Friday, June 29, 2012

Walk the Line: Pottery, Palantirs, and More June Carter Cash

"I'm so tired I can barely wiggle" (June Carter Cash/JCC) Ain't it the truth? Its been a long couple days, and, unfortunately, at this point in my life, my response to a challenge is hysterics. I board up the windows. Shut the blinds. Turn out the lights and wait to succumb from grief. Eventually, one of my friends (usually Maggie or Lesley) pries my front door open, drags me out of the house bawling, and forces me to rejoin the human race. Of course, simply leaving my Hobbit Hole won't put me right again. No, for this Hysterical Historian, regaining perspective and the will to fight is the key to finding my calm. Because here is the truth: For a large portion of my existence, I was a veritable Muhammad Ali. When it came to defending my faith in other people and happy endings, I'd "float like a butterfly and sting like a bee". In fact, I retained a sort of blind hopefulness, normally reserved for small children, far longer than I should have. Perhaps due the strength of that feeling, eventually that well ran completely dry. From that point on, every trite quote about how enduring abuse refines one's character became a cruel taunt. Apparently, some of us were meant to suffer through endless character building hazings while other assholes glided through life with ease. Screw that! I wanted to see those Happy Jackasses cry! However, the problem with my total shift in perspective is that, now, I'm learning that the more my heart becomes involved the more terrified I become. Muhammad Ali has left the building, Folks. Instead, tonight, Ali's role will now be portrayed by Scooby Doo minus the drug habit. Ruh Roh!

All kidding aside, conquering that fear is extremely difficult for me. But what can ya do? Well, in my opinion, there is two steps to jumping back in the race: Find a Role Model and Go Pottery Painting. You guessed it. I'm talking about June Carter Cash (if you don't like her, well, too bad. Stop reading now and go get your own damn blog!) June was AWESOME. I brook no argument on that subject. This was a woman who knew who she was, what she wanted, and how to wait. Those are all traits I deeply admire. Johnny Cash once said of his wife: "What June did for me was post signs along the way, lift me up when I was weak, encourage me when I was discouraged, and love me when I felt alone and unlovable...She's always been there, and she's dependable, trustworthy, loyal, kind and cheerful - all the parts of the Boy Scouts." Personally, those are qualities I want to emulate. Cause HERE's the ISSUE: I know how frail and fallible I am. There is no question about many faults. Just ask Lesley and Maggie both of whom have endured my tearful conversations, avoidant behavior, and emotional breakdowns. To have June characteristics means overcoming my fear of being hurt, suppressing my sense inadequacy, and allowing myself to both feel and show affection despite the risk of future devastation. Because, my Darlings: There is no Crystal Ball or Palantir of Denethor. If there were, I'd have found it by now, even if that meant selling my soul to Lord Sauron himself. Everyone gives their heart away, but I think, maybe, its what we do after its gone that matters. That's where June comes in: "steel is strong because it knew the hammer and the white heat". Any ride worth taking has a few rough patches you'd rather skip. But I think it might be worth the risk if in the end you can honestly say: "You're my friend" (Walk the Line, 2006) Thus, today, I marched into Art Bayou, plopped myself down, and painted a hideous Ring of Fire serving plate to remind me sometimes ya gotta Walk the Line.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Failure of a Writ: Lessons from June Carter Cash

Methinks my Writ of Hocus Pocus lacked the proper amount of Umph. Now, there are the hours, and minutes, and the seconds which pass in a blur of tears. We are back to the Anatomy of a Meltdown times ten. June Carter Cash would never act this way. No Sirree. She's fluff her hair, hang in there, paint some pottery, sing a few songs, know that life is long, and some things are worth waiting on. And June knew how to wait. No sobbing. No fretting. No self loathing. No, June knew both her strengths and her weakness and walked in confidence. I need to learn to do the same.

