When I was a senior in college, I took a Buddhist Philosophy. While we were reviewing some of the older Hindu philosophies to understand the basis for Buddhism, the professor related a story about an Indian gentleman he had known in college. Part of Indian philosophy treats waking and dreaming states with equanimity. In fact some consider dreams to be communion with higher, transcendent reality, or Brahman. So this Indian fellow liked to sleep late and when roommates would wake him in the morning by pounding on his bedroom door, he would yell “Leave me alone! I am with Brahman!”
If that is really the case, then Brahman is a pretty messed up place. I’ve been having some pretty weird and sometimes scary dreams lately. One one occasion, I dreamed that I was trapped in the second story bedroom of a house, and undead zombie hordes were trying to get in. The zombies didn’t look particularly menacing but I had to flee out over a garage roof none-the-less. In another dream a few nights later, an emaciated corpse is found in a space suit-like contraption. After the helmet is removed, revealing a withered and shriveled face with skin and white hair still on it, I turned for a moment and the corpse had left the suit… evidently undead and very fast. Finally on a third night, I found myself trying to take a test being administered by my dissertation advisor and several of his other Ph.D students. Though I knew in the dream that I was out of school for several years, I felt compelled to take the test. I looked at some of the problems and some seemed understandable, but one confounded me. It was a graph theory problem in which I was being given small lattices that I was supposed to shape in to a ring, and then make some predictions about how long the distance was around the ring. I knew that finding that distance would have to do with the properties of the pieces… and the words used to describe the pieces were unfamiliar to me. I tried to get the attention of the people administering the test, but to no avail.
I described this last dream a bit on Facebook. An acquaintance who now is a Professor of Applied Mathematics initially said “Hey! Math problems? Call me and we’ll work them out.” When I described the problem in more detail he said “Oh man! That’s a hard problem, unless you know something about the pieces. Math anxiety, I know it well.” Well, validation of the complexity of ones dreams is something I suppose.
The mood of the twelfth of this month was: angry.
I’m not usually an angry person, but on that day things just boiled over and I felt like I wanted to put my hand through a wall — more than once. The anger was rooted in some frustrations that Mrs. Geek has been having with her job. The anxiety that Mrs. Geek felt and continues to feel has been building over the last couple of years. She loves many aspects of what she does and where she works, but there are some personalities that just do not mesh with hers, including some people in authority. She also relies on me for advice and “advanced tech support” for some problems she can’t handle.
On that particular Monday, Mrs. Geek got ambushed with a surprise request for which my help was needed. When I heard about the request and how it was made, I got mad. When I started to help her do the job, and realized that I could complete it too quickly and botch it, my feelings only became more intense. When Mrs. Geek called back and pointed out a related problem that had been festering since last Spring, I became livid. All the frustration, all the heightened tension, other insecurities (about money, about my job — feelings I have done enough to share with Mrs. Geek) it all linked together and turned to rage.
My first impulse was to reach out… and I couldn’t talk to Mrs. Geek about this — she was busy at work. So, I called my Mom, and chatted with her for about 45 minutes, during the middle of my work day. That got me through the rest of my work day, though the bulk of that day was spent working on the festering problem that Mrs. Geek reported, not on Company O. business.
The anger eventually dissipated… though I didn’t sleep well that night or a couple others that week. I didn’t let the anger control me to the point that I did anything embarrassing… though there were some repercussions a few days later.
Being angry felt good at that time, in that moment. It’s left me with a sort of emotional hangover, if there is such a thing. It’s kind of like a flood changing the course of a river — while I don’t feel anger, I know it’s been there. It will take time to forget it.
I’ve been struggling for a while with what to write here. A good many ideas have come and gone about what it might be nice to write about. Certainly there are some things I want to say about the music I encountered in 2008. There’s also the proposition of turning a nice round number like 40 — I try to approach living as a continuum, not like so many teeth on a cog that have clicked by — yet the roundness of the thing does inevitably present the temptation to take inventory and make some kind of pronouncement. There is also the political enthusiasm of the moment that makes me feel like I’m taking walking out into warm late morning air after a hellish all-nighter that seemed to go on, and on, and on, and on.
Yet I feel I must start somewhere more basic by simply saying “I am”. It’s a sort of an existential defensive crouch — a lowering of the center of mass if preparing to wrestle. The simple act of being seems to take much if not all of my energy. Either I or my world are somewhat unsettled, I am not sure which. Mrs. Geek was watching the new 90210 last night, and it offered a line that appeals at this moment: you need to make some choices about this event (a teen pregnancy) before this event chooses for you. That’s what I feel like… some event has chosen for me.
I’m not sure what that event is. Is it the fact that I devoted nearly a whole decade of my life to getting a Ph.D? Is it the fact that I purchased a house just as the wave representing the mortgage crisis was breaking? Could it be the issues that Mrs. Geek and I have had during the last year with having a child? Or the fact that she is seriously pondering a change in her place of employment during these uncertain economic times?
The future is in front of me, but it completely opaque. I cannot see the way forward. I just keep trying to put one foot in front of the other, and stay on the path. I just hope that this path doesn’t lead to the loss of one or both of our jobs, our house, and the money invested in it — money scrimped and saved by my grandparents over years or decades. (A comforting thought to be sure: a wrong step not only fails me, but them.)
Yet I must ward all these thoughts away. I must be strong and stable. I must battle with the sums in my checkbook. I must cook food and do laundry. I must go to work, and go to the gym. I must take fish oil capsules twice a day, to try to lower my triglyceride levels. I must live up to the description made by the priest at my wedding to Mrs. Geek: “steady, steady, steady.” I must present that everything that seems fragile is really solid, and that somehow we can move forward.
I am. *deep breath* I continue.