A vivid dream

You were in my dream last night. My brother had told my mom and I that my sister was talking to you, seated across from one another at a small dining table in what seemed to be a restaurant, on an outside patio. My brother, mother and I were seated in a dining booth. I can’t remember if my father were present.

I walked over to your table, and somehow got the impression my sister liked you more than I did. I approached you meekly, as we’ve been noncommunicative for far too long, and I worried you were still cross, and continue to urge me to forget you. But you were your true self–your best self–and just as kind to me as the moment we began texting. You were funny, smart, charming, appreciative, and sympathetic.

I may have mentioned the argument you initiated, the one I didn’t want to end until it had graduated into a compromising moral. You may have apologized, may have said it was a rough time at that moment, and you don’t hold it against me. I may have even seen you take out your phone, find my name in that messaging service, and remove the block on me. All or part of that could have happened, but I’m uncertain; you know how fuzzy dreams can get.

Then we walked along a field, and I think my family accompanied us, loosely. You began to look different. Your hair got longer, and you wore it in a bun at the back of your head. Then your nose got crooked. Then maybe your beard grew out, maybe your skin lightened or darkened–I don’t fully remember, it was a dream. I felt unsure if you were the same person, even though you were still handsome and had a similar personality. I was unsure if I could recognize you as the same individual. Then the dream ended.

I don’t know what this means, but it made me hopeful that you might be thinking of me, missing me, and forgiving me, maybe changing for the best. To certify this optimism, when I got dressed this morning, I put on the same shirt I had worn the last time we met in person.

Clouded perspectives

Prompt 106 of the Isolation Journals.

This analogy of a cloud that surrounds you during a volatile time reminds me of The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. The semi-autobiographical novel recounts Plath’s time being treated for a psychiatric mental collapse after an attempted overdose. Towards the end of the novel, the protagonist Esther is released from the hospital after a consultation with her psychiatrist. She likens her negative emotions to a bell jar trapped around her, a decorative accent for a mantle clock or other centerpieces. The jar traps her anxiety and depression, swirling it around her enclosure. Without the assistance of treatment and support of family and friends, she would remain imprisoned in the bell jar and lose her luster and function. The same can be said for the metaphorical clouds that prohibit us. Plath’s novel remains true today and is still insightful despite Plath’s own mental shortcomings at the end of her life.

But lord, the clouds have shifted since then. At the start of The Bell Jar, Esther is participating in a summer program in New York City as part of a fellowship for a young women’s magazine, where her poem was accepted. Esther is from Massachusetts, stays in Northampton at school and Winthrop with family, then admitted to Belmont during her hospital stay (note that some of these details are not given in the novel but inferred based on details and parallels to Plath’s own life). While much of the book is during the summer, and a typical summer would involve a lot of travel like this, this lifestyle is unachievable now. So many artist and writer residencies in elite locations like Manhattan have been cancelled, delayed, or attempted to be held remotely.

Unfortunately, the literary magazine where Plath interned, Mademoiselle, became defunct in 2001, so it’s impossible to know how they would have continued this fellowship program had they lived to see the peak of the novel coronavirus. Many Mademoiselle staff transferred to another Conde Nast imprint, Glamour, after the shutdown, but it is not as focused in literary arts like Mademoiselle was. Conde Nast hosts a few college programs, but none quite the same as Esther’s. I imagine some of their internships and fellowships are being done remotely, and it’s a good thing that a pandemic has happened at a time when remote work is more achievable. The Bell Jar is set in the 1950s, when computers, if they existed, were massive, unaffordable, and had to be shared between several business or intelligence agencies. What would the world have been like if a pandemic hit in the 1950s? I guess we could have conducted work through television, radio, newspapers, letters, phone conference calls, or fax messages (if they were around at the time). Today we have much more options.

Then there’s a buffet. Esther relishes these crabmeat stuffed avocado halves. Buffets are a great way to spread coronavirus, but I do miss them so. On vacation my family and I would eat at a few, often breakfast buffets but sometimes dinner. I can’t wait until we can attend a buffet again.

Then there is the romance. Esther goes to a bar and drinks vodka in New York, and assumes an alias of Betty Higginbotham from Chicago to annoying boys. The bars can’t operate the same way, nor can attempted flirtation.

