Tuesday, July 05, 2005

This isn't a photograph...

just an insightful reflection on my life. Well, at least, I’m considering it insightful.

I was reminded of my previous life in Wisconsin by a recent encounter. For those of you closest to me, don't ask specifics, as I don't really wish to dwell on what happened. Suffice it to say that the episode allowed me to reexamine my life and the changes that have occurred since moving out here. I feel such an overwhelming sense of calmness much of the time. I am stronger and wiser now, than at any time in the past. Let me add that while life is not perfect here, it is pretty damn good. The decision to move to Oregon has to be the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. I’m healing. I’m becoming who I want to be- or learning about who I am supposed to be. And here’s some weird little proof, to myself anyway…

As long as I can remember, I’ve had wildly vivid dreams. I’ve often commented to others that sometimes I feel as though I live two lives; one in the “real waking world” and one at night that seems as real and as this one. When I dream, I dream with all my senses. I smell things, dream in color, taste food. I incorporate things into my dreams in weird ways. Once I was dreaming of vacationing in Mexico, although I was surrounded by Greek temples (hey, it is a dream after all), and I was writing a note to a companion that had just missed meeting up with me. I remember writing the note and then re-reading it. Half way down the page, the note turned from paragraphs to beeps as in:

beep….beep…beep...beep…beep….beep…beep…beep…beep….beep…

Turns out I was “reading” my alarm clock going off. Funny, huh?

Most often, my dreams are repeated warning signs to me. I’m not talking psychic communication or anything, just things about my life that my brain chooses to interpret and try to deal with in my sleep in creative ways (because, being the procrastinator that I am, I can’t actually deal with them when I’m awake). Like many people, I have reoccurring dreams. When I was having trouble in high school, feeling highly depressed and alone, I dreamed every night for 3 months that I was being chased. By what, you ask? I never saw whatever it was. An unknown force would hunt me down every night. Whatever it was, I only knew its presence by the wind blowing. The actual force was a black, fuzzy blur- I always woke up before it caught me. The wind would blow and this evil energy was always just around the corner, racing towards me. After I switched schools in my sophomore year, the dream stopped and I’ve yet to have it again.

Other common themes are ghosts, fear of forgetting my lines (I was a theater geek in high school and waking up in the middle of a scene that I’d never rehearsed for has always been a nightmare), and waking up in the middle of my life with a child to take care of (that I can’t remember giving birth to). But the one theme that has followed me for more than six years is that of tornadoes.

The first tornado dreams started in late 1999, when I was still dealing with a chronic health issue and I was wallowing in my wasted life. I did not have fun. I was not any fun. I did not enjoy food or life or deep pleasure. I was a freaking zombie stumbling through life. I simply was not me. I began to have these tornado dreams when I was breaking up with my first boyfriend. He recently commented that I seemed deeply unhappy most of the time that we were dating. I can picture myself back then, and my fragile mental state. I was a severely wounded person who was just beginning a journey to healing. I wasn’t ready for life at that point and he suffered the consequences and my rage. When I dreamed of these tornados, I found myself in the middle a bright summer day, with rolling hills surrounding my view of the horizon (Wisconsin, particularly the south central part contains glaciers that formed small rolling hills). I was often in Madison, my birthplace, and it is here, closest to home that the tornadoes would circle in on me. They formed suddenly, in each dream, often on top of the plateaus of the horizon. Large, ominous swirling black clouds would dart back and forth in front of my eyes. They hissed high pitched howling noises and spat building materials out all around me. I could see them in my peripheral vision. Whenever I was in a vehicle, they were in the rear-view mirror (as sort of a pasted on look- like the way some of Hitchcock’s movies show the rolling footage that doesn’t quite match up with what’s happening at the moment). No matter what I was doing in the dream, often traveling between work and home, I found myself in the middle of these tornadoes. One dream had me on a tour bus with a bunch of old people and while we thought the bus was on a winding road that would bypass the danger, we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by these towering monsters. I was never killed, and no one else in my dreams lost their lives. But I was haunted by these forever repeating dreams.

