I had this dream in the days right before leaving for NYC last week and in it I looked in the mirror and my scalp was bald, pocked, and pasty like the craters of the moon. On top of my head was this white thing that is hard to describe; a chalky upside pokey sharp pronged comb like an upside down burr poking directly into my skull and several inches into my brain.
Dusty, matte, it was perhaps carved out of ivory yet was potentially crumbly and definitely breakable.
In my dream, I reached up and slowly pulled it out and threw it away, and felt great relief once it was removed as though it was a tracking device that could no longer chart my movements. It was as though this was an implanted tool used to dictate my thoughts and aspirations, and I'd perfectly removed its prickly spines from my lunar brain.
I was finally free.
In my waking life all last week I had the scattered feeling of being unmoored, simultaneously freed and yet also stymied by what consumer analysts call the 'paradox of choice' (what I had always mistakenly called the 'paralysis of choice.') No matter what you call it, the freedom unnerved me and energetically I froze in place. Without anything to make the decisions for me, how was I to proceed? Did I miss the flipped chalky crown that controlled my thoughts and choreographed my movements? In a way, yes.
Apparently, it's not easy to be untethered from a purpose, even if it's a purpose engineered for me by some other force. Sitting in the drift felt necessary somehow, even as it felt difficult to focus on anything but the most menial of tasks. Even if I wanted to, I couldn't relevantly dive into anything deeper than surface thought and conversation. It was good, but hard; receiving a glimpse into how habitually I live with a drive to find meaning....to live from task to task without the ability to focus was unbearable in a way although I was perpetually too distracted to notice how unbearable it was.
What a strange feeling, to witness how quickly I fall adrift when I have nothing to do and nothing to prove.
But, a funny thing also happened in the midst of this. Neil and I were staying in the Red Hook area of Brooklyn at my childhood friend's apartment and there was a small neighborhood used record store that Neil and I visited on our second to last day there. There was also a small selection of books for sale. I peered through the books while Neil shopped for records and I found The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. Even though I'm very interested in the history of alchemy, I've always stayed away from that particular book probably due precisely to its popularity. I just don't, you know, trust it. But, I took it off the shelf and thought to myself, "Well, you probably ought to read this as research into why people like it so much. You are interested in bringing alchemy as a topic into your work more, so why not?" I decided not to buy it though, and put it back on the shelf.
The next day (our final day in NY) our plans sorta fell through and so Neil suggested a trip to the aquarium in Coney Island. We took a bus and then the subway down there and had a great time in the sun, but didn't spend much time there as we needed to get back in time to get to the airport. On our way back on impulse I decided we ought to get off the bus a few stops early and walk back the rest of the way to the apartment to pick up our suitcases. We happened to pass by the record store again, this time with a sidewalk rummage sale going on (there was this new thing in the neighborhood where electronic cars were racing formula one style near the docks in Red Hook so an extra 10,000 people were in the neighborhood than ever are there regularly so all the businesses were putting their wares on the sidewalk.) I looked at the book table, and chuckled when I saw the book laying again on the table. Seeing it the second time felt like I might as well buy it. This particular copy has a lot of handwritten notes in the margins and was inexpensive so there was a 'no harm, no foul' energy to spending money on it.
Then we go to the airport, our flight is delayed an hour, but when we finally do sit down at our gate after wandering around a bit at JFK I pull out the book, crack it open, and guess what? Another passenger, sitting across from me is reading the exact same book! I nudge Neil and tell him to look over at the guy and Neil chuckles at the coincidence. He asks me if I'm going to say anything but I answer, "No." But, then as we get up to board the plane, I lean across the way and interrupt the man saying, "Sorry to intrude, but I noticed you're reading this book," and then I show him my copy. He responds that he just bought it that day. "I already have a copy at home, but haven't read it yet. I decided to buy this copy today. I don't know why, though."
I wished him a good flight, then left with Neil to board the plane.