Hamlet, I, 5 - Hamlet and the ghost.

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Can’t remember whose theory on dreams and the subconscious gave the most weight to the symbolic nature of the people, objects and situations that make up the scenery of our nightly home movies.

I blame Pat Robertson and the Progressive Left in any case for last night’s visitation regardless.

Normally, my dreams are populated only with people I know and the setting is most often a variation of the town where I attended university or a school building I once worked in. I don’t know why and I haven’t bothered to research what it means or doesn’t.

Dead people seldom have starring roles in my dreams. If the departed do appear, they have cameos at best. But last night, Will showed up, which shouldn’t come as a surprise thanks to the Robertson faux uproar, but I have to be honest – I was surprised because he has only deigned to grace my dreams a handful of times in the past five plus years and never as more than a walk on. Ever.

I was back in school. It was – god help me – the 80’s with  clothing and the hair styles so jarring that I actually commented on it to another character completely out of context to the situation.

I found myself back on Currier E2 in my old corner room (minus the high-strung room-mate) and Will shows up to visit me for the weekend. And you could have knocked me over with a feather when I opened the door and it was him. Normally, it’s Rob who rides shot-gun in my dreams. Very seldom do I dream that Rob doesn’t figure at some or all points.

Here’s the odd thing – as if dreams with dead husbands stopping in for visit aren’t odd enough – he was not young. His hair was longer, curled like Dee’s does at the nape, around the ears and that same cowlick that drives her to distraction and salted with gray. His face was lined a bit and his goatee salted as well.

This has happened once before where someone who’s been gone a while showing up in a dream looking his real age. My Uncle Jim popped into a dream not long before Will and I married, looking very much like the 65-year-old man he would have been and not the 39-year-old man he was when he died.

When I asked him what he was doing there, he said,

“I thought I should visit now.”

I had been on my way out to meet friends, but his arrival prompted me to suggest we stay in. He didn’t want me to change plans. He would come along after he changed into a clean shirt.

He was not the 30-year-old I remembered from before the ravages of illness. More solid. A bit thicker and hairy, but not on the order of a grizzly.

Throughout I was aware that he shouldn’t have been there but I got no further explanation from him about why other than he deemed the visit “necessary”. I sorta felt like he was less happy to see me than I was to see him and that the visit wasn’t for pleasure but one of those dutiful things a person does.

He watched me with an appraising sort of look. He seemed tired as though he’d come a long distance to spend time with me, but whatever he’d left behind him was still on his mind. He mentioned at one point that he wouldn’t be able to stay for more than the night. He had to get back. I didn’t ask where or why, and he didn’t volunteer any more information.

I’ve thought about it all day and I can’t figure out why – after all these years – he put in an actual appearance in my dreams. He has never felt the need before. It has a ghost of Hamlet’s father feel to it. Blunted purpose chiding? Perhaps.

Garden Spells Collage for blog

Image by The Daring Librarian via Flickr

OPHELIA (from Hamlet, Act IV scene IX)

There’s fennel for you, and columbines.—There’s rue for you, and here’s some for me. We may call it “herb of grace” o’ Sundays.—Oh, you must wear your rue with a difference.—There’s a daisy. I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died. They say he made a good end (sings) For bonny sweet Robin is all my joy
That’s one of my favorite bits from Hamlet. I have favorites within Hamlet. I just think the character is a pathetic whinger.
It’s the symbols. I love symbolism. In this case flowers and herbs are likely as medicinal as they were moral rebukes though 16th century folk aren’t likely to have benefitted much from herbs. The church had done a good job of demonizing anyone (and by “one”, I mean “woman”) who practiced medicine via herbs.
I thought about Ophelia‘s little monologue when I sat down to write about the book, Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen, because one of the main characters practices a form of magic using plants and herbs she grows in her back yard garden.
It’s a delicious little read. Southern simmered and magically realistic, it centers on the Waverly family and the strange magic that emanates through them via their family roots – figuratively and from their enchanted garden.
The garden is a hoot. It writes thank you notes and is watched over by a petulant apple tree that throws its fruit at people, trying to get them to eat of it and dream about the greatest moment in their lives.
Something that the Waverly family strives to prevent. The sisters scold the tree and bury the apples that it throws. Eating them is no joke because the greatest moments in the lives of most people are their deaths.
In typical women’s literature fashion, there are rivalries and man trouble. Sex looms and lives are … not so much transformed but freed of self-restraint and resumed.
I don’t want to say too much more and give it away as the story is formulaic enough that it telegraphs a tad bit more than it should, but I throughly enjoyed it. Coming in at 286 pages, it’s light and warm and perfect for the late summer.

What if what I am supposed to be doing is exactly what I am doing?

I ask only because I read a blog entry of a friend who is searching for her direction in life. Or redirection. We can never assume, after all, that where we are, what we are doing or who we surround ourselves with is permanent.

Life is about change – at its core – not about permanence.

I was a teacher for twenty years. When I left, I can count on one hand the number of minutes it took for someone to ask,

“So what are you going to do now?”

