On dreams and reality.

15 Jan

I’ve always had a strange dream life. Nightmares mostly. Some might even call them “night terrors.” But even with the rare good dreams, came wild imaginings drawn across a mental plane that is only loosely attached to reality. Adventures with movie-like plots, where I began as a young and agile female character racing through darkened city streets on a mission of unmeasurable importance, to a wizened male character looking through a bright window at the peaceful countryside.

Once, during a dream where I was playing myself, I stood in the downstairs portion of my two-level apartment — the squared-off twisting staircase behind me, my large square mirror to my side — and looked around the room. “I’m dreaming,” I said, self-aware. So I woke up, walked downstairs, peeked in the mirror and realized with shock, “I’m dreaming.” So I woke up, walked downstairs, scanned the room and glanced at my reflection and thought, I’m still dreaming. Panic filled my sleep and I ran back upstairs to my bed to wake up.

So, I woke up and raced downstairs to see if I was awake. I leaned forward at the bottom of the staircase, my hand resting possessively on the little wooden crown at the end of the railing, and searched the room. My heart began to slow. I looked in the mirror. I breathed deeply. I must be awake now, I thought with comfort. I let go of the railing and turned to go back upstairs. A small gold and glass lamp twinkled halfway across the room to my left. I paused. Something wasn’t right. I don’t remember that lamp. And I certainly don’t remember it resting on the ceiling, with its white cord trailing along the popcorn crumbs as though gravity were reversed somewhere above my head — a mirror image. “I’m still dreaming!” I said, my mouth filling with a yell.

I sat up in bed, panting. My dog — a mini, grey and white thing that I allowed to sleep under the covers with me — snorted and moved away. I pinched my arm (seriously). I swallowed. I listened. And that’s when I knew I was finally awake.

The sound of reality is a layered and complex orchestra of noisemakers at varying distances, which dance with the tingling pressurized ring in my ears and the thoughts that are so subconscious I’m always nervous I’ve said them out-loud. My dreams, though sometimes filled with screams and explosions, are virtually soundless — save for one single tone, voice, focus. There is no complexity amidst the confusion and emotion. There are no layers that paint an invisible, textured canvas over the scene played out in front of me.

As I sat up, breathlessly deciding on reality, my dog settled in and began to snore immediately. A lone car pressed its tires against the paved country road just outside. The elderly wood and brick house resettled in the night around me. The wind tickled the loose glass in the window frames. And my heart — which was still steadily thumping — banged against the bones in my head and chest.

I’m awake, I thought, laying back down to sleep.

New.

3 Jan

The New Year whispered it’s chilly speech, leaving a crust of snow over everything outside my windows. I’d been telling people for weeks just how much I love snow, the cold, and basically anything to do with layering knitted garments before heading outdoors. But today, as I shivered under my shirts, sweater, coat, scarf, hat, gloves, I mumbled “It’s too cold,” my breath billowing out in a white fog in front of me before I closed my stinging eyes.

It’s strange how I long for the clear cold nights during the Ohio summer days that last into humid 9 p.m. sunsets over the Appalachian hills. It’s funny how I dream of stretching out in bare legs and arms, out behind my duplex apartment soaking up the sun, while I duck even deeper into my knobby knitted scarf. Apparently I am satisfied with every season for about 4 to 6 weeks at a time.

I’ve always been that way. I’m the straight-haired girl who wants curls. The East Coast born, who has Oregon plotted as her next move. The word-nerd who often just wants to drift off from the concrete ties of language and into an abstract world.

This quirk in my personality has brought me through more than 5 majors for my undergraduate degree. It’s drawn me to homes in more than a few states, house-hopping every year or two (or less). And I now have a scrolling photo album of my many hair transformations.

Another year has drifted by, another glossy page on my calendar turned, and it makes me think about the near future. I tried making resolutions once, years ago, and quickly realized that I only end up with guilt in July. But this year — 2014 — my thirty-third year of life on this earth, I do have one resolution. One that I know I won’t fail to maintain. One that won’t leave me with self-reproach:

I will embrace my need for adventure and change. I will celebrate the boredom — like a shoreline seen in the distance, my boat soon to discover. I will know that this often burdensome need will only create a life worth looking back at — a life filled with awe and effort, inspiring people and difficult challenges. A life that I would have sincerely lived. And I will feel satisfied at last with that.

No, I’m not 20.

6 Dec

Everyone is always so surprised to learn my age. Perhaps that’s why I instinctively overemphasize the numbers (thirty-twoooo) and immediately start nodding in anticipation of their incredulity. “I know, I know,” I say, pulsing my head up and down at the “You look so young” exclamation points hanging in the air between us.

Women usually respond with some version of: You’ll be glad when you’re 50 and still look 30! Yeah, well, right now I still look 18. And that can create some awkward moments when you step forward to introduce yourself as the new voice teacher, or walk to the podium for a presentation in front of a roomful of your (older) peers, , or interview for an-y-thing, or attempt to have in-depth conversations to share your well-worn thoughts on life. (The listener’s ear seems to soak up a little more when they know you actually lived your claimed experience.)

My mother can identify, I’m sure. It’s her fault anyway.

Years and years and years ago, I sat in the passenger’s seat as my mom guided the car to the second pickup window. She rolled down the window below a young man who waited with our bag of warmed, salty fries. He smiled and his dark hair curled out from under an ill-fitting red baseball hat. As she asked for ketchup, he started up conversation. Where you guys headed? From around here? This all your having for lunch? