort I feel is a by-product of my imagination, and nothing more.  It doesn’t matter whether or not my locks are latched, what time it is, who else is in my home, or where I live.  What matters is that my imagination has learned how to believe in the possibility of safety, and with this education, my imagination not only allows me this sense of comfort, but actually helps me reinforce the sense that, for now [for ever?], I am safe.  Go ahead—plop me on a city street at 2 AM, on my couch at 4 AM, on a bus at 6 AM, or in a broken down car at any time at all.  Chances are, I’ll feel safe because—and this is key—I Know How to Feel Safe.  I have the Confidence to Feel Safe. Simply, I’ll repeat:  I’ve learned how to believe in the possibility of safety, and so I feel it.

I’m reminded of this tonight, when someone in my home feels unsafe.  Now, some of you might discount everything I say because you know that my beloved Arthur is a hounddog, an English Coonhound (mix?) to be exact.  He came to us from a shelter, which he came to after being homeless for one of the rainiest months (or longer) that I remember, and that state itself was a state he reached after some significant abuse at the hands of humans.  We know his history from stories and from scars and from reactions, and we know it is real.  We know, without a doubt, that any safety he ever felt was the by-product of those he lived with, and shattered with what came of that situation.  To put it simply, he’s mostly forgotten how to feel safe.

Now, I can imagine resolution.  I can imagine that, even if the unthinkable (of any nature) were to burst my world, I could then recover.  How?  Well, I grew up knowing safety.  I grew up in a world where I was never intentionally hurt or humiliated, and where no stranger ever injured my reality.  I grew up day-dreaming happy endings to horror stories.  I grew up believing that death was the closest thing to unsafety that I could ever know, because I learned at a very young age what death seemed to mean.  Thus, in my mind, as long as I could think, my own safety was real.  My only worry was the loss of others, but at the least, daydreaming was a mental refuge...a mental safety.  Even if only in my mind, I knew what safety felt like.

Tonight, watching our rescued pup pant and tremble and wish for safety, I’m reminded of the luxury of my imagination, and of its blessing.  Because while there may be people and spaces who make me feel especially safe, and other people and spaces that make me feel threatened, I am for the most part a creature who knows the comfort of safety.  I grew up believing that I could be safe.  I grew up knowing, falsely or not, that everything would be okay. 

I would give anything—even, probably, my own ability for safety (and, yes, I’ve come to believe that it is indeed an ability allowed by imagination)—to help my Arthur believe that everything will be okay.  But this isn’t a question of language.  Much as I’d like to be able to have a conversation with him, it wouldn’t matter.  What matters, really, is the fact that someone stole this part of his imagination.  Someone made him unsafe, someone showed him the falsity of believing in guaranteed safety, and someone wounded his imagination...and thus his health...without giving a second thought to why that was an evil.  Yes, Arthur is a hounddog.  He is a sweet, loving, handsome, scarred, and terrified hounddog, but watching him, I know that his fear is the same fear any creature—dog or human or otherwise—must feel when safety, or the possibility thereof, is stolen.

Now, I’m left to imagine safety for both of us.  I’m left to imagine that he can eventually come to imagine safety again.  I’m left to believe, however falsely, that safety is more than illusion, and that imaginatio is more than passtime.  I’m left to imagine that imagination can help us to remember how to feel safe, even when both imagination and safety have been stolen, even when imagination seems, unforgivably, unimaginable.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Wounded Imagination

As a little girl, I lived in many different worlds.  Whether it had to do with books read out loud at bedtime, loving parents, the space to be myself, or going to sleep still reeling from stories of MacGyver and Trixie Belden...well, I don't know.  But many different worlds all belonged to me, and I belonged to them.  My favorite was a simple fantasy that left its marks.

I believed--without doubt or suspicion--that there was an entrance to a world somewhere not too far away, one way that I could simply stumble into.  There, all of the characters I knew from film and tv and cartoons were real, and they watched our worlds and others on their own televisions, assuming they had them.  Of course, stumbling into one world meant you could no longer exist in the other.  And certainly, you could never go back, stumbling or otherwise.  For a very very long time, the world inspired me and saved me in turns.

Some few years ago, I saw previews for a movie called Enchanted, and I was terrified of all it could be...or not be.  And so, thrilled at the possibility that someone else might have brought to film some shape of ideas I'd once thrived on, a character from elsewhere finding this world in the reverse of what I'd once imagined, I went to see the movie...and was heartbroken.  You see, it immaturely mocked, and attempted (in my mind) to ruin what I'd once known so well.  Piece by piece, it picked apart some of the magic I grew up with.  From what I remember, it got lousy reviews, and though I put little faith in critical acclaim, I'd say  that that's for the single fact that the filmmakers underestimated the power of imagination, and the bravery of children, and the potential for adults to still believe in fantasy.  I left the theater in tears, heartbroken, angry, and more disillusioned with the wrong power of hollywood than I expected.  The emotion was for myself and lost potential, and for the kids who I thought would never find what I grew up with, because a movie ruined it for them before it ever began.  Certainly, the world and magic from my childhood wouldn't disappear from memory, but I never expected that they could be remembered with all of the splendor I thought was lost in that theater.  After all, how could I think back to them without being touched by the ruin of that disappointment which had so much untouched potential?  I didn't expect the magic of that world to reappear with all of its grand force, ever.

And yet, this week, it was brought back by the same medium that tarnished what I thought to be untouchable.  After putting it off for a very long time, perhaps in part because of the disappointment noted above, I began watching Once Upon a Time.  Now, no television series or movie can fully ruin or recreate the imagined world of a young girl lost in her own creations.  But watching the first episodes of Once Upon a Time, I began to re-believe in the magic of film, and to see the potential and possibility of that art which I'd lost the magic of in a quick and irreverant mocking of imagination.  I don't know--and nor do I really want to, truth be told--whether the creators of Once Upon a Time saw Enchanted, and were inspired to eventually fix that undone magic that I must believe others imagined along with myself.  But, if they did, for this viewer at least, they succeeded, and fixed in place some magic of their own.  And, I don't know whether the future episodes will stand up to the magic set forth in the beginning, even the ones which aired a year ago and I've yet to see, but what's already done is created, and the magic in my memory is no longer wounded, which I'll be ever thankful for.

So, here, at this point I begin.  And this won't be a blog of fiction or poetry, or hopefully even of what you might expect, even from an odd creature like me.  Simply, here, I aim to celebrate the magic of imagination, and the glittery potential of our thoughts, which we too often forget.