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Catching the Dreamcatcher

When I was a child, my family would travel to visit grandparents in Indiana. Along the route were several long, dark tunnels through mountains that quite obviously required my siblings and I to hold our breath for the length of them, or at least try to. I can’t quite remember the consequences that might befall us upon failure, but I’m certain they were dire. I remember feeling frustrated and small in the undertaking, and wondering just why the tunnels had to be so long. Eventually, my five-year-old lungs forced surrender and I had to just be in the tunnel; after all, that I didn’t want to be never made them any shorter. It was then I’d notice there was a lot more to them than I’d seen when I’d been solely focused on holding my breath. Something meditative in the regularity of the cement blocks, comforting, the curve of the archway. And then, just as I’d begun imagining the creatures that must dwell and sing there at night, out we were, back onto the open road. As much as I’d been aching for the light, I now had new dreams.

I don’t know what to dream about anymore. For years, whenever anxiety kept me up at night, I would close my eyes and paint a beautiful vision over the chaotic canvas of my mind. They’d swirl over hasty reds with gentle blues and greens. In one, I’d be deeply absorbed in a grand, fulfilling project, laughing with colleagues. In another, I’d take my first steps onto a brightly lit stage, without fear, brimming instead with excitement. I’d win a grand prix with my rescued racehorse, proving critics wrong. Sip coffee on a Saturday morning in my dream home. If all else failed, I’d wander the cobblestones of Paris, without any ambition whatsoever. Somehow I never needed it there. What all my dreams had in common was that they used some not-too-far-stretched reality as a spring board to the fantastic.

Lately, even the most grounded speculation feels implausible. Will any of the dreams I’ve had since I was a child ever be possible again? Hell, will any of the side gigs? In some ways, that initial round of isolation had been a relief. The forced break from the hustle served as a reprieve. I was humbled by the realization that in the absence of the hustle, was the absence of rejection. For a moment there was no Herculean effort needed to remind me that my self-worth is not inextricably intertwined to whether or not I am working, or the length of the gap between jobs. And yet, my body still ached with longing to bring the canvases in my mind to life. I’m terrified they might now never find root in the wake of a landscape being tilled so deeply I don’t know when the earth will ever be willing to produce again, let alone what seeds it will be willing to accept.

We all have good days and bad days. On my worst, I’m overcome with a creative paralysis that leaves me bereft for the sense of purpose and drive I had “before,” made even more frustrating because I’m so aware of the paralysis. It didn’t render me insensitive, after all. I’ve been acutely present with the restlessness boiling over without having yet discovered the path to channel it. Moreover, the landscapes of the world- social, political, and sure, artistic, are changing every day. In their new light, every venture seems wrong to me. I wrote about a particular scar on my face. It felt shallow and off-base. I tried fiction, but the characters felt self-absorbed and irritating. What do I do with the energy that ricochets within me all day so that by 5 o’clock in the afternoon, I’m exhausted, with nothing to show for it? If I have to discover some new channel in which to shove this mess of tangled expression, can it goddamn show up already? This particular tunnel is starting to feel endless…

I used to think I was alone in the uncomfortable, sometimes painful experience of navigating the Passages of Purpose. Now I believe it is inherent in the human condition, perhaps never more so than currently. Most of us have never spent this long in a dark tunnel. Benevolently, we’re in this together. Collectively terrified, collectively determined. While one might be in complete darkness, another is pointing out the light; we’ll keep trading that baton of hope. And while the belly of this beast might be deep and winding, we can whisper new stories, come up with whole new languages, hold each other’s hands in the surrender. I still don’t quite know what to dream about, but I know, just as surely as I did when I was five, that I will.

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