As if emigrating to Canada, remarrying and focusing on my writing/blogging in addition to giving the stay at home mom thing a full-time go for the first time in the five years I’d been a mother wasn’t enough.

What are you going to do with your life?

So that it’s meaningful – in the eyes of the world – is the question behind that question.

But what if, maybe, I am doing what I am meant to do?

Given that nothing is permanent, and I can reasonably expect the circumstances of my life to change over the course of time, why couldn’t what I am doing … right now … be what I am meant to do? Right now.

And isn’t that enough?

Writing for blogs, studying yoga with an eye towards teaching a few classes – maybe having a studio one day – isn’t nothing. Though I recognize that like “having it all” or “having enough” it is an eye of the beholder thing.

Does anyone’s eye matter but mine in the assessment of what makes my life meaningful or gauging what I should be doing with my life?

I think not.

And a life’s “purpose” is more than what one does in terms of culture’s obsession with the idea of work and career (which, frankly, is the measuring stick in our Western world to an unhealthily large degree).

What if, what you are doing right now and where you are is “it”?

For now.

I cut through the city on my way back from dumping Baby in P-ville, coming up one of the bluff streets that leads to Clarke College. DNOS rented a house in the area back in our collective younger years. I wanted to check on the state of disrepair my dream house was in.

1921 Madison, Dubuque

I discovered the house at some point during my high school days when I took a wrong turn. It sat on the bluff of Madison Street, overlooking the downtown. A Queen Anne design I later discovered and I could feel the serendipity radiating. Turrets, semi-wrap around front porch with a double balcony in the back and a three-story carriage house/garage, stained glass and a wooden front door with crystal lead window. Inside, I’ve read recently, there are still original features put in by the man who built the house in 1893 like parquet wood floors, decorated tiles around the fireplaces and chandelier lights. The yard is small and the carriage house butts the bluff but the parking is off-street.

I loved that house and scouted it periodically over the last twenty-five years, but it was never up for sale. It passed through the family until the late nineties when a couple bought it with the intention of renovating it.

They haven’t.

The house steadily declined like houses do in old neighborhoods that once were home to the well off who moved west with the suburbs. When I tooled by this past week, it was an eyesore, peeling and pale.

I dragged Rob over to take photos for me. While we were there, the current owner came out and handed us a flyer assuming we were there to wait for the realtor.

“There’s someone coming at eleven to look at it,” he said.

But he wants about eighty thousand more than the property has been assessed at and according to the county web site, the guy is defaulting on the current property taxes.

“There’s nothing to do here but demolish it and build new,” Rob said. “You’d have to win the lottery to have money to rehab this place.”

There’s a sink hole under a corner of the carriage house that’s getting worse because the owner and the adjoining neighbor are suing each other to force the other to pay for fixing it.

“The bluff is unstable,” Rob said after a bit of research the night before. “You’d have to have experts come in and assess it and then drill holes to pour concrete in and shore it, provided they could find a way to anchor it to the bluff in the first place.”

After the owner left, I scooted carefully up the porch stairs (it’s jacked up to keep the turret from collapsing) and peered in. The inside is faded too but oozes turn of the century from 19 to 20.

“Well,” Rob said as we drove off, “if you win the powerball, you can buy it.”

The powerball was $103 million. I didn’t win. If I had, you’d have heard from me sooner.

When I was eighteen, I couldn’t leave Dubuque fast enough. Even ten or so years later, I couldn’t imagine moving back there. Now, however, I could see myself living – part-time anyway – there. There are three colleges. Colleges always need teachers, but they prefer cheap ones and we’d need another source of income because Uncle Sam would not smile at all on Rob working. Americans are very anti-foreigner unless they are tourists, but the “security” measures in play are slowly choking off that money source.

Thing is, I don’t miss the States in general, just Dubuque. I like western Canada. I like the fact that Canadians embody the idea of equality in a way Americans really never have. My mom pointed out the new “hood” that has cropped up in the lower bluff neighborhoods in the past few years. People fleeing from inner city Chicago in wake of the razing of the wretched public housing there. Iowa’s more generous welfare benefits and smaller cities appeal to them, but they aren’t interested in assimilating to the local lifestyle or values, bringing their old Cabrini Green ways with them.

Those people.

Canadians have a bit of the “those people” attitude, towards Muslims in particular, but they aren’t as cold where the problem of generational poverty is concerned.

My poor old dream house. Time to lay it to rest.

I’ve mentioned before that there was a possibility we’d be heading overseas to live for a while. Rob was pursuing a position on a project that would have taken us to the UK and then Saudi Arabia. It would have been a 4 or 5 year gig that would have allowed us to move on to the retirement/second career thing in the mountains a bit sooner than later.

But the job is off. I am not at liberty to go into details, but it had nothing to do with Rob’s suitability. He is, despite his ambivalence, a sought after commodity in his line of work. This was an employment case of “it’s not you, it’s us”. Literally.

So now that we know for sure we are staying put, things that have been on hold or plans that we discussed in only the vaguest of terms are suddenly wide open dreamscapes.

One of the most pressing issues is our home. Rob has been steadily renovating the house we live in for … ever. Or least as long as he’s lived here and that’s a decade plus of years.

