Monthly Archives: May 2008

A Long Strange Trip

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One of my early memories is of being six years old, getting ready to go to school early one morning. My mother had turned on our small black and white TV, and on it I saw a long, solemn procession moving slowly down a street, with many people bearing a raised casket in the middle of the crowd (or was it a long hearse?). The sight filled me with an intense grief that I didn’t understand, and I had to start wailing and running around the house. My mother was startled and tried to shush me, and my father herded me out the door to school with my sister, without another word about it.

Years later I was able to piece back together the scene, and realized that it was Robert F. Kennedy‘s funeral ceremony I had seen on television that morning. My parents, never big Kennedy fans, had not been paying much attention to the broadcast, but it affected me deeply. The scene came up again in a major recurring dream I had when I was nine, and to some extent has remained with me throughout my life.

I believe what I was feeling was collective grief, the sense shared by so many that a great hope had been lost. It is impossible to view our current election season—or any presidential race, for that matter—without hearing that cultural overtone ring loudly again when things heat up. As they are doing now, with or without help from the upcoming anniversary of RFK’s assassination on June 5, 1968????????.

My first civic post was in second grade, when I was elected secretary of our class council. I thought secretary was a modest position to start with, but my true ambition was to be President of the United States. Not the first woman president, just president. By fifth grade I had rethought that career plan, and decided it would be nice to be on the Newbery Award Committee instead, as I would get to read all the best children’s fiction each year.

In ninth grade, my last year of junior high, I ran for student body president. Twice. To this day, I do not know what possessed me to run again the second semester after having been defeated the first. All I can guess is that I genuinely thought I would do a great job, and felt that I was a better candidate than the others. I don’t remember any adult trying to dissuade me from running, but I remember all too well the hurt that came from defeat. My sole consolation was that, according to the vice principal, I had picked up 200 more votes the second time around.

The first time I ran, my chief opponent was my friend and classmate Jacques Hébert. Everyone loved Jacques. He came from a well-respected African-American family, he was tall, good-looking, athletic, smart, and kind. Of course Jacques won, and I didn’t really begrudge him the loss. The second time around I lost to the second most popular boy in school, but he didn’t have nearly the character or intelligence of Jacques. That one hurt.

All this came back to me this morning, as I puzzled over the dream I had just before waking. In the dream, I see Barack Obama drinking coffee in a café. I greet him, he is an old friend on the lecture/writing/traveling circuit, like several people I know. He looks absolutely exhausted, so I invite him over to my house for dinner and a rest before moving on to his next gig. He accepts gladly.

We drive over in my car, and when he comes into the kitchen I introduce him to my two daughters who are seated at the counter. I tell them, “Say hello to Barack Obama,” and then it occurs to me that this will be a huge deal for them, because they might be meeting the next president of the United States. But to me there is no glamour, he’s just an old friend.

This dream was surprising to me, mostly because I have not been a big Obama supporter. I never trusted his rhetoric about a “new type of politics.” It has always seemed to me that anyone with the ambition to be President must have an astute grasp of politics in general, and “new” or “old” is just a marketing term. His health care proposal, compared to that of Edwards and Clinton, was disappointing, and combined with his inexperience and conciliatory stance toward the right wing of Congress, I feared that the net effect of an Obama presidency would be a profound disillusionment among his ardent followers.

That to me has been the most worrisome aspect of his candidacy: the inevitable popping of the hope bubble, and the damage it will do to the young people who are now engaged in our political system because of his campaign of hope and change. I fundamentally do not want to see another generation become as apathetic and cynical about the process of democracy as my generation has been. And too, I don’t think I can bear to go through more years of political disappointment myself, either.

Yet my dream felt like an admission that he would in fact be the Democratic nominee, something that until today I had not really come to terms with. Obama’s anointing by the Kennedy clan is just another unsettling tone added to the cacaphony of hopes, dreams, fears, and projections already swirling around the country. That cultural harmonic of hope betrayed is ringing loud and clear, and I dread the coming months.

