Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Stuff of Dreams

Last night I had a date with Al Pacino. Of course it was a dream, but still pretty exciting with the added benefit of not actually having to get the date nor figure out what to wear. All I had to do was figure out what the dream meant. Here is what I came up with.

First, prior to going to bed, there was an overabundance of yogurt (Wallaby, vanilla bean, really good) while watching a TCM war movie. Then, before lights out, I read a couple of chapters of Villa Triste, a novel set in Florence, WW2. Quite a long book, consisting mostly of street and Italian names with a little bit of story in between. The immediate environment, including what's in your tummy, is often the material from which dream symbols are created.

All I recall about the beginning of my dream is that Al and I had just met and were briefly together. Then we were apart, then back together in an apartment that was pewter color, lit by high windows and scarcely furnished. It opened into a room with a brass bed. (Put Pacino and brass together and I think knuckles and jeepers creepers.)

Within this disturbing setting, Al and I have a conversation. He does most of the talking about serious things, He knows something about everything and none of it interest me. I show him several pairs of shoes I bought while we were apart. He dismisses them and goes on talking. Then, just like on a real date, I excuse myself and go into the bathroom, the kind of bathroom one finds in a restaurant or a club. I look in the mirror and see that Al Pacino is not the only one with a face. My thought exactly. When I return to the room I know I'm not getting into that brass bed but I don't know how to get this across to him in a pleasant way. Then I wake up.

I think my dream is about choice vs. living up to expectations and also about self-acceptance. Al is an important person, which he demonstrates with his important conversation. I could be important too if I aligned myself with him by being clever and available. Instead, I choose to focus not on him but on something that appeals to me, shoes. Feeling overlooked, I head for the bathroom where a mirror reminds me that I count. Big shots, little shots, we all count.

Dreams speak in symbols. To get their message you look to the feelings they evoke before putting words to them. My feelings and the thoughts that followed them were: curiosity and excitement (hey look, here's All Pacino) distaste for a show of self-importance (his conversation) affirmation of my own way of being (the mirror) and an unwillingness to sell myself (the brass bed).

I could actually come up with a different interpretation of this dream and you probably could also. But I know that for me this is a good interpretation because it matches the circumstances of my life and it feels true. The sense of truth is the proof of the pudding. No one can know the truth of a symbol the way the creator of it does. Someone may offer an interpretation but if you don't receive it with an aha moment it doesn't really serve.

PS Thank you Al Pacino for letting me use you as a symbol. I think you are a fine actor and I apologize for any misrepresentation. And if you are ever in town ...

Monday, August 29, 2011


I wonder if Monday mornings and the end of summer will have the same meaning for me after I retire. There is a definite sense of something new attached to both, not in a purely happy/excited way but definitely as though something is starting. My hunch is that this feeling will be with me always. The childhood calendar with its divisions determined by school schedule seems to be hard-wired. There's nothing terribly difficult about that but there are other things that can get hard-wired during childhood that present more of a challenge. It's especially true of how we learn to think about ourselves at the particularly vulnerable stage of adolescence when identity is what it's all about. So, if you thought you were a nerd in 7th grade or felt like you were not part of the in-crowd, that same feeling can persist long in to our adult lives. It's worth unearthing those old constructs and maybe starting in on a re-wiring project, perhaps with the help of a good therapist because re-wiring is one way to talk about what we do.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Tricky Compliment

The other evening, I had dinner with a friend who had just given a talk at a local college and gotten kudos for her effort. She enjoyed doing it but said she was indifferent to compliments that once she would have loved. Is that an aging thing she asked me. H-mm. I said maybe at this point in her life she is less concerned with what others' think of her or maybe she is just so secure in her work that compliments don't mean much. The rest of the week, because I have that kind of brain, I was very aware of how compliments function and what people do with them.

For one thing, I know who not to compliment. I have a couple of friends who brush praise off as if it were an annoying mosquito. (One such friend writes for this blog). It doesn't seem like false modesty or embarrassment. It's more like something they just don't want to deal with. If anyone has ideas on this one, I would love to hear them.