Just after I broke up with the boyfriend, I found myself escaping my life and the decision that haunted me, by sleeping. But sleeping became terrifying because I was either stuck in the middle of the tornadoes or I didn’t dream at all and I would awake as if I had just put my head to the pillow only moments before. Either way, I was scared to go to sleep. The first few months, for this and other reasons, I would take only cat naps- if I slept at all. What I had done, just after breaking up with the boyfriend was get a new one (uh, mistake number one), move out of my parents house, get two new jobs, quit school, buy my first car and adopt two ungrateful cats. Four months after my painful breakup, I had a whole new life. But the dreams continued. Over the next few months, the tornadoes receded a bit. I didn’t dream them every night- at first just a few nights a week and then just a day or two every other week. I eventually moved on.

I settled into the life that I made for myself and struggled to understand what to do next. At times, I thought this life was it, that I was destined to graduate from a community college with a degree that wasn’t architecture (at first a drafting degree and when I couldn’t cut it at that, an interior design degree), I was meant to live as a slob, in a numbing job, with no hobbies other than television to keep me occupied. I got up and went through the motions of my life, all the while dreaming that I was missing out on something.

Almost two years later, the tornado dreams started up again with full force. I began to see their destruction all around me in the city. The bookstore was ruined. The grocery store had its roof ripped off. Several buildings disappeared completely. The city I was in was growing smaller and smaller with each dream. People began dying or disappearing during the storms. The warning whistles would go off each time but no matter how long we had to prepare, the destruction was always daunting. I always woke up before the clean up of the storm happened but it seemed that repairing and rebuilding my world was going to be a tougher job with each passing dream. These dreams seemed to work themselves to a fevered pitch just before I had a huge design project due in my space planning class.

The project was an exercise in creativity as well as strict limits (after all, how many times will architects and interior designers have a client with a limitless budget?). The assignment was simple: 900 square feet to design a space for myself. I could use a maximum of 900 square feet (about the size of my current apartment) and do whatever- as long as it was properly dimensioned and creative in its execution. I remembered being excited from the beginning. It was the first one that didn’t require regurgitating someone else’s design back onto the page or on the cad program. I began my search with this book and promptly checked out every book on tree houses I could find in the county. I designed the space as if I were living in a tree house on the shores of the Carolinas or Florida. I used all 900 square feet to build a great room with a soaring ceiling, a small bathroom with a bump-out glass block shower, a small, yet highly efficient kitchen, a quiet and reflective studio as well as an octagonal bedroom. The rooms were broken up into the main house (with the great room, kitchen and bathroom), the studio house and the bedroom house. As with any cool tree house, the little houses were connected by wooden bridges on varying levels with lots of shaded patio space. Every space contained a skylight so I could see the stars. I didn’t fuss over the damn curtains or carpet- everything that needed to designed was made of knotted wood sanded to a smooth finish. I finished my project at the very last minute, sat back and looked at it, and promptly chickened out from showing it to the class. I was expected to present it as part of the formal assignment and I couldn’t. In the weeks leading up to presentation day, I caught glimpses of my classmates’ projects from afar and I was mortified. My project didn’t look like anyone else’s! I was not meant to be an interior designer! I couldn’t think like them and I certainly couldn’t design like them! They all seemed to have these pretty little boxes on their drafting sheets all decked out in lovely shades of purples and pinks with perfectly matched window shades and decorative pillows. They were all the same and mine was the ugly duckling! I handed in my project a few days late. I snuck it in at the end of a class and ducked out. A few days later, my teacher pulled me aside for a talk. I figured she was going to rag on my design as well as berate me for handing it in late. I prepared for the worst. Instead, she asked me what my future plans were. I told her I didn’t have any- at that moment I didn’t think I could even graduate from community college. I began to apologize for my awful design and then she said the words that changed my life. “Your design is unlike anyone else’s in class. It stood out from the rest. I was so intrigued by it that I took it home and showed it to my husband. I took great joy in reading over your description and how well the plans were laid out. We loved how you solved the problem and we both agree that you need to continue designing. Perhaps you need to go on to more schooling.” I was reeling from her comments for the next few weeks. Somewhere in that time, I searched the web for schools that I could afford to attend. The tornado dreams began to die down again, just as I made the life-changing decision to move out here, continue my education and become an architect. I had a just few more tornado dreams, until my first night alone in my new apartment here. And then they seemed to completely recede from my memory.

