Reality is slippery

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My friend Mary Lounsberry recently opened a studio in the new The Center Within space on Center Street, which by the way is hosting an open house tomorrow (Saturday) all day. Stop by to learn what services they offer. Mary hosted her first workshop this week, and Ruth came to the shop to fill in for me so I could attend. We played with art materials, meditation, story-telling, and movement to “map the mythos-sphere.”

Mary instructed us to locate that place within ourselves that lives in the space between reality and imagination. I know that place well as I spend most of my time there. Often when I think back over the past, I am not sure that what I remember actually happened or if it was a dream. That is easily explained because my dreams seem very real to me and much of what I have experienced is quite surreal. Also because I read a lot especially right before I fall asleep, the books I am reading bleed into my dreams and when I return to the book I am sometimes unsure where I left off.

When I think about my time working in juvie, I find myself wishing that much of what happened there was instead a figment of my imagination. One staff member would routinely steal towels and cleaning supplies that were meant for the use of the boys. At Christmas when the boys were given tube socks to replace the torn ones they had, she stole those too. Another told one of my students that he was going to hell because he worshipped “someone named Allah, when everybody knows that God’s name is God. Not Allah.” Then the state forced us to order new textbooks (which we never used anyway) right before the place was shut down. They then buried those new books in the abandoned pool so no one else could use them.

I know I am not the only one who has the tendency to be unsure about what is real. I was on a car trip to Atlanta once with a friend, and she told me a long story about a woman she knew who had had some crazy experiences. As she went on I was sure that I too knew this woman, as her story was so familiar to me. Suddenly it dawned on me. She was relating the plot of a novel by Ann Tyler. When I asked her if that might be true, she laughed and admitted that it was! The book rang so true to her that over time she began to think of the main character as someone she “knew.” And I “knew” her too.

Writers mostly live in this in-between world. Characters they create come alive and make their own decisions about what happens to them in the plot. It’s no wonder, then, that certain characters in literature stay in my head. I will never forget Olive Kittredge, for example, a woman who saw herself differently than did those with whom she interacted. Jane Eyre always gives me courage to carry on when things seem tough. And my inner child sees herself in Toby, the main character of This Boy’s Life, who had to parent himself.

Furthermore, anyone who has ever been on knows very well that the people you “meet” on the site are not necessarily what they would like you to think they are. They change their ages, invent lives, and appear as someone they are not. I met some men in person whose profiles bore no resemblance to their actual personalities or appearances. Worse yet, I know several women who thought they were in long distance relationships with men who proved to be phantoms.

Conversely, my dreams seem so realistic. The setting of my recurring dreams is always Country Day. I return to my desk in the old English Department office. The same junk that littered my desk is still there, including that photo of Baryshnikov’s rear end taken at the Swimmer’s home. The same faculty members are still there, and we still struggle with the same stuff we did in real life. There are stacks of papers to grade, piles of books, and confusion about what class I have next and where that class is located. I experience that same feeling of swimming upstream I did back then. I will never get it all done, and I am not even sure what I am supposed to do.

My newest recurring dream is set in Chifferobe. In the dream, though, there is a scarcity of things to sell and Christmas is around the corner. I am panicky and beat myself up for being so lax about keeping up. Dead leaves are piled up around the front door. And yesterday in real time I swept away piles of dead leaves.