Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Am I Only Dreaming?

Don’t Fence Me In

Those of you who follow this space know that in five weeks Brian and I will be packing up and moving from the Boston area, where he has spent the past 2 and I have spent the past 10 years, to the beautiful state of Vermont, where who knows what may happen and for how long. It’s been a bit of a shock to our friends and family that we are really doing this after talking about it for months as a serious and imminent possibility, and in my case, musing both privately and publicly about it as a distant and vague ambition for quite literally decades. Notice I did not call it a dream.  I have long believed that humanity can be divided into those who talk about what most people only think , those who do what most people only talk about, and those who do to the constantly pushed limits of their imagination, will, passion and physical endurance what most people only do. 

  Small Pool 

If you can think it, you can speak it aloud. If you can speak it aloud, you can make it happen. And if you can make it happen, you can make it bigger and better than anyone ever expected or imagined. I do not intend to end my life with nothing to show but unspoken thoughts, empty words, and half-done deeds, a lukewarm company if ever there was one. Neither do I need or expect to achieve fame, fortune and fulfillment on a grand scale. My goals are all modest. The things I seek are found and enjoyed by regular folks in all places and at all times. There have always been only two things that can stand in my - or anyone else’s for that matter – way:  extremely bad luck, and paralyzing self-doubt.  In fact, removing the latter can help to overcome any amount of the former. When I manage to accomplish something, the only thing that surprises me is how surprised everyone else is.

 Night Runner

But back to dreams. I’ve been hearing a lot about dreams these past few years. Back in 2009 when I was traveling to a different city in the United States every month in an attempt to complete one marathon in all of the fifty states by the time I turned fifty, many people politely concealed their basic lack of comprehension by commending me on “following a dream.”  I don’t think I’ve ever heard marathoners involved in this activity refer to it as a dream. It’s more often called an ambition, pursuit or even a quest, with all the attendant associations of a determined, longterm and mostly solitary challenge.  The detailed planning and dedicated training that go into achieving this milestone are in no way dreamlike, and are actually well within the capabilities of the average human. Crossing a finish line with nothing but your own feet to thank, and receiving a medal for it, is about as real and human as it gets, and one of the few things you can do and say with certainty that it was all your doing, mind body and soul. This particular quest for me is on hold, but while it lasted, it was more than a dream come true – it was life come true.

 Coiled Tight

Back in 2010, I decided that my mental and physical health were more important than a paycheck earned in an increasingly volatile and demoralizing office setting. Co-workers seemed confused that I didn’t have a compelling job offer or family obligations motivating my abrupt departure. When I revealed that I intended to take advantage of my freedom by working on some creative projects too long given only a sliver of my attention and energy, it was as if a light went on “OH – you’re following your dream! I wish I had your courage!”  Even so, after weeks of discussion, many seemed surprised when my official last day was announced. “Wow, you’re REALLY leaving!” To this day, I am not certain why to some the lure of a dream makes comforting sense, and to others it seems the realm of threatening fantasy, and that not one person said “you are leaving a horrible job for a chance at a better life doing something you love and that sounds like a reasonable and practical move.” 

 Woven Hole

I have always had vivid and often disturbing dreams. At night my mind is host to waking dreams, lucid dreams, dreams that take place in a familiar or altered present, a past I never lived, a future I will later remember seeing glimpses of, and sometimes such rich colorful complex woven tapestries of settings, characters and scenes as to leave me exhausted on waking, as if I have lived several lifetimes between bedtime and morning. Sometimes these dreams follow me into the waking world, which then seems strange and dreamlike by comparison, and certainly more limited. Why, I wonder, can I not lift that coffee cup with my thoughts, as I did only an hour ago? Where are my white wings?

 Moon Sees Herself in a Dream

In the waking world, I have lived many moments to which it would not have been amiss to ascribe the terms “unthinkable” or “unimaginable.” And yet, I lived them. And the more such moments one lives through, the more thinkable and imaginable and doable everything afterwards becomes. Possibly I am too hard on my friends and family when they speak of the dreams I pursue, because I’ve come through my individual experience to lack all objectivity regarding this word. My dreams have so much reality to them, and my waking life has such a dreamlike quality, it is no wonder that the two seem not to be in opposition on either side of a great divide, but to share a large middle ground where the best qualities of both not only co-exist, but are better for their borderless commingling.

