30 November 2015

Step Away from the Keyboard

Still alive. Still kicking, at least metaphorically. Since taking up yoga, I've discovered that kicking requires something called core muscles, which I apparently don't have. I've stepped back from the Internet some, people. It's just been so damn ugly out there. Thus the yoga. It's supposed to bring you to a calm, meditative state. That's not really working so far; it's hard to stay tranquil when you're trying to heave yourself up off your yoga mat with your nonexistent core muscles. I used to laugh at those "I've fallen, and I can't get up!" commercials. Yeah, that shit's not so funny now.

Anyway, still here. Just disgusted with the world and its cyber-reflection. I'll have something for you soon. 

08 November 2015

Words Fail Me: Legend of Zorro

Sometimes a single word in one one language can represent multiple words in another.
Esperar, for example, can mean
1.) to wait for
2.) to hope
3.) to expect
4.) to look forward to

Seriously? Way to mess me up, Spanish.

Come on. Different concepts here. Maybe you expected me to be a slackass and take three weeks to write this post, but you were hoping I'd put something up today. Or not. Fair enough. Were you just waiting to hear from me, or were you looking forward to it? See? Different. So I'm never quite sure if I'm expressing the subtle nuances with that single Spanish word. I feel like I have to clarify. Granted, I'm often not sure if I'm expressing blatant, simple-ass distinctions either, but whatever.

Typical phone call between me and the esposo:

Him: ¿Dónde estás?  (Where are  you?)

Me: En la parada. (At the bus stop.)  Esperando Godot.
      Bueno, "esperando-
waiting for" Godot ... no "esperando-expecting" him.  

(See? Told you. I've got jokes now.)

Not the same.
This happens a lot with animal words, especially animals that aren't very common in Latin America.

Moose and elk: different animals, right? Bzzzzt! Not in Costa Rica, where they're both called alce.

Hawks and falcons are both called halcón.

Squirrels and chipmunks? Ardilla.

Foxes and skunks are both zorro here.

What the hell, people?

In the dictionary, "fox" is zorro, "skunk" is mofeta or zorrillo, and all is right with the world. But that's standard Spanish. The Spanish of dictionaries and textbooks. Of logic. The Spanish of other countries where I don't live. Tico Spanish is a whole'nuther animal. In Costa Rica, the dictionary means jack because haha, foreigner! Gotcha.

You can talk about a whole'nuther animal in Costa Rica if you want, but you're going to use the name of this here animal when you do it.

Hold on, my cat is barking at something. Hush, Rover.

So one night, the esposo and I were walking home from the bus stop. It was pretty dark, but it was a clear, starry night with a full moon limning the coffee fields and lending a Harlequin-worthy, romantic glow to the whole scene. It also backlit the bats zipping about, so visions of Satan's winged minions tangled in my hair kind of killed the romance for me, but still. (Spare me the infomercial about bats not bothering humans. We've been over this. You walk your dog past that tree on the corner with its magic -- and possibly hallucinogenic -- fruit that transforms them into deranged, dive-bombing defenders of the harvest, and then come talk to me.)

So we're strolling leisurely along, because the esposo is a stroller, a saunterer, and I'm looking up at the moon, trying to ignore the occasional shadow flitting across its face, when the esposo says,

Mira, un zorro! (Look, a fox!)

I looked, but it had already slipped into the coffee field. I wondered if the moon was bright enough for a photo, foxes being prettier than bats and less interested in my hair. I fumbled for my camera.

Me (in Spanish): Where did it go?

Esposo: That way. Into the coffee field.

Me: I can't believe I missed it! It would be such a beautiful picture. I think the moon's bright enough.

Him: Why do you want a picture of a fox? It's one of the ugliest animals.

Me: What? How can you say that? They're gorgeous animals -- that beautiful fur and tail!

Him: [derisive snort] The fur is ugly. It's practically bald. And the tail is the ugliest part of all. It has the tail of a rat. 

photo: Olga Gladysheva
I actually stopped walking. How was I married to someone who found a fox, of all animals, ugly? I mean, if foxes were ugly, what next? Were giraffes on his ugly list? Wombats? Where the hell did I fall, for that matter? Foxes do not belong on the ugly list. In the 70s, your crush was "a fox" instead of a hottie. And that whole Mask of Zorro thing? Hello, Antonio Banderas. Zorro. Foxy. Lordy. I rest my case.

Me: Who ARE you? What kind of person thinks a fox is ugly? And if their tails are so ugly, why do people make coats and ... and ... those things you wear around your shoulders ... out of them?  Cómo se dice "stole"?

[Fruitless, exasperating side discussion about the word "stole".]

Him: No one would make a coat or ... anything out of this ugly animal. Much less its rat tail.