I am not one of those Clinton supporters who would vote for McCain—Gods forbid he ever enters the White House again except by invitation to tea. At least if I do vote for Obama, as seems inevitable at the moment, my dream reminds me that it will be a strategic choice, not a romantic one.

And the fact that Obama looks a lot like my old friend Jacques—I will just try to put that out of my mind. Of course the qualified woman loses to the cute guy in the class. I was really hoping that dynamic would change before my daughters were of voting age, but it looks like we will have to wait another several years before a woman has a chance to just be elected president.

Are We Lucid Yet?

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In between writing a major post for someone else’s blog and jump-starting a new website of my own, I have had precious little time for posting dream tidbits on this blog. Well, all that is going to change, starting right now.

The folks at the Lucidity Institute are running an experiment to test Tibetan Dream Yoga principles, and they are looking for participants, especially left-handed ones. From their website:

For over 1,000 years, the Tibetan Buddhists have been practicing lucid dreaming as a means of approaching enlightenment. In this pursuit, they have developed elaborate techniques for inducing lucidity. Some of these are esoteric beyond the capacity of the uninitiated Western mind to conceive, let alone practice. However, others bear a striking resemblance to the techniques now employed by Western oneironauts, for example, frequent reflection throughout the day on the dreamlike nature of reality.

The premise they are testing right now is whether sleep posture and “nasal laterality” (differences in air flow through the nostrils) affect lucidity and dream recall. They are going to correlate the results with right- and left-handedness, and also with gender difference.

If you are interested in collecting data from at least 16 cycles of dreaming and waking, you can download their handy pdf form here. They are hoping to gather all the dream reports by June 30th, so get cracking! Also, their website has lots of information on dream recall, lucid dreaming, and reports from previous studies.

I have never felt the need to encourage or induce lucid dreams since my regular dreams give me enough information to process already, but I’ve had their form printed out on my desk for a couple weeks now, so maybe I’ll give it a try, too. (Plus, I’m left handed! They need my data!)

Wait for it……wait for it……

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Longtime readers of this blog will know that I periodically lust over things, especially techno-gadgets. I have been pretty good lately in making do with the gadgets I already have: I’ve never owned an iPod, use a bare-bones cell phone, and keep typing away on my old PowerBook, even though the warranty has run out and it is slowly falling apart.

My sole technology purchase last year was a new car stereo for my 1992 Honda. The new one plays CDs, a quantum leap from the broken cassette player in the old one. That upgrade alone has made my driving hours much more enjoyable and productive.

But that’s not to say that I haven’t been following closely the evolution of the gadget I most want to own: the iPhone. Or, as some have snarkily called it, the God Phone. When it came out last year, I sat on my hands and reminded myself that 1) I didn’t absolutely need it; 2) I couldn’t afford it; and 3) it would be cheaper if I waited a few months before buying it. That is the logic of an eventual customer, however, not a die-hard skeptic.

Since the iPhone’s release I have been staying the course, noting in my travels any occasion where an iPhone might have come in handy. Like the time when I drove to a meeting but couldn’t absolutely remember the way there. If I’d had an iPhone I could have had a map in hand within minutes. Or the time when I was waiting for an important email but had no computer access. Or when my plans suddenly changed and I had time to catch a movie before my next appointment, if I only knew what was playing and where. (And that’s not to mention the many handy uses I could make of an iPod.)

None of these were case-closed reasons to take the plunge, however. They didn’t warrant an extra $20 on my monthly cell phone bill, for one thing. Besides, for me the iPhone was still hampered by one major deficit: the inability to create new documents. I am forever getting writing ideas while away from my desk, and therefore any mobile gadget had to have the basic ability to open a new text file and start typing.

Now there are well-founded rumors and speculation that an even better second-generation iPhone may be announced in June. Not only that, but my dream of an iPhone that is also a decent hand-held computer also seems to be within range. (Gamers are also getting excited.)

