"If it's not fun, why do it?"

Archive for June, 2017

Can’t Go Back Home

This odd sculpture on the side of an otherwise nondescript apartment building.

“Bacchus/Dionysus” Apartments, Regent Square. © Just Having Fun

Back home. All memories seem bright until you get there:

Pittsburgh, my home, isn’t home anymore. Buildings are shabbier, streets more narrow, stores smaller, pavements more broken up, lawns weedier, properties needier. Store facades lack pizzazz, fashions seem grayer, people walk bent over, and hairstyles belong to the 1980s. Indeed, mullets haven’t died out there, and jagoffs still crowd the Parkway.

I don’t live there anymore. Home livens my dreams, though. I spent so much of my life there; it formed subterranean parts of me. But now I live in another place, sipping another culture, another state of mind.

“Home” speaks my vernacular. Home wears the gown of happy memory. Home sidewalks remember my skinned knees. Home parks have water fountains where I slurped away my thirst. Home benches remember nights I sat there looking across the river at the shining city. Home playgrounds hold my childhood.

Duquesne Incline from Carson Street

Duquesne Incline from Carson Street. Image: Dan Buczynski, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Away: We’re away from the inevitable aging, concrete crumbling, roadways growing potholes. We forget the annoyances of overflowing sewers, flooding, and road closures. Traffic cones move from site to site, an ever present landscape feature, but we lose our way among the newly created maze—new to our minds at least. “Remember where that big pothole was that they didn’t fix for a couple’a years?” We dodged it every time, and now just ride over the smooth street, the pothole a trouble only in the past.

Local politics, local concerns, don’t interest me because I’m not a part of it anymore. The hallmarks of the community, saying “yinz” and wearing shirts emblazoned with Steelers or Pirates logos, color the culture. Familiar local landmarks take on an importance they never shone with when I lived there. Pointing to repurposed buildings we remember aloud, “That’s where Isaly’s used to be;” or looking toward South Side, “J&L used to cover that entire shore of the river, before the Cheesecake Factory.”

Taylor Allderdice High School, Aerial View, circa 1930-1945 approx.

Taylor Allderdice High School, Aerial View, circa 1930-1945 approx. Image: Boston Public Library collection, CC BY-NC/2.0

I can’t go back home. The people aren’t there anymore. The “kids” I hung out with are spread across the map. They’re getting ready for retirement and buying condos in Florida. My high school’s awe-inspiring facade hides behind a blocky addition; my university has new buildings across campus. Downtown features newer, brighter buildings. Even the subway stretches to new distances, under the Allegheny River to the North Side and the stadium.

This is not MY Home anymore, but it is an extension of it—another dimension, say. If I lived there still, I would not notice the changes in the ways I do now. I would be a part of the rerouted traffic, commuting to my job without comment, or grumbing about PennDOT like everyone else. Local problems would not seem so exotic or notable the hundredth time we encountered them.

I can’t go back home, but I can look at it again like a many-faceted jewel—preserved in a museum showcase, or worn proudly on my finger—and see the lights glinting from within.

 

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Not Perfect

I’m attempting to knit a lacy shawl, my first really big lacework piece. I’m relieved because…

The Problem

Not Perfect

Not Perfect © Just Having Fun
(The green yarn simply holds a stitch)

Something’s not right. I can’t see it, but I can tell. It’s not symmetrical, I can’t see the pattern emerge. Nine rows into the piece, before I start the next section of the pattern, I have the certain recognition that I need to start all over. Again. What is this, the 20th time maybe? There are supposed to be a certain number of stitches on the needle at this point and I keep ending up with one less than what’s needed. Grrr!

Persistence and perfectionism, perfectionism and persistence: these two perverse sisters taunt me. On the one hand the project lacks the clear definition of stitches that I would expect to see. On the other hand I feel like I am learning something, mastering this thin, woolen yarn and these slippery circular needles. My drive for persistence reinforces my yearning for perfection. And on and on. But doing the same thing over and over, no matter how patient I am, does not get me the results I need. Something’s not right. 

I Could

I should do something different. I could get a different set of needles, ones less slick. Plastic or bamboo? Ugh, not pleasing. I could watch some tutorials on YouTube and try to get a handle on what I’m doing wrong. I could go to a LYS (local yarn shop) and ask a human being to observe me while knitting and dropping stitches. I could try the pattern with different yarn—a thicker one, maybe acrylic—to see if this lovely wool is confounding me. There are a lot of things I could do… but don’t. I should do something different.