Another Writ of Hocus Pocus

"Express your feelings all the time, unless you have something to hide." Once again, Moi is forced to summon the determination and fabulousness of Miss Piggy. Um hum, you guessed it my Darlings, Moi's make is smudged today (sniff, shaky sigh) What is a Gal to do when she becomes so over wrought? Well, in my opinion, Miss Piggy Wannabes must attempt to stay calm (this one is impossible even for the amazing Pig, herself, so, don't expect too much out of moi), call a small support group, paint pottery, and, of course, color coordinate her pens to her writing attire. In fact, Moi is sure that many a Fierce Pig has broken down in the middle of a chain restaurant, so why should moi be embarrassed? (Insert a determined Miss Piggy humph) Moi "has always enjoyed a good scrimmage" and with role models, like, Piggy, June Carter Cash, and Edith Bolling Galt (look her up, she was Piggy's predecessor) there is no reason to wear a sackcloth and ashes. Now, I "hereby issue a writ of hocus pocus" once more. From Moi to you, Miss Jennifer.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Destinations: Ruby Red Slippers and Pit Stops

It's a Mumford and Sons night ("The Cave" and "Sigh No More") because living a story is harder than reading one. And yet, every Oh So Earnest Woman (I speak from experience. This Lady is in earnest 24/7 which means she's given to heart felt tears when upset) must remember there's always hope, always a light, always still room to dream. Most importantly my Emotional Darlings, know this: some journeys are worth taking even if there are more pit stops than she'd prefer on the way to her destination. No Dorothy ever made it to Kansas by jumping off the train in the middle of her quest and refusing to click her heels. Now, put your Ruby Red Slippers on and Believe in the Power of Magic (I'm a Good Witch) 

*PS: My Weary Little Travelers, on days, like today, when my applecart has been upset, if you find yourselves unable to eat when hurled into the depths of despair (my reaction to emotional crisis and matters of the heart) I suggest a Boost Breakfast Shake Twice a day...because not only do plum puffs fail to cure mind diseased and a world shattering into tiny pieces, but they're difficult to swallow with shaken apple carts.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Advanced Darkness: Fears, Dreams, and Night Lights

People think dreams aren't real just because they aren't made of matter, of particles. Dreams are real. But they are made of viewpoints, of images, of memories and puns and lost hopes.” - Neil Gaiman

“I'm not lost for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.” ― A.A. Milne

“It is a very strange sensation to inexperience youth to feel itself quite alone the world, cut adrift from every connection, uncertain whether the port to which it is bound can be reached, and prevented by many impediments from returning to that it has quitted. The charm of adventure sweetens that sensation, the glow of pride warms it; but then the throb of fear disturbs it; and fear with me became predominant when half an hour elapsed, and still I was alone.” - Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

 "And fear with me became predominant when half an hour elapsed, and still I was alone." For the past week or so, Yours Truly has been lost. Not my normal, "I couldn't find my way out of a brown paper bag," existence. More like watching the colors in my life drain away. Like Winnie the Pooh, "I know where I am," its that dark and murky place where no light shines through the shadows. No material how brilliant a hue, without light we see nothing. Unfortunately, I've been here before. The problem isn't the darkness itself. Everyone has cloudy moments No, my problem is one of degree and length. Like Spongebob, sometimes I experience: "ADVANCED DARKNESS". Now, that phrase has two meanings for me. One meaning is too personal and perhaps embarrassing to explain, the other has to do with outlook. During advanced darkness, not only does my world go black, but I've no hope of finding my way back to the light. My response to this experience is a fearful one. What if the colors never return? What if I find myself all alone in the black? Dreams and Nightmares are real, My Friends. Maybe more real than any other part of our existence. The cars we drive, the clothes we wear, the choices we make are all decided by our dreams and nightmares. Those intimate thoughts are the core of our being. That's why we protect them. We hide them from strangers. Shield them from harm. Because without our dreams what do we have left?: A colorless and meaningless existence. That's the real issue, advanced darkness robs me of hope therefore the ability to ream. What I need at the moment is nightlight but I suspect an ordinary nightlight won't do. I'm looking for special one. If you happen to come across something that fits this description (and don't already need it yourself), please let me know.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Afraid of the Dark: Magpies and Music

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” ~Aldous Huxley

"Darkness is a harsh term, don't you think?  Yet it dominates the things I see."  ~Mumford and Sons

“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” ~Victor Hugo

Each night, I get a little nervous.  I know the nightmares will come.  I know I will wake up frightened.  I know in the morning I'll rediscover the thoughts that scare me during my waking hours.  More than anything I want to call out.  Ask for help.  Say stay with me.  But the words come out wrong.  I know I'm far too much work, a tiresome person.  Too crazy.  Too emotional.  Too earnest all the time. Maybe the best we (or perhaps just me) can do is find a lullaby to ease our travel into the darkness.  Below is mine.