Simply put, my resolve is slipping. I can feel the Lure of the Gadget slowly reeling me in, like some giant consumerist tractor-beam against which my paltry logic is no defense. I would probably be standing in line with the rest of the geeks and hold-outs when the announcement comes next month, except for one last shred of reasoning: the Fall discount.

Early adopters of the iPhone were irate last Fall when Apple announced a $200 price cut just in time for holiday buying. No matter how amazing the 2nd generation iPhone is, odds are excellent that it too will be discounted after the summer rush tapers off. So, that is the extent of my remaining resistance. I will be assimilated, but with any luck it will not be until October, at which point I can find some comfort in the fact that I waited as long as is humanly possible before succumbing. Meanwhile, I foresee lots of deep breathing and hand-sitting in my near future.

Post-WWDC update:

As predicted, the new iPhone is super-cool. However, I will not be getting one, even when they get cheaper before the holidays. The reason? AT&T has exceeded my price-point for the monthly data plans connected to this phone: $30/month for unlimited whatever on their new 3G network, as opposed to $20 for the current iPhone.

I pay Comcast a ridiculous amount per month for basic cable and internet service. I pay almost that much each month to my local ISP for email, domain hosting, and a number of other web-based business needs. But at least these two companies have very good customer service.

There really are not enough disdainful words in the dictionary to describe what I think about AT&T, their abyssmal customer service, and the outrageous amounts they charge for just about everything. Still, I have a business phone and fax, a home phone, and cell phone service for my daughter and myself, all through AT&T.

Maybe this is a stupid place to draw a line in the sand, but literally when I heard that the were increasing the data plan charge for the new iPhone I lost all interest. They just pissed me off for the last time. Without some industry-wide regulation and consumer-oriented reform of pricing practices, I simply won’t indulge in a new iPhone. I wonder how many more people feel the same way.

That Pound of Flesh

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As a dreamworker, I estimate that roughly 75% of my clients have their questions answered satisfactorily using the tools of dream interpretation. Another 25% have concerns that are not completely resolved by looking at the content of their dreams. These folks are usually coping with some kind of sleep disturbance, and need to know how to get a good night’s sleep so that they can remember more of their dreams.

The field of sleep medicine is growing as more people experience insomnia, chronic nightmares, sleep apnea, and other issues that interfere with their dreaming and overall functioning. With these folks in mind, I have been reading up on ways to cultivate restorative sleep. Among the many websites I have traversed, the National Sleep Foundation has lots of informative articles and links to sleep centers across the country.

There are also some interesting books on the subject that have come out recently. Among them is one which on the surface seems completely unrelated, even frivolous, yet contains some valuable information on the ins and outs of getting good quality sleep.

I am still working on being able to say (or write) the title of this book without wincing, but here goes: Sleep Away the Pounds: Optimize Your Sleep and Reset Your Metabolism for Maximum Weight Loss. There, I almost did it. Maybe it will be easier next time…then again, maybe not.

Unfortunate title aside, the book’s main point is that one of the main side effects of not getting good sleep is that your metabolism gets out of whack and you end up at greater risk for a host of health problems, including obesity. Addressing sleep disturbances is a key but often overlooked process for losing weight or maintaining your current weight.

The most valuable contribution of this book is that it presents a well-rounded picture of how to achieve a restful night’s sleep, covering nutrition, allergy control, nighttime routines, relaxation and meditation, supplements, exercise, and more. Their section with practical tips for getting good sleep goes on for fourteen solid pages. (p. 29-43) The sleep information is followed by a thorough section on reducing stress in general, then moves on to treating insomnia and other sleep problems, before talking about diet plans. But if you’re not interested in dieting and just need information to help you sleep, there is still plenty you can get out of this book.

The authors, Cherie and John Calbom, suggest a reasonable method for determining how much sleep you actually need. They give a detailed description of the hormones that are most affected by sleep deprivation, and describe the physiology of sleep in a clear, comprehensible way. In fact, all of the information in the book is presented in a very readable manner.