What I Did

Baby Blanket In Progress

Baby Blanket In Progress © Just Having Fun

I’m relieved I didn’t torture myself any longer. I put the lacework away for several months. In the interim I picked up something easier, a baby blanket made with leftover acrylic yarn that I don’t want to use for anything else anyhow. Despite my eyeballs burning from the red red Red yarn, the rhythm soothes my jangling nerves and lets me be less perfect, less precise. This project doesn’t laugh at me in the face and make me knit the same mistakes over and over again.

Sometimes I just have to get over myself and stop trying to be so perfect all of the time. I enjoy the process of knitting more than having a finished item. So it’s OK to have a simple piece to work. This is just a modified basket stitch in some random colors I have in storage. The baby won’t mind, whoever he/she is. The repetition provides the relief; the soft clicking of the needles and the shuttle-like motion of my finger wrapping yarn around them provide a focused mindlessness. From here I can soar, race, crawl, or rest. I don’t have to be perfect.

I shouldn’t think it over too much. I may destroy the magic.

Cholom Ra*

I had a bad dream, a חלום רע — cholom ra.

Its total duration seemed to have been a week though in reality probably no more than an hour. It lingered longer, however, following me into the daytime, challenging my reality, and painting my blue sky gray.

Dreams, in Jewish tradition, oppose the modern theory that dreams have no inherent meaning on their own. Contemporary research posits that neurological structures in the brain become activated while we are asleep and assess, process, and encode the day’s activities somehow. In contrast, dreams were thought to confer the power of prophecy on the dreamer in bygone days. The Talmud states that “dreams are one-sixtieth of prophecy,” while averring that dreams contain nonsense, and interpretations are up to the interpreter.

Pharaoh’s Dream of Seven Cows” © Sue Bentley/FreeBibleImages.org, CC BY-SA 3.0

In the Torah we read of Joseph’s dreams in the house of Pharaoh and their interpretation. In the first dream, he described his brothers’ wheat sheaves bowing his own upright sheaf. Further, he dreamed the sun, moon, and eleven stars, representing his parents and brothers, bowing to him. The brothers pejoratively call him a dreamer and conspire to throw him in a pit, sell him to traveling Ishmaelites, and end with Joseph being sold to Potifar in Egypt. Joseph was imprisoned, and while there, interprets two dreams for which events passed as he said. Then the Pharaoh had the dream of the seven emaciated cows consuming the seven fat cows which none of the magicians in Egypt could explain. Pharaoh gave Joseph a chance, and his interpretation so pleased Pharaoh, that Joseph became the chief minister in Egypt. Events came to pass as Joseph foresaw (Genesis 37-41) and the Israelites flourished.

Likewise, the Book of Daniel relates Daniel’s parallel elevation in status after his interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams.

Many other cultures have traditions of interpreting dreams. The Babylonians discuss dreams and perform dream rituals in The Epic of Gilgamesh (circa 2100 BC). Through ancient times, escalating with Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams, to the modern Dream Interpretation Dictionary online, people want to know the meaning of these nocturnal visions.

Me, too.

Image: Laurence Horton via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I love to sleep, largely I suspect, because of my dreams. They defy Hollywood‘s brilliance. My dreams are in Technicolor. Sight, sound, smell, and texture surround me. Strangely, however, I see myself from the vantage point of an observer. I am the star of my own movie.  The dreams are bigger than life and often better than life. I can fly. I have power not experienced in the real. My dreams thrill and intrigue me. Sometimes, like on that night however, they are bad.

The morning of this bad dream, I awoke with the foreboding of terrible outcome. Someone dear to me would 1) lose her life, or 2) his fortune, or 3) their mutual respect and love. I’m not going to say which one it was, but you get the idea. I stood by watching myself in my dream, helpless to change an outcome. I didn’t stay asleep to see the actual thing happen; I awoke shaking, sweaty, desiring coffee.

Lucid Dream” by Wolf94114 , used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Although I’m not a lucid dreamer, I would like to become one: confronting bogeymen, kissing handsome princes, and filling my arms with treasures. Other times I would want to be a benevolent teacher, directing others in my dreams to learn from me, instructing them in life skills that avoid evil and promulgate good. I’ve wanted this ability since childhood but don’t know how to cultivate it. One more item for the bucket list.

Ritual prayers exist to avert ill effects from bad dreams, like the paragraphs said under our breaths during the Priestly Blessing (birkat Kohanim). But mostly, we  Jews have a tradition: to learn the true meaning of dreams, we must be on a very high spiritual level. I’m not there yet, but I’m working on it.

May we all be blessed with only beautiful dreams, and banish the bad dreams forever.

 

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