Another compliment incident happened at a friend's house. One of her guests came in praising everything in sight. She loved my friend's outfit, her house, her cooking, her pets, her amazing new bathroom etc. It went on way too long to feel genuine and I wondered what purpose it was serving. Was she trying to make herself comfortable or liked, or was this her idea of connecting. My friend smiled through it but the barrage did have a bit of an aggressive edge.

Then, towards the end of the week, I got an email from a niece whom I rarely see but she had been in town recently and we spent a little time together. She said how much she liked seeing me and mentioned a couple of things about me she admired. It was nice but I thought no more about it. Later that day, I was aware of being in a sunny mood for no reason I could think of as the day had not been going well. Then I got it. That little compliment from my niece had nestled down inside me, sending out a low glow. The fact that she was my niece was only a small part of my response. I realized that a compliment from a stranger or someone I rarely see goes over well with me. It's both uncluttered and a pleasant surprise.

A fourth bump up against the tricky compliment happened yesterday. I was to meet someone, a perfectly nice person, but I was tired and didn't want to be "on". But this person requires, let's say demands, attention, a lot of it in the form of compliments. I tend to resist that kind of pull.

Then there's the opposite of the above; the person who never pays compliments. I bet all of us have someone in our lives like that. Not necessarily a grumpy person. A person who might, in fact, be generous in lots of other ways.

PS If anyone has something good to say about Pocket Shrink, I am totally open to that!


I was thinking this morning about the power of books (while i was reading the book review section of the paper, so not really out of the blue). Books are like shamans or magicians. They can provide distraction, information, entertainment, instruction, comfort, insight, etc. etc.

One book i have recommended to clients over the years is the memoir by Mary Karr called Liar's Club. For people who have had the misfortune of a highly tumultuous and dysfunctional childhood her humor and equanimity about her situation can be inspiring. To me she has  a therapeutic distance from her childhood which seems to have enabled her to move beyond feeling victimized.

There is a link to a review in the lower right hand portion of the blog. Check it out.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Prepositions that Make a Difference

I'm recalling my stint at the Gestalt Institute here in Cleveland when I was first introduced to the idea of the NOW. Back then, post sixties, "live in the here and now" was a popular mantra. Today (thank you Eckhart Tolle) the mantra has been updated to "live in the moment."  It's such a good why is it so damn difficult to do?

Could it be, in part, that we hear live FOR the moment instead of IN the moment. For the moment sounds carefree, even flighty. Hard to do if you're care laden and responsible. In the moment is about being aware. It does not mean you have to enjoy the moment. In fact, if it really stinks, you can try for a different moment. You can eat ice cream or run an errand for a friend.

Martha Graham

In a parallel universe I hope I can be friends with Martha Graham. It's not really about the dancing though I'm imaging that would be close to Nirvana. It's more that she seemed to have such an holistic wisdom---one that integrated mind, body and spirit. Here is a quote attributed to her that rings like a clear bell to me:

"There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening
that is translated through you into action
and because there is only one of you in all of time,
this expression is unique.
And if you block it,
it will never exist through any other medium and
be lost.
The world will not have it.

It is not your business to determine how good it is
nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions.
It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly,
to keep the channel open.
You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work.
You have to be open and aware
directly to the urges that motivate you.
Keep the channel open." 

Friday, August 26, 2011

thanks, mom

Sometimes parenting can seem like a never-ending slog. Often it is a thankless job. Afterall, how many 8 year olds do you know that say, "Wow, mom...I cannot believe how much you do for me and how my well-being is paramount to you every hour of every day. I wish I could find a way to express my appreciation."

If you are feeling unappreciated and fatigued by the sometimes-slog of it all, check out a poem called "The Lanyard" by former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins. Here's a link:

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

the quote i love today

The Dalai Lama was asked what surprises him most. He replied: "Man, because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then he dies having never really lived."