And the house is not done. Not even close.

One might wonder that this has been a non-issue for me since moving here going on three years ago now. And it’s not that I am oblivious to my surroundings, though I come quite close to that sort of space blindness, it’s just that I am not a Better Homes and Gardens type. I have a serviceable kitchen, a comfy bed and a place to write. What else does a person need?

Rob thinks we need an addition. One that will attach a garage to the house, add a new master bedroom with en suite and provide us with a large kitchen area. This is not a small project that upends the house a room or so at a time. This is gutting the back yard, tearing out half of the back-end of the house and ripping up a deck that consumed the summer of 2008 and the cement sidewalks that consumed last summer.

On the plus side, an attached garage. I never had one until the last house I bought with Will. I’d lived in Des Moines for 15 years, parking vehicles on the street or driveway and dealing with the weather. The whole first year of Dee’s life was coping with baby carriers and rain or snow or bitter cold or blistering heat or whatever other plagues of Egypt came our way in terms of weather. I loved the attached garage. Somedays, especially after Will was nearly blind and precariously balanced, not having to load the two of them up after somehow getting them outside was the only thing I had to be thankful for all day.

A new master bedroom would give us three bedrooms upstairs and mean that Dee could have our old room, which is twice the size of her current room. We could ditch the playroom downstairs and contain all things child in her larger bedroom space. And she would have a walk-in closet. She would be in heaven although she would have serious en suite envy. She totally believes that she should have a bathroom of her own – attached to her room. Where does she get such ideas?

Aside from hearth and home, there is also employment to consider. Staying means looking for part-time work. I put working on hold for a variety of reasons, but one of them was not being sure we’d be around long enough for me to find and settle into a place before we’d pack up and be gone. Since I didn’t need a paycheck for our survival, it seemed unfair for me to take a job knowing I wasn’t going to be in it long.

My mother’s first words upon hearing we were staying was “Well, now you’ll be able to get a job.”

I start my yoga teacher training this weekend. My current instructor indicated that she would be agreeable to my teaching at her studio, once I am trained and that would be this summer, so yoga is a real possibility as part-time work. It is not a living by any means, but it’s somewhere to start. I want to someday have a studio, somewhere. Be a business owner. I think that is my upbringing. I love to write and blog, but they don’t feed my need for tangible employment. Probably seems silly to some, but I like the idea of going into work. Actually leaving the house kind of work.

We’ve talked about trading in the tent trailer for a holiday trailer, and using it for vacations. Rob wanted to travel the SouthWest U.S., but with the border as it is, I am less keen. And though Americans don’t seem to have any sense of impending doom, the news we get looks more and more dicey. In fact, this coming summer it seems it has never been a better time to stay out of the States.

I am only a tiny bit disappointed about not moving overseas. It could have been fun and interesting in a way that most people’s lives never get to be. But it would have been work and Dee would not have been as happy about it as we would have been. Our mothers were distraught, and the older girls, though they’ve put on brave faces, would have felt abandoned to varying degrees. It is not great for Rob. He gets to continue on as a workhorse and he deserves more. Everyone takes for granted that he will be there to fix things, give advice, loan money and generally make sure the trains run. I doubt that anyone but me really worries about his needs, or wants for him, when it comes to that. Having been in that thankless position, I know how long it can make a day seem.

Although Rob doesn’t think much of the place, there are far worse little towns than The Fort to call home. It will not be home forever, I don’t think, but it is good enough for now.

Funny, I just read a blog piece about “good enough” and how that kind of settling is a bad thing. I didn’t really agree.

Last night Rob and I watched a movie in bed as is our Saturday night wont. The film of choice was Hugh Grant’s About a Boy, which I had not seen. It was cute and coincidentally thematically related to a post I was updating for submission over at 50 something Moms.

The basic story line was about two boys, one a grown 38 and the other a growing 12. Both were odd, marching distinctly out of step. Neither had much by way of a support system in terms of extended family or friends and by chance, they find each other through a series of odder events and by the end of the film have helped each other fill in the missing links in their lives. Like I said, it was cute and mildly poignant.

This morning after being awakened at 7:30 by DNOS who was just getting around to returning a Christmas day phone call, Rob says,

“I had the weirdest dream last night.”

Rob is one of those people who claims to rarely dream and when he does, he almost never remembers the content beyond the feelings it evoked.

“Weird how?”

“Well, I think that movie must be the root cause because I dreamt I was a millionaire playboy.”

In the film, Grant’s character lives idly off the royalties of a mega-one hit wonder Christmas tune written in the 1950’s by his father.

“Really, what else?”

“Oh well,”he got a little sheepish in tone and then,”I sex with some girl who was trying to get me to marry her.”

It’s only a dream but a woman only wants to hear that her man is having sex dreams about her, and despite the fact the night before I’d dreamed about some strange man massaging my bum, I was a bit jealous.

“That’s out of character for you.”

“I can’t always dream about chopping wood and geo-thermal energy.”

He had me there. I dream like most people watch tv, which is constantly, and I never dream about the practical or the earth saving.