Last year, I began the painful task of forgiving myself for my former life, which I believe is furthering my healing. I contacted the exes, and tried to make peace with them and myself. In the process, I became slightly confused about what I wanted from my life. I still wanted to be an architect but I had a moderate case of homesickness. I wasn’t quite sure where to go from here. A few steps backwards were enough to throw my footing off. And then I had a tornado dream. However, this dream was unlike the others. Instead of a Southern Wisconsin setting, the rolling hills became much larger and greener with pine trees. The hills surrounded a deep valley with fast moving rivers. My dream was now set in Oregon. Again, the tornadoes showed up on the horizon, swirling black bodies that sucked trees, houses and cars up into their vortexes. I watched as they once again circled around me and closed in. But I was not afraid and I did not wake up. I did not run for cover...I walked slowly and purposefully around as if I was showing them that I was not afraid. They tore through an old house in the dream that I was living in. They ripped it to shreds- broken glass and 2 by 4's rained down all around me. Yet, I chose to stay in this dream. I closed my eyes and suddenly the deafening roar ceased to be. I opened my eyes to a bright blue sky and birds chirping. I turned all around, surveying the damage from the storm. My eyes stopped on what was left of a very old and sturdy staircase in this home. The banister was intact up to the landing and then at its turn, the balustrades and railing had been ripped away. Light could be seen from above. But still, I did not wake up. I was not finished. A hammer appeared in my right hand, and a saw in my left. I walked up to the staircase and began ripping up the risers. I pulled crooked nails up one by one, setting them aside. I touched the wooden boards and felt the feet of a thousand trips up and down each step. All around me, neighbors appeared to help sort out the mess. They stripped what was left of the siding from the outside walls, tore wallpaper off of the inside walls and cleared debris out. This is where this dream ends. I woke up hearing the sound of hammering, a buzz saw, a dozen voices murmuring to one another about the perfect afternoon ahead, and one voice calling out commands for the tasks at hand.

I haven’t had a tornado dream in over a year. In fact, I really haven’t had any reoccurring dreams that routinely beat into my consciousness. It’s as if my mind is at peace for now- enjoying the real waking life that I live and taking in every moment – so much so that it doesn’t need the other life at night to act out its pain. I think the staircase in that house is done; in fact much of the framing is complete. I’m ready to fill it with wonderful details such as gabled roofs, screened porches, boxed window seats and an expansive attic to hold future treasures I will acquire. The house is ready and so am I.

1 Comments:

Blogger Michael Moore said...

Wow. Thanks for sharing all of that. It's really inspiring and wonderful.

Your story about the space planning class makes me think about how amazingly someone's small effort can have such an effect. The teacher chose to take the time to tell you how much your design was appreciated instead of thinking you'd already know. It reminds me how important it is to remember to take that extra step to offer feedback or encouragement. I think it's wonderful how that little effort amplified by helping you take on new things and help you improve yourself and inspire others.

I have remembered only a handful of dreams in my while life. Your insight into your dreams is interesting and like a foreign land to me. I wonder if your tornado dream will recur again someday. It seems that you've gone in these dreams from destruction to destruction and rebuilding. Later, a dream of destruction, rebuilding and resolution wouldn't seem out of place. Regardless, I'm sure listening to your dreams should be a great help. Thanks again for the long post.

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