By this time, I'm actually annoyed. He's obviously as demented as the bats. I've married a fox-hater. Everyone knows foxes don't have ...

Me: Why do you keep saying it has a rat tail?

Him: Because they're like big rats. Rats in trees.

Me: Trees? Foxes don't climb trees.

Him: Of course they do. Zorros pelones (bald foxes) do. They use their ugly tails. 

And that's how I learned that in Costa Rica, a zorro is not only a fox, not only a skunk, it's a freaking possum as well.

What the hell? Wasn't expecting that. (Or looking forward to it, or hoping for it, or ...)

I'd learned possum as zarigüeye. The dictionary said so. You all know where I'm going with that. Ha-fucking-ha, foreigner! Gotcha!

When pressed, the esposo admitted you can differentiate with descriptors:
zorro-zorro = fox
zorro pelón = possum (bald fox)
zorro hediondo = skunk (foul-smelling, stank-ass fox)

I don't know why people don't differentiate all the time, but I know one thing: I am not even asking about badgers or weasels.

04 November 2015

Lucidly Dreaming (Part II)

(You'll either want to start with Part I or just revel in the lost, confused feeling. Totally your choice.)

I've never figured out the why, who, or anything else about the Violent Bad Guy dreams. I can never see the face. There are no features, just dark, like a shadow, like just nothing there. He's big. Deliberate. He never speaks. Like when the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come won't say shit to Ebenezer Scrooge. Silent, scary motherfucker. He chases me (of course he does), and I can't run or scream. I mean, I try, but my legs are congealed oatmeal, they just won't work, and I fall down and my screams come out with all the force of a weak kitten, despite practically herniating my diaphragm with the effort. He doesn't hurry. He doesn't have to. He knows I'm not really going anywhere, even while I claw at the grass and scream my nonfunctional throat raw. The thrill is in the chase, and he likes it nice and slow. It's terrifying. Pins-and-needly prickling in my bowels, my organs go slack, like they're going to slip out of me.  The grass comes out by the roots in my hands, and my feet keep slipping. My muscles won't fucking work, and he's coming.

Could it be any more "classic nightmare" here? The only thing I'm missing is an escape route through my school locker where I can't remember the combination.

He never actually catches me, though. I wake up. Every time. Which tells me that shit must be scarier to the lizard part of my brain than splatting onto the concrete was in the falling dreams.

The Violent Bad Guy dreams would come maybe a couple of times a year. I could never tie them to any real-life event or person. I mean, I had a pretty idyllic childhood. My biggest trauma was probably when that deranged German Shepherd tried to rip my face off but had to settle for a goodly chunk of my arm when I instinctively blocked my face with it. Pretty interesting, having the deep tissues of my arm hanging out there on display, but nothing some stitches and a good plastic surgeon couldn't fix. I never had bad dreams about it, though, and besides, Violent Bad Guy was a two-legged stalker, not a berserker dog. Other than that, my most tortuous ordeals were mowing the lawn, toting firewood up the hill in the snow, and wailing tragically when my dad unplugged the phone without warning during my Very Important Conversations. He also made these annoying kissing sounds when I was talking to my boyfriend. Even so, not really the stuff of nightmares.

So fast forward a couple of decades and change, from the nearly forgotten falling dreams to me closing in on thirty, still occasionally dream-fleeing Violent Bad Guy, but not giving it much thought. One day, in a rare conversation on the subject, someone asked if I'd ever considered lucid dreaming. I had to ask what that was. "Pfft, oh, that's some bullshit," I said. "Please. Like I'm going to magically be able to run now because I decide to. Gee, great idea, why didn't I think of that? Sure, okay: I decide I can run now. Poof!" My friend opined that maybe it wasn't about running. Maybe I should consider confronting Violent Bad Guy. Ask him what he wanted with me and who he was.

And I freaked the fuck out.

I did not want to know who Violent Bad Guy was, what he wanted with me, or anything else about his creepmeister ass. I mean, do you really want to know Jeffrey Dahmer's motivations when he comes a-calling? No, you just want to get the fuck away from his ass. You're not going to ask him to tea for a nice chat, you're going to run, Forrest, motherfucking run. Or at least claw the grass till your nails bleed and low crawl like an Airborne Ranger in the kill zone after you fall down. Ask him what he wants, my ass. I don't give a fuck what he wants.

My friend quietly suggested that I may want to investigate my extreme reaction as well as the lucid dreaming idea, to which I emphatically replied, "Fuck that."

Some time later, at the library, one of the display books was about lucid dreaming. Weird. What are the odds? Flipping through the book, I realized that turning the falling dreams into flying dreams had actually been some form of lucid dreaming. Cue Twilight Zone music. I checked out the book. (This was before Wikipedia had emerged as the foremost authority on life and everything in it.)

