In my late 20s, I had the vision of moving to India, a place I knew almost nothing about but the dream of disappearing appealed to me and what better place to do that than in the sub continent of subcontinent of Asia.
I stopped in Europe on my way, figuring I would wind my way to India—not exactly sure how one winds from Paris to Bombay but I was young and believed just by wanting something to happen it would.
I traveled by train. In terms of what I saw—fields of sunflower in Northern Spain, the gorgeous hills of Lisbon, an exhibit of Eric Fischl paintings in some small town in France, climbing the tour in Bruges, visiting the Hague—it was glorious. But I was so lonely. I had been so focused on getting away from my life that I didn’t realize how much I needed it. Friends, theater, LA, COMMUNITY. Why did I always think my life was inconsequential?
I sometimes think of life like a huge cruise ship—not a great symbol at the moment owing to our recent knowledge of cruise ships and illness and being trapped—then again, maybe it’s perfect. For right now, let’s say the cruise ship is your life—everyone you know and see and the places you visit and shop are on this ship. One day you realize someone is missing—they’re nowhere to be found. Disappeared. We think things are solid, but they’re not, everything is fragile, temporary. Anyone of us could just go over at any time and be lost to the sea.
When I got back from those months in Europe, I began to rebuild my life. I got a job at the Bodhi Tree Bookstore in West Hollywood—a legendary place, originally dedicated to books about Buddhism, it became a central part of Los Angeles’ new age boom in the 80s and 90s. It was the place Shirley MacLaine wrote about in her book Out on a Limb—she had been standing in the stacks when a book flew off the shelf and hit her in the head. People must be into that because folks began to flock to the store—in search of parts of themselves they had either lost or wanted to find for the first time.
My own search for self deepened at that time. This has been a lifelong endeavor that hasn’t felt as much like a spiritual quest as a quest to be whole and sane and to not self destruct, to be present for my own life. To not fall of the cruise ship.
While working at the Bodhi Tree I started seeing a dream counselor. Her name was Mary and she had a cluttered office on the second floor above a Hasidic print shop on Santa Monica Boulevard. In the movie of my life, the role of Mary would be played by Jean Stapleton from All in the Family. She was charming, absent minded and sort of ditzy. She spent a significant portion of every one of my visits trying to find her glasses, which were always on her head.
Her office was nothing like what you’d expect a dream counselor’s office to look like—no crystals, no rich textiles, no incense or chimes, no posters with inspirational sayings. She had an old grey metal desk piled high with legal pads and files, she sat in a black rolling desk chair, I sat in a beat up padded chair on the other side of the desk from her. It felt more like I was sitting with the secretary waiting an appointment for a low-rent private eye.
But she was kind and keen—her ideas of dreams were in some ways very simple: if you dreamed of a store that’s what was in store for you, if you were driving somewhere, that’s where you were headed. I learned a lot from Mary—if nothing else, than to pay attention to what I was seeing every night, look at it, think about it. Dreams are important messages.
Yesterday I got an email from a cruise ship company—I swear, it’s true. I laughed out loud. Are they seriously going to try to sell cruises right now? Ships Ahoy, read the subject line. Inside it began, “Ready to Sail the Seven Seas?”
My life has been driven by visions—the world I want to live in, how can I make that? The art I want to experience, how can I bring that to life. And though my nightly visions aren’t directed like that—there are clear symbols and powerful messages.
What my waking dreams and sleeping dreams have in common is this: whoever I am at the moment is looking for freedom, the freedom found not in escaping but living. Staying on deck, not going overboard.
My dream is to inhabit this life.