"Magpie to the Morning" by Neko Case is my lullaby.  My favorite lyrics are in red.
The magpie comes a-calling
drops a marble from the sky
tin roof sounds alarming
wake up child
let this be a warning says the magpie to the morning
don't let this fading summer pass you by
don't let this fading summer pass you by

Black hands held so high
the vulture wheels and dives
something on the thermals yanked his chain
he smelled your boring apex
rotting on the train tracks
he laughed under his breath because you thought you could outrun sorrow

take your own advice
cause thunder and lightning gets you rain
run an airtight mission, a Cousteau expedition
find a diamond at the bottom of the drain
a diamond at the bottom of the drain

here I go

mockingbirds sing in the middle of the night
all his songs are stolen so he hides
stolen from the mouth of the whiporwill, screaming car alarms
he sings 'em for you special
he knows you're afraid of the dark
come on sorrow, take your own advice
hide under the bed, turn out the light

the stars this night in the sky are ringing out
you can almost hear them saying
close your eyes now kid
close your eyes now kid
morning's teeth are lit
they are waiting

Life is Like a Box of Crayons

"A box of new crayons!  Now they're all pointy, lined up in order, bright and perfect.  Soon they'll be a bunch of ground down, rounded, indistinguishable stumps, missing their wrappers and smudged with other colors.  Sometimes life seems unbearably tragic. ~Bill Watterson

"My Childhood smells like a box of Crayola Crayons" (Terri Guillemets)  Yea, verily nothing compares to the magic of opening a Brand New Box of Crayolas.  If you doubt me on this, then I challenge you to stand up right now, march yourself over to your Super Center of Choice, and purchase a 16 count box of Crayons (24 count is better). As you open the top and stare down at those pretty bright colors all "lined up in order" just see if you can resist sitting down and scribbling away.  If you can, then I'll reimburse you. (well, probably not) There's something tantalizing about those neatly sharpened utensils.  No dull points.  No torn sleeves.  Perfection.  "Fresh with no mistakes" in them. Sometimes I wonder if our Psyches are similar to a fresh carton of crayolas.  In case what I mean isn't obvious, allow me to explain.  

When I was young, my mind resembled a brand new box of Crayons.  My Psyche was still innocent and unmarred.  Neatly ordered.  I felt no anxiety over the future.  No dread that the people I love might disappear.  Thus, without fear, I took my bright new crayolas and proceeded to scribble all over the page of my existence.  Lines be damned.  I used every color in my box.  But over time, like crayons, we become "ground down, rounded".  Our dreams and desires become "indistinguishable stumps, missing their wrappers, and smudged over with other colors."  With such undesirable decorating tools, we are less likely to draw ourselves a new adventure, life, or love.  Take me for instance, now that my crayons are all worn out its frightening to love other people, to hope for things, to think about the future.  I'm sure I'll do something wrong.  Make a mistake. I'll misstep and it will all vanish.  Those I care the most about will notice my broken pieces and torn wrappers.  They'll see that after nearly three decades of Life Lessons the coloring capability of my psyche has greatly diminished.  I am so much more work than a new box.  Why bother?  The truth is my broken and dull crayons don't upset me until I think about the people I adore.  I see their wonderful qualities, feel love for them, and ache to protect them.  But what kind of picture can I draw with ground down Crayolas?  I simply don't know.  Life would be so much easier if we could erase fear and scars the same way we replace old crayons.  Throw them out, go buy a new box with pretty bright colors and sharp points, and then redecorate our lives.  At the moment, I'm sorry to say that the crayon I was using to produce this post finally gave up the ghost so that's it for now.

Stevie Nicks: Landslides, Mystery, and Rock n Roll

“Little girls think it's necessary to put all their business on MySpace and Facebook, and I think it's a shame...I'm all about mystery.”