The next time Violent Bad Guy showed up in dreamland, I was vaguely aware of it being a dream. I still didn't want to ask him shit. The idea of hearing whatever voice he was packing ... too much hell no to even contemplate. Darth Vader would probably sound like Dora the Explorer by comparison. No. But I felt calm. Controlled. I think it's about the control. The deciding. It felt like things change now. I remember that calm from way back when I decided I wasn't going to fall anymore in the falling dreams. It's like things have already changed, even before you've actually done what you've decided to do, even before you know if it's going to work, because you feel different. Resolute. You're not afraid. It's really an incredible [what the fuck, you mean this was all I had to do all along?] feeling. I wish I could duplicate it in real life, feel that sure and solid, but I guess in real life you know way down deep that there's no out, no waking up. There's no locker combo to remember and no National Geographic (Reader's Digest) article assuring you it's physiologically impossible for the worst to happen.

He was coming, like he was always coming, but I didn't have that fear where your organs go all loose and tingly, where your muscles go soft and weak. I didn't run or scream. He was getting closer -- I told him to stop. I told him I wasn't going to run. That I wanted him to leave. That I wasn't afraid now. I even threw in some hokey, woo-woo shit about him no longer having power over me. Hey, it was an intense moment; I went with it. He kind of expanded, genie-out-of-a-lamp style, like he was going to just envelop me, absorb me without chasing me at all [oh, fuck], but he didn't.

He just walked away.

Yeah, kind of anticlimactic, but that's how it went down. Sorry.

I'm not really a woo-woo type of person, but I do believe there are things that we as humans don't fully comprehend. Dreams are still a mystery to me. I don't have a clue why they're so bizarre, and I don't know how they relate to our lives or or what purpose they serve. What I know is that I've never again experienced the terror of falling in a dream since the night my I made my little-kid self fly instead. And that it's been nearly two decades since I told Violent Bad Guy to leave, and I have not dreamed about him since.

I know. Woo-woo, crazyass shit. I swear, I'm lucid.

02 November 2015

Lucidly Dreaming

So the subjects of sleep paralysis and lucid dreaming have come up, what with so many of you writing about ghosts and weird dreams of late. I haven't experienced sleep paralysis (probably just jinxed myself), but I do have a lucid dreaming story. I know. Cue scornful eye roll. When I first heard of lucid dreaming, I pronounced it bullshit and made some joke about Ouija boards.

My elder daughter's original art. Perfect for illustrating a weirdass-dreams post.

I'm not really a woo-woo type of person, but I do think there are things that we as human beings just don't have the capacity to comprehend. Things we just can't wrap our brains around. This is true even without the woo-woo aspect.

Take dogs, for example. A bloodhound has about 300 million scent receptors in his nose, compared to our 5 million. Dogs can smell cancer and Parkinson's disease. They're freaking scent savants. The smell section of their loyal, little pea-brains is 40 times bigger than ours. That whole "they smell fear" thing? Basically true. They smell pheromones and whatever weird shit gets released when we break out in a sweat. They can probably smell sad poetry in our tears.

Dogs are basically experiencing a whole world that we don't even know is there. Wild.

Granted, it's probably for the best, given what dogs like to sniff. I don't care to know the intricate, subtle notes of the steaming horse dung enrapturing my dog any more than I care to sniff my friend's ass in greeting. I'm fine with a handshake, thanks.

Norm? That you? Come closer ...
Sure, we trump dogs with our comparatively keen eyesight, but we're the naked mole rats of the world compared to eagles. Dolphins and bats hear a whole spectrum that we can't. Echolocation and shit. Vampire bats and pit vipers can find your ass by some kind of thermo-detection, and that hairy, eight-eyed spider? It can see ultraviolet light.

Good luck killing it with fire.

So given that we humans can't even perceive normal, everyday goings-on that animals with sharper senses experience as the norm, it's not a stretch to think that there may be other things we can't pick up on, let alone comprehend.

I don't know how or why my grandma was there at the end of the bed my first night home from basic training, shortly after her death. She was there by the collection of Avon decanters she'd given me over the years. You know, those bottles where the plastic cap is the top half of a lady and the bottom is a glass skirt full of noxious, flowery perfume you never wore because your signature scent was Love's Baby Soft. My mom said it was a dream. That's what people say when you tell them some crazy shit that happened at night with no one else around. Except it didn't feel like that. Grandma was there. Admittedly, as ghost stories go, it was kind of a non-event. She didn't say or do anything. She didn't levitate or make objects fly or reveal some profound universal truth that changed my life. She was just there.

I don't mean like "in a dream" there. I mean there.