Finally, maybe the most important aspect of the book, is the hospital stay. Plath stayed at McLean Hospital after her suicide attempt at twenty years old, but yet again, residential opportunities outside of the permanent house is risky for disease. The hospital however, does have several remote programs and research studies, but the question remains… Would they be suitable for patients in a severe collapse such as Esther’s? I guess provided clinicians check in frequently, but how would they monitor patients who may attempt to harm themselves? Esther watches an acquaintance relapse into poor psyche, and I worry for someone like that. I guess they could operate at reduced capacity since we are in Phase 3 in Massachusetts, but how can we be certain patients of the highest need are staying? Mental illness fluctuates intensely.

Evidently, the Covid-19 pandemic and the recession that has preceded it is the cloud that shrouds not just me, but the world. I pray and wish that we can have some sort of semblance of coming-of-age and reconciliation that happens in The Bell Jar. Lately, even the most mundane of vignettes in the book and others in the theme and genre of it seem like fantasies. It is very concerning that we are uncertain when they can become attainable again. How will we ever love romantically again? How will we ever progress our professional accomplishments again, and how will we celebrate them? How will we protect ourselves from our id? We can’t answer these right away. We must wait, and this is agonizing, or at least can be. We are fatigued, but we still must protect ourselves.

We must keep our minds busy and seek to find opportunities wherever and however they may appear. We must use whatever resources possible to stay connected. We must keep the faith.

With perseverance, we can fight and overcome. We will not stay clouded and jarred.

Comments on “Head Above Water”

I appreciate the thought, but I dislike the subject matter because it appropriates casualties of aquatic accidents. Drowning is an actual thing that happens, Avril. It’s not some beautiful metaphor for Lyme disease. I thought I’d buy the album and just skip over Head Above Water until the memory of my uncle’s demise isn’t as fresh, but now that you named the album after that song I really don’t feel like purchasing it at all. I’m a very big fan. I’m glad you got healthy and found God again, but the pain is just too much. I know you don’t know me and consulting for my opinion isn’t on your list of priorities, but I need to let this out.

I understand the meaning, but I think it’s unfair. Why must [Avril] have a miraculous recovery and no one among my family and friends can? Words have power. I wish the world were more mindful of their speech. I don’t care that it’s a metaphor. I’m tired of people thinking drowning is some glamorous, biblical way to die. I can’t move on because I can’t believe in afterlife anymore. Yes, Lyme disease isn’t as poetic for a song. Local news eats up drowning stories every summer and it’s sick. I’m glad she had her miracle, but my loved ones and i will never have ours. That’s all I’m trying to say. I wish the world wouldn’t just excuse hyperbolic language because it’s artistic or a biblical allusion.

I may buy the album eons from now when the sting isn’t too fresh, but it hits too painful a spot with me right now.

What is your problem? Of course I understand. I simply wish others would be more mindful of the metaphors they use and how they can affect others. I watched all the interviews. I haven’t experienced Lyme disease, but she hasn’t experience nearly drowning. Everyone wants to excuse it because it’s an artful metaphor, but language can hit you in a tender place. I just want people to know that for me, it has. It was a miracle that she finally found a diagnosis, treatment, and lived. Drowning is such a quicker sensation. This nurse attempted to save him but was useless. Avril had time to live between each doctor’s appointment. I dislike artists trying equate one disaster to another when they’re nothing alike. You can tell me it’s art and I don’t get it or care, but I do, and this is just a very sore spot for me. You may wish me Lyme disease, but I will never wish a drowning incident on any of your loved ones.

I used to feel the same way. I thought triggers were something that people just said for attention and argument. Then when something disasterous happens and people use that phrase hyperbolicly and metaphorically, it gets to you. I never thought it did, but it really does. Sorry I’m so tender. Hell, maybe I’m a special snowflake for it. But so be it. Part of me does like the song, but it really makes me feel uneasy. It’s alright for everyone else to enjoy it, but it’s hard for me to feel the same. I wish others just had a bit more consideration in their words, that’s all I’m trying to say.

Note: These are a few comments I left on one of Avril Lavigne’s Facebook posts. I doubt she’ll ever see or listen to my pain, but Facebook is the most direct way to reach celebrities these days. I’ve strung them together in a quasi-essay. I got countless negative feedback, as fan pages seem to be for praise and only praise, but I feel too strongly about this to delete anything. Hopefully WordPress is a bit more thoughtful and has empathy and validation.  That’s all I ask. Don’t coddle me nor discipline me. This is just grief.