“I said,'Instead of going in the direction that a lot of the women singers are going in [revealing], I'll be very, very sexy under 18 pounds of chiffon and lace and velvet...I will have mystique.”
"I am pretty fearless, and you know why?  Because I don't handle fear very well; I'm not a good terrified person."
"I think they all went too far.  Their jeans got too low, their tops got too see-through.  Personally, I think that sexy is keeping yourself mysterious.  I'm really an old-fashioned girl, and I think I'm totally sexy."
Many a Little Girl ends up choosing a Rock n Roll Star to emulate.  Like everyone else, I certainly did, and today's youth are doing the same.  Of course, goodness knows what will happen to today's youngsters who choose to model themselves after the likes of Miley Cyrus, Brittany Spears, Lady Gaga, and Justin Bieber.  I can only assume these children will believe the keys to success are wealthy parents, shocking outfits, and shaving one's head every now again.  At least from my point of view, what's missing is talent and passion. For those of us old enough to remember what Real Rock Stars looked and sounded like weep for the loss.  Where is Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Carole King, and the Rolling Stones?  Why did Americans pay good money to watch the life story of a twelve year old?: Never Say Never...unless you reach the age of 9 and then give up.  Its too late.  Your window has passed.  If you disagree with me than we're probably not meant to be friends.  I try to be open-minded but I doubt I'll budge on this issue.  I cannot support Bieberites, Cyrus Wannabees, or Spears Sirens.   American Idol, The Voice, America's Got Talent, it's all a bunch of crap.  The youth of this nation need reeducated in the ways of Rock and Roll.  Who did I idolize, you ask?  None other than Stevie Nicks..   I loved everything about the former Fleetwood Mac Diva from her shawls to her lyrics.  Stevie was (and is) smart, powerful, mysterious, and sexy (without revealing too much).  Finally, a Star who I agreed with: "Personally, I think that sexy is keeping yourself mysterious.  I'm really an old-fashioned girl."  For me at least, private thoughts and emotions ought to remain just that.  Some secrets are only meant for the person who means the most to you, not the whole world.  Now don't get me wrong here.  Nicks knew how to get her feelings across.  She never advocated bottling everything up inside.  If you doubt me then watch her glare at Lindsey Buckingham while singing "Silver Springs" (awesome by the way)

"Time cast a spell you that you won't forget me.  I know I could have love you but you would not let me.  I'll follow you down till the sound of my voice will haunt you.  You'll never get away from the sound of woman who loves."  Yep, its a little scary.  She's gonna haunt Lindsey till the day he dies but you know what?  When I look at Stevie Nicks, I'm pretty damn sure she's capable of that.  Watch out!  (Ladies, just to be clear, I am NOT advocating stalking.  If you are physically following or cyber-stalking a former or current lover right now, Stop Immediately.  Your crazy has reached Psycho Proportions)  
All kidding aside, though, my favorite Nick's song is "Landslide" (1975).  In my opinion, one of the hardest decisions a person has to make is accepting when a relationship has become unhealthy.  At what point does dysfunction take too a high toll?  How can we cut longstanding ties?  When we do, is it possible to negotiate though the guilt and hurt?  I keep searching for answers but I'm tired and confused.  However, when I listen to Landslide I feel a measure of peace.  Maybe we are all afraid changing.  To pull away from the roots that built our existence.  "Oh mirror in the sky, what is love?  Can the child within my heart rise above?  Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?  Can I handle the seasons of my life?"  Tonight my answer echoes Nick's: "I don't know".

Friday, June 15, 2012

Raindrops: Little Jennifer's Perspective

“There are a hundred things she has tried to chase away the things she won't remember and that she can't even let herself think about because that's when the birds scream and the worms crawl and somewhere in her mind it's always raining a slow and endless drizzle." Neil Gaiman

“People always think that happiness is a faraway thing," thought Francie, "something complicated and hard to get. Yet, what little things can make it up; a place of shelter when it rains - a cup of strong hot coffee when you're blue; for a man, a cigarette for contentment; a book to read when you're alone - just to be with someone you love. Those things make happiness.” Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
"Rain drops keep falling on my head, and just like the guy who's feet are too big for his bed, nothing seems to fit.  Those raindrops are falling.  They keep falling so I just did me some talking to the sun.  Said I didn't like the way he got things done.  Sleepin' on the job." 