 The Last Place They Said I’d Never Leave (NYC)

In dreams we believe we can do anything. But dreams can also slip through your fingers without warning and leave you to face a rude awakening and the cold harsh light of dawn.  Life can be comforting in its circumscribed routines and expected outcomes, but it can also be liberating when these structures are dismantled and rebuilt to form something even stronger. So, say not that I am moving to Vermont to follow a dream. Say I am going to Vermont to live my life.   


  1. Beautiful post Gabriella! Very well said. Go on live your life.

  2. Luis - I see you understand. I knew you would. Be well, my friend.

  3. Skizo - thank you so much! I am glad you enjoyed this one. All the best to you.

  4. A beautiful (both images and words) thought provoking post. I love that last photo. So evocative of the quest for more ... Not necessarily better, but certainly different. New experiences to add to the mix. A new life to be built using the mix as a starter, with the addition of some imagination, some drive and a lot of work.

  5. Thanks, EC! That last photo is a scan from an old negative of a photo taken with an Instamatic in the late 70s. It's funny because longtime New Yorkers love to sit around and talk for years about how they're going to leave one day - and they are ALMOST ready. I lived in Manhattan for 30 years but it taught me everything about the quest for more I will ever need to know. It's amazing I stayed in the Boston area as long as I did! Onward, and upward!

  6. Written with great sensibility.
    One has to live life because it is golden, fragile and sometimes running through
    our fingers..
    Wish you happiness in whatever you are doing!!
    My greetings from Athens.

  7. Monika, many thanks! People in your part of the world know all too well the beauty and the frailty of life - how it can be everything and then nothing, and so, should be treasured in its every moment and detail. Your good wishes mean so much to me! Hugs.

  8. Hi G - a fascinating observation of life and dreams - the differences and the similarities; I read it twice. I gave up a well-paid high-status job in 2006 and people thought I was crazy or brave to toss it in and go live on a mountain; but it made perfect sense to me because it meant I would have my life. How simple and stark that was to me - but not many could understand it. I say go and make sure you live your life!!

  9. TT - I'm with F on this - Vermont will offer a different life - all places do - may you embrace it and live it to the full. And I hope the preparations for the move go well. Thinking of you and B and sending vibes for you both. B

  10. Ah, Fiona, it is choices like yours that make mine seem, as you say, simple and stark, and making perfect sense! There is nothing crazy about it, nor brave. It is what my life cries out for, and I am merely answering YES. You and Barry are an inspiration to me. Live on a mountain? Why the hell not??

  11. Hi Barry - yesterday we drove back up to Vermont for the lease signing and official bestowing of the keys. We also left a first carload of small items in the apartment, which I saw with different eyes knowing the deal is sealed and the parade of possessions from here to there begun. I could finally freely envision B & I living there and it all fell into place in my mind's eye. Thanks so much for your good vibes and even better example!

  12. 'Don't fence me in'.... i love it, i focuss on the holes in the fence, not the fence...
    very beautiful post, true and encouraging, thank you dear, xx

  13. Renilde - perhaps that is yet another way to view humanity - there are the people who see only the fence, and the people who focus on the holes! What lies beyond this particular fence in the photo is a set of train tracks, another sign of determined forward movement with a destination! Thank you so much for your comment, and enjoy the weekend!

  14. Words + photos = excellent post! Very inspiring! I'm reminded of people's reactions when my wife and I decided to move all the way across the country to Newtown. I'm also reminded of my wife's reaction when I came up with the idea. It's nice to see that you aren't held back by doubt, yours or other people's. Time to enjoy this next stage of your life!

  15. Thanks so much, James! Things are getting busy, but I have my goal in sight and couldn't be more sure it's the right way to go. Can't wait to get past the preparations and actually start living! All the best to you.

  16. "Don't Fence Me In" reminds me of the grid patterns in your photos a couple of posts ago - maybe an internal stability during this time of change?

    And what a wonderful discussion of the relationship of dreams and (waking) life ... and a wonderful photographic illustration of that relationship. It sounds as if you see possibilities that others don't, and that your life is all the more satisfying as a result.

  17. JMG - I think perhaps I do gravitate towards strong lines visually as a way to stabilize the general chaos of life (in the worlds inside and outside) - I wouldn't consider myself an orderly person, and my journey has been far from tidy or straight, but I crave order where I can find or make it!

    I'm glad you read this post - your work has what could be called a dreamlike quality too - unless of course you believe that images such as yours simply bring out what the world REALLY looks and feels like!

    All the best to you.