I admit that I only skimmed the “21-Day Sleep Away the Pounds Menu Plan” chapter, but it looks like it’s got some practical, common-sense advice as well. I was pleasantly surprised by this book, despite some overwrought marketing copy in the first couple chapters, and would definitely recommend it to people who want a general introduction to getting better sleep. The authors have done a service for dreamworkers and sleep professionals in general by highlighting the importance of restorative sleep for our overall health and functioning, both at night and during the day.

A Perfectly Wonderful Day

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There are other places much more suited to outdoor celebrations of May Day than the Northern California coast. Our weather is dicey at best in the spring, often accompanied by cold winds that whip in from the ocean. It would make much more sense to celebrate Beltane here in September or October, when the wind is at its lowest and the days are clear and jewel-like.

But this is where we live, so for the last three years my daughter Jojo and I have taken our chances and hosted May Day here anyway. Actually I should say both my daughters, as Lyra takes time out of her intense college schedule to hand-design a flyer for the party every year. She was with us the first year, and with luck she’ll be here again.

I posted last year about how Beltane starts at Spring Equinox. This year the preparations began soon after themebeli new year. The huge construction project of last summer and fall had destroyed garden beds, made a hash of my already sparse lawn, and created piles of rubbish that I slowly had hauled away between winter storms. I found someone to build a garden gate to protect my front yard from the deer, which ate most of the herbs I’d planted last year. As soon as that was done, I could restore the beautiful passion flower vine which over the winter the deer had torn down from the fence and ripped to shreds.

The ivy, morning glory, and Himalayan blackberry had encroached from all directions and had to be yanked out. I didn’t get it all, but I knocked it back enough for this year. Finally, I had a huge pile of mulch hauled in and set about restoring the beds that had been trampled, caring for the plants that had survived, and creating new beds where I want to expand the garden this year. All this activity took me well into the week before Beltane. But that was just the outdoor preparations.

One of the things I have learned is that rituals can be pared way down and still be very powerful, so long as the preliminaries have been done properly beforehand. In the case of Beltane, the ritual essentials are an invocation, good music, nice ribbons, the dance, and delicious food afterwards. It is not all that complicated, but like flicking a glass to hear the tone it makes when it rings, the more prepared your space is the sweeter sound the ritual will create. I wash all the windows and mirrors, clean the bathrooms, dust, vacuum, sweep, refresh my altars, and set things right in my office—one of the places I most want to benefit from the energy of the maypole dance.

The day before, I do a cleansing of the ritual site including the pole, leave offerings where we will sink it into the ground, clean off the old ribbons, and leave it to sit overnight under the stars. Then the day of our party I can focus on setting up the food and drink and answering the phone. This year Jojo helped out a lot, and I think she actually enjoyed getting swept up in the preparations. She made four batches of brownies and cleaned her bedroom and bathroom—dare I say it—happily.

As Oak wrote, there were a passel of teenagers over this year who were pleasant, amusing, and such fun to watch. They’re still in the stage where they run in packs instead of pairing up, which I will appreciate as long as it lasts. Several girls stayed the night after the party. Here are some of them, with Jojo on the bottom left.

The whole day was incredibly sweet for me. It was a wonderful group of people, probably the most beautiful weave I’ve ever seen on our maypole, and the weather was glorious: clear and warm, with a moderate wind. Because I’d started so early with the preparations I wasn’t stressed by getting ready at the last minute, so not only did I enjoy myself at my own party, but the clean-up afterward seemed like a piece of cake.

The best thing about hosting this ritual at my house is that for weeks afterward I get to gaze out my windows and see the colorful ribbons of May Day shining in the sun. So I will end this post with the view that greeted me the next morning, returning home after walking my dog Vince. It doesn’t get much sweeter than that.

Later that morning I drove off to the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, and bought a few important herbs to plant in the new beds. Then I made delicious chicken enchiladas with some of the leftover chicken, and Jojo and I settled in for an afternoon of lazing around, enjoying ourselves. Life is good. May yours be good as well.