But dreams are weird, too. If they do stem from something lodged deep in the subconscious, that's disturbing because that shit  is bizarre. Bizarre like you might need therapy. Or a straitjacket. Do dreams try to give us weirdly coded answers to life or are they just completely random? Do they portend future events? My mom dreamed about Bobby Kennedy's assassination before it happened. Imagine seeing the TV replay your dream. Freaky. No wonder she said Grandma came in a dream.

Not sure I want to delve into my daughter's subconscious. Love you, honey. You know that ... right?

I've never experienced sleep paralysis, but the esposo has. It only ever happened at the family house. Where both of his parents died. His siblings all agree that there's some kind of ... something ... in the house. A presence. I know. Woo-woo shit. Surprising, because the esposo could win the prize for most practical, sensible person on earth.  So his stories of waking up to the feeling of something, someone, pushing down on his chest and him not being able to move were kind of freaky, as he's not generally down with nonsense or woo-fuckery. It seemed to fit the description of sleep paralysis. Okay. Reasonable explanation. But my reasonable, practical esposo still feels as though something, or someone, was there.

And it hasn't happened since we moved into our apartment over four years ago.

I said earlier that I'd thought lucid dreaming -- where you consciously take control of your dreams while you're dreaming -- was bullshit, but I actually had an experience with lucid dreaming as a very young child. I just didn't know at the time that it had a name or even that it was anything odd or controversial. It wasn't until decades later that I even realized that what I'd done was lucid dreaming. You know, that woo-woo bullshit I didn't believe in.

Like this, but from the cloud instead of the bank.
When I was little, I used to dream that I was falling. Like from clouds or skyscrapers. High bridges. It was terrifying. I don't know if I had the falling dreams because of my intense fear of heights or if I developed that fear because of the falling dreams. I don't suppose it matters. I'd usually wake up before impact, petrified, but not always. Sometimes I couldn't wake up before splatting against the concrete rushing up at me. I never actually died in the falling dreams, but I always thought I would. My hands are sweating now, just thinking about it.

Then one day I read that it was impossible to die in a dream because the shock to one's system would be too great; the brain protects us by making dream death impossible. I nearly peed from relief. Okay, the article also mentioned isolated cases in the South Pacific where people's hair had turned white overnight from the shock of having dreamed their death, but I dismissed that. I lived in Kansas, not the South Pacific, I reasoned. I was, therefore, safe from dream death, according to little-kid logic. Now, I want to say I read this in National Geographic, but it was probably Reader's Digest and of questionable veracity. No matter, it was an enormous relief to me as a child. This was one time when reading things that I was too young for worked to my advantage, unlike those unfortunate incidents with The Amityville Horror and Audrey Rose. Still not sure if The Joy of Sex and that whole Anaïs Nin thing worked for me or against me, but hey, that was childhood in the days before passworded Kindles.

Anyway, the next time I dreamed I was falling, I wasn't quite as terrified. I knew, on some level, that I wasn't going to die. I remember waking up and being aware of the difference. The next time, it was stronger. Maybe I was closer to being awake, I don't know, but I was cognizant enough to know not only that I wouldn't die, but also that I wasn't going to fall at all.

I would fly.

And I did. It was wonderful. Even better than the time I dreamed I was galloping through open fields on a real horse. I never had another falling dream after that because now I could fly. Sadly, the flying dreams quickly tapered off until I didn't have them anymore, either. I tried to make them happen, but they never did. I never realized there was anything unusual about all of this. I was so young, I guess I just chalked it up to outgrowing the falling dreams. I never gave it much thought beyond that.

I wish my daughter could illustrate my life. 
I've had three recurring dreams in my life besides the falling/flying dreams. There's the tornado dream: a tornado is coming, and I'm responsible for kids and/or animals. I'm literally herding cats. Or toddlers or puppies. I get the last stragglers corralled in a basement, only to see that others have gone out to look for me or each other. I tell the remaining ones to stay put while I go find the others. Rinse, repeat. So freaking stressful. The tornado dream comes when I really feel out of control of my life.

There's also the house dream, which is decidedly more pleasant. I'm exploring a labyrinth of a house, with towers and turrets and secret passageways and all manner of delightful secrets, sometimes even pets. This one comes when I'm facing a big change in life. It's usually good, though surreal, except when a stairway goes wonky so I can't get to where I need to be, and there's a black hole under the stairs. I've never actually fallen from a gone-wrong stairway, though, which I attribute to the flying dreams of long ago.

And then there's the Violent Bad Guy dream, which brings us to the crux of today's tale.

To be continued ... 

(Oh, get that knot out of your panties, it's already almost finished. This is a blog, not The New Yorker; I passed the bounds of brevity a couple of paragraphs back. Also, JP: payback's a bitch, baby.)