I woke up last Tuesday morning dreaming that I was defending myself against a huge Bear-Beast-Thing. Armed with nothing but a wooden chair, I somehow managed to hold it at bay. Even as I kept my distance, its flailing paws reached me – claws grazing the backs of my hands. Its big teeth snapped at the air between the thin chair legs. The struggle did not subside until I woke up afraid and exhausted, alarmed and angry.
That was over 129 hours ago. My mood has risen and fallen an unknown number of times between now and then. Mostly risen.
I can tell you I’ve been sleeping better. More consistently and with sweeter dreams. Yesterday morning, I dreamt that an old high school classmate whose daughter’s birthday party is displayed in all of its Home and Garden glory on FaceBook was singing in a contest at summer camp. She sounded just like Billie Holiday. I sat on a blanket listening to her sweet voice at twilight. That was the dream: enjoying her milky voice through full and melodic songs.
Today, the move to write happened after listening to “O Magnum Mysterium” three straight times with earphones while reading David Foster Wallace’s 2005 commencement speech delivered at Kenyon College.
I’m not finished reading his speech yet. I’ve just gotten up to the part where he says,
“…the world will not discourage you from operating on your default-settings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation.”
And the Robert Shaw Chamber Singers are all like, “Ahhhhwwwwwww Owwwwwwwww” and I feel as if I don’t write something right now my chest will break back open again, right along the scarline and my sternum will separate on its own and (yes, I know David Foster Wallace hung himself the week before my 39th birthday, months before I would ever read a single sentence he ever constructed) it doesn’t matter what I write, I just need to do it now.
So I have come here to tell you about the bear and the singing, and all the moods in between–the moods I’m so tired of, the moods that graze the skin on the backs of my hands again and again, day after day.
And now I have. A little bit.
Do I finish reading David’s speech before I close this post? Sure.
” …of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom.”
“It is about simple awareness — awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: ‘This is water, this is water’.
It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive, day in and day out.”
It is. It is, David. Thank you for trying as long as you did.