 In my opinion, a person's past is something recreated by his or her present.  We look back on our existence for memories that help us understand the story of our lives.  We search for continuity, for meaning, for hope. We write our own mythologies.  For me, one such memory came when I was quite small, before the birth of my brother, while my family lived with my mother's parents.  I've no idea what day of the week it was or my exact age, probably three or four.  I do remember that the tension in the house was palpable.  It made me anxious.  As the hours passed, I continued to worry. Finally, I walked to the kitchen that mother shared with my grandmother and asked if tomorrow would be "happy day".  No, the answer I received wasn't a reassuring one.  Instead, my childlike mind absorbed the following reply: "No, we will never have a happy day.  Either, you, me, or your father will be in a bad mood and we cannot be happy."  I remember walking away quietly, lying down on my bed, hugging my Rainbow Brite pillow, and then giving into tears.  I don't know why that memory stands out but it does.  Maybe its because even now I wonder if that's true.  What if the people I care for the most disappear?  What the nightmares never stop?  What if the darkness overwhelms me?  I'm scared.

Honestly, I don't know how to solve that problem.  How did I fix it when I was young?  Before I understood reality?  Because right now I keep hearing that voice repeating: We cannot be happy.  Maybe it comes down to having a "childlike faith".  Normally, when I hear that phrase my back goes up like a cat's because American Evangelicals often use it to defend aggressive ignorance concerning their faith and doctrine.  However, it seems to me, that what separated Little Jennifer from Middle Aged Jennifer is the ability to forget.  Kids have short term memory.  Yeah, things hurt.  They cry, but children are resilient and hopeful.  Maybe, if I want to shake off some of the fear, I have to believe the past isn't a prophecy for my future  Happiness is "a place of shelter when it rains," and, in my opinion, that shelter is being "with someone you love".  Its that simple.  And perhaps that's why it often seems so cruel to those who have felt the rain and loneliness so often. Why are things so easy for some people but not others?  You can't help but ask that question.  Truthfully, I have a glimmer of hope that things in my life are starting to fit.  I guess that's why I'm so frightened.  What if all that hope and love is about to be dashed?  Little Jennifer would tell me pray at night and tomorrow, surely, God will give us a "happy day".  Little Me might be right.  For tonight, I think I'll take her naive advice, pray that the hope and love won't be snatched away, and maybe even do a "little talking with the sun...he's been sleepin' on the job!"

Monday, June 11, 2012

Turn the Radio Up: Sad Songs and Losing Control

"Kick inside is in the line that finally gets to you.  And feels so good to hurt so bad and suffering just enough to sing hte blues." Elton John "Sad Songs (Say so Much)"

"Jennifer's got her daddy's car.  She's playing Uptown on her stereo.  We go cruising so close.  The way they did long ago." Eric Carmen "Make Me Loose Control"

"You can run and can you hide.  But I'm not leaving unless come with me.  We had our problems but I'm on your side.  You're all I need.  Please believe in me." Phil Collins "Something Happened on the Way to Heaven"

"I can make tonight forever.  Or I can make it disappear by the dawn.  I can make you every promise that has ever been made.  I can make all your demons be gone." Air Supply "Making Love Out of Nothing at All"

Children born to Youthful Parents often experience a different sort of Upbringing compared to those raised by more Mature Versions.  If that statement doesn't make sense to you, than you are probably a part of the latter group (obviously, I'm from the former).  Some things can only be learned through experience: the wonder of 35 cent cans of soda; completing chores in order to earn 1 dollar every week (10 percent of which went to tithe and fifty cents to savings.  Thus, buying a GI Joe or Barbie was a long term commitment); assurances that any exposure to Dungeons and Dragons would lead first to Satanic Worship and then Homicide; counting the number of times characters in a television show cursed (if it reached three you had to turn it off); never being allowed to watch films with sex in them, while, listening to music and viewing Soap Operas obsessed with that topic.  For me, the most peaceful moments of my childhood came along with loud blaring music.  A contradiction, you say?  Nope, allow me to explain.  Family life is tough.  Perhaps harder for some than others.  In my case, the best memories while growing up came from long drives on Sunday afternoons.  From the time I was strapped into a car seat until well into my teenage years, my Father enjoyed piling everyone into one of his loaner cars from Dick Leonard Ford, where he worked as a salesman, (if we were lucky buying a can of soda for my brother and I to split), and speeding through the hills of Southern Indiana.  During those trips, Dad turned the radio up and I sang along (well, quietly, so as not to be heard) with The Steve Miller Band, R.E.O Speed Wagon, Air Supply, the Bangles, Chicago, Jim Croce, Janis Joplin and so many more.  The music put my Father in a good mood.  Laughter filled the car as he'd ask us to "Name that Song".  I associated the music with familial contentment...and bedtime.  At night, after my brother and I had been ushered to our rooms, my Dad would proceed to turn his stereo all the way up, playing whatever CD he enjoyed most at the time.  Some nights the windows would tremble from the vibration of the speakers.  During Middle School, I'd lay awake and sing along with Cher (I memorized all the lyrics from her 1989 Heart of Stone album): "I remember love on the rooftop.  We couldn't make the love stop.  We were giving all that we've got." Yeah, its a tad a sexual, but then again by the age of three of I was belting out the lyrics to "The Joker": "I really like your peaches wanna shake your tree".  Look to the book of Ecclesiastes: "There is nothing new under the Sun," my Darlings. Over the years, more than anything else, listening to music comforted me as grew, changed, struggled, and dreamed.  Two songs in particular stood out: Elton John's "Sad Songs" (1984) and Eric Carmen's "Make Me Lose Control" (1988).

Go ahead, laugh.  I do.  But I can't help it.  I still feel affection for both pieces of music.  To be honest, I can't remember when I first heard Sad Songs.  I do remember when my parents purchased the CD.  I danced wildly around the back half our my grandparents house (where we lived) in excitement.  There was a bit confusion at first.  My mother attempted to play "I Guess That's Why they Call it the Blues".  I responded by assuring her that was the WRONG tune.  She said it wasn't.  I said it was.  There was a struggle.  Finally, my father sided with me on the issue and played My Song.  I revelled in its awesomeness allowing the Sad Songs to wash over me.  I continued to belt ou those lyrics for months to come (hell, I still do).  Even now, I cannot quite explain why I loved it then or why it still makes me grin now, but there it is. Of course, Carmen's Make Me Lose Control is a bit more personal, I suppose.  Like the previous story, I really don't remember the moment I first heard the song.  I do recall watching the Music Video (click here, you know you want to!).  Once again, my family bought the CD.  I'd lay awake, with a breeze from the box fan in our kitchen pulling air through my bedroom window, as Make Me Lose Control would play over and over again along with R.E.O Speedwagon and Air Supply.  While I knew the words to each and every song, that particular one held a special place in my heart because the lyrics included my name.  Somehow, I believed it was written especially for me, and every other Jennifer alive.  The Jennifers of the World, I thought, had a special calling.  One fine day, we'd all leave home, go cruising, and then lose control.  Yep! That's the image I'd drift off to sleep with each "losing control" with "radio up" doing something unspeakable with my Baby. Listen, I'm not arguing either song was particularly good or meaningful.  What I am saying is that they meant something to me.  Helped me find a way to understand my world.  Brought peaceful moments to my family.  And for that maybe I owe the musicians a small thanks both for the happy memories and the dreams I once had.

*The only other song that has as much affect on me as the previous two is Steve Winwood's "While You See a Chance Take It".  Maybe its because even now when I hear the words "Stand up in a clear blue morning until you see what can be alone in a cold day dawning.  Are you still free?  Can you be?", I remember the hopefulness of my childhood...there are still chances and I simply need the courage to take them.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Dreams: Nightmares and Tracker Jackets

“I still get nightmares. In fact, I get them so often I should be used to them by now. I'm not. No one ever really gets used to nightmares.” Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves

“When we hold each other, in the darkness, it doesn't make the darkness go away. The bad things are still out there. The nightmares still walking. When we hold each other we feel not safe, but better. "It's all right" we whisper, "I'm here, I love you." and we lie: "I'll never leave you." For just a moment or two the darkness doesn't seem so bad.” Neil Gaiman
“It's only now that he's been corrupted that I can fully appreciate the real Peeta. Even more than I would've if he'd died. The kindness, the steadiness, the warmth that had an unexpected heat behind it. Outside of Prim, my mother and Gale, how many people in the world love me unconditionally? I think in my case, the answer may be none. Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay

"I've been having these dreams and they always start with some type of storm": The previous quote comes from Take Shelter, a film written and directed by Jeff Nichols.  The movie's plot revolves around, Curtis, a family man who feels such stress to provide for his family that he begins having horrific nightmares which lead him to dismantle his life.  As the film progresses, Nichols blurs the lines between dream states and reality.  By the end, the viewer is left to question whether Curtis was experiencing prophetic visions or a psychotic breakdown.  Whichever interpretation the audience chooses to take, the result is still painful and tragic.  So what's up with all the nightmare quotes?  Well, the subject has held my attention the past few months.  In all honesty, from childhood on, I've always been a vivid dreamer.  While lost in sleep, my dreams felt as real and powerful as waking reality.  Fortunately for me, I managed to strike a nice balance between sweet dreams and nightmares. Yep, I was regular a Cinderella Wannabe exclaiming: "Oh, that clock! Old killjoy. I hear you. "Come on, get up," you say, "Time to start another day." Even he orders me around. Well, there's one thing. They can't order me to stop dreaming."  Now don't worry.  I didn't stay that obnoxious.  The good Lord knows I tried, but experience taught me that Dreams are a Son of a Bitch!  No, fucking rainbow is going to come "smiling through".  That being the case, the wise and prudent should dig into the trenches and wait out their existence...sorta like serving a prison sentence.  Yet, even with that knowledge, for the most part, I still mixed pleasant dreams in with bad ones...until recently.

Now every time I fall asleep another nightmare comes.  Exhaustion has set in.  When I flip off the lights, the darkness surrounds me, and I experience a sense of dread.  Its not the small nightmares that bother me.  One can almost get used to those little annoyances and uncomfortable emotions.  Nothing to worry about, not really.  Its the awful nightmares that I fear, the ones I struggle to wake up from.  When I finally break free from sleep, I hear myself cry out, my heart is racing, and panic sets in.  That's the worst, when I'm all alone and frightened.  Sometimes I attempt to explain why I feel so upset.  But the words never come out right so I delete the email.  Put down the phone. Turn on the lights.  Cuddle my kitten.  Wait it out.

My night time terrors have caused me to ponder the meaning of such dreams.  Are they emotions we can't deal with?  Memories we try to bury?  Fears we hope to overcome?  Each and every time I consider the matter, Susanne Collin Mockingjay comes to mind.  In my opinion, that final book is probably the weakest in her series, but it still holds a place in my heart.  If for nothing else, than because Collins explores the effects of nightmares.

“It's a long shot, it's suicide maybe, but I do the only thing I can think of. I lean in and kiss Peeta full on the mouth. His whole body starts shuddering, but I keep my lips pressed to his until I have to come up for air. My hands slide up his wrists to clasp his. 
"Don't let him take you from me."
Peeta's panting hard as he fights the nightmares raging his head. "No. I don't want to. . ."
I clench his hands to the point of pain. "Stay with me."
His pupils contract to pinpoints, dilate again rapidly, and then return to something resembling normalcy. "Always," he murmurs.” 

NO, I'm not suggesting that I nor anyone I love and care about has undergone government experimentation with Tracker Jackets (though if there is such a program I'm sure Dick Cheney founded it).  What I am suggesting is that the memories which hurt us the most, the ones we try the hardest to forget, are Self Made Tracker Jackets.  Whether in dreams or awake, we work to avoid experiencing the pain again.  We take shelter.   We hide.  We push others away. Because the more often someone's been stung the damaging the effects of venom.  That's the cruelest part, I think.  That sometimes the kindest souls and the warmest hearts are the ones hidden.  Listen, my Friends, once you've experienced the ache of Tracker Jacket attacks you do your damnest to avoid another hit.  Its too much to bear up under.  But, unfortuantely, simply avoiding more pain fails to heal the scars. I know this because avoidance is my option of choice. Maybe what it takes to keep the nightmares at bay is going for the "long shot".  Take the "suicide mission", hold out your hand, and say "Stay with me" to another person.  Oh, hold your horses there, it can't be just anyone.  You've got to take a leap of faith, a risk.  That risk comes in when you hold out your hand to someone who already owns your heart.  That's the scary part.  But I think its worth going after.  Perhaps we're meant to be each other's "dandelions in the spring".  The nightmares may never go away, but maybe its the sharing and comfort that make them bearable...that makes life bearable.

“Peeta and I grow back together. There are still moments when he clutches the back of a chair and hangs on until the flashbacks are over. I wake screaming from nightmares of mutts and lost children. But his arms are there to comfort me. And eventually his lips. On the night I feel that thing again, the hunger that overtook me on the beach, I know this would have happened anyway. That what I need to survive is not Gale's fire, kindled with rage and hatred. I have plenty of fire myself. What I need is the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again. And only Peeta can give me that.
So after, when he whispers, "You love me. Real or not real?"
I tell him, "Real.”

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ring of Fire: June and Johnny Cash

June Carter Cash(on Johnny) I never talked much about how I fell in love with John. It was not a convenient time for me to fall in love with him, and it wasn't a convenient time for him to fall in love with me. One morning, about four o'clock, I was driving my car just about as fast as I could. I thought, "Why am I out on the highway this time of night? I was miserable, and it all came to me... I'm falling in love with somebody I have no right to fall in love with." I was frightened of his way of life. I thought, 'I can't fall in love with this man, but it's just like a ring of fire.

Johnny Cash: “There's unconditional love there. You hear that phrase a lot but it's real with me and her [June Carter]. She loves me in spite of everything, in spite of myself. She has saved my life more than once. She's always been there with her love, and it has certainly made me forget the pain for a long time, many times. When it gets dark and everybody's gone home and the lights are turned off, it's just me and her.”

June: "I have always enjoyed being a part of his life. I've always loved him, and he's always loved me...If we go back on the road we go together.  I'll go where he goes, and he'll go where I go."

In 2005, James Mangold produced Walk the Line, a biographical film about the life of Johnny Cash, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon.  The later won an Academy Award for her portrayal of June Carter Cash.  In my opinion, what is most striking about Walk the Line is the Mangold illustrates the way June and Johnny flowed in and out of each others lives for so long, often suppressing feelings of love and waiting for "right time" to finally express those emotions (both were married when they met).  Its the lasting friendship and affection, a flame no storm could extinguish, that makes the narrative both compelling and endearing.  What is clear, both from the film and quotes made by June and Johnny themselves, is that long before they finally entered a union the couple cared deeply for each other's welfare.  During the movie, this unconditional love is perhaps best exemplified in a scene portraying June comforting Johnny after his father had tormented him.

Johnny: You've been there with me. 
June: I had a friend who needed help. You're my friend. 
Johnny: But I've done so many bad things. 
June: You've done a few, that's true. 
Johnny: My Daddy's right. It should have been me on that saw. Jack was so good. He would have done so many good things. What have I done? Just hurt everybody I know. I know I've hurt you. I'm nothin'. 
June: You're not nothin'. You are not nothin'. You're a good man, and God has given you a second chance to make things right, John. This is your chance, honey.

Maybe that scene and the quotes above illustrate why no matter the moralistic argument behind whether June and Johnny belonged together, I think they did.  Screw the gray area.  Not only am I rather enamored with the couple, but, personally, I believe the world would have been a poorer place without them together.  Perhaps, what love really is at is very core is the inability to stop caring for another person.  Or as June put it, loving Johnny was similar to "falling into a burning ring of fire".  She couldn't help herself.  Those words sound familiar right?  Of course, they do!  Ring of Fire is the title of Cash's biggest hit.  That song, which June helped him write about their love, stayed at the top of the charts for seven weeks, was certified Gold in 2010, and has sold over 1.2 million digital downloads. (Keep in mind, Vivian Cash, Johnny's first wife, claims June had no part in writing the song and the" ring of fire refers" to female genitalia.  I prefer to disregard this theory more out of sentiment than anything else.  June and Johnny's children also disagree with Vivian.)   In defense of the romantic theory, June and Johnny's stayed happily married until they both passed away just four months apart from each other in 2003.  Here is a note John wrote to June later on in their marriage:

Hey June,
This is really nice June.  You've got a way with words and a way me as well.  The fire and excitement may be gone now that we don't go out there and sing them anymore, but the ring of fire still burns around you and I, keeping our love hotter than 2 pepper sprouts.  
Love, John

I think that's all someone could ever hope for: to find yourself unconditionally in love (despite your efforts not to be), to understand that as the years pass on, life takes on a slower pace but that love matures and a "ring a fire still burns", perhaps all the more, around you both.  And that's why I enjoy the film, Walk the Line, and why I will always admire June and Johnny Cash.  Because I think, more than most, they exemplified what love really is: Unconditional friendship, longing, and affection.  Because when its "dark and everyone else has gone home" that's the person you want by your side, keeping each other "hotter than two pepper sprouts".

"After you've listened to it, you'll feel like you know us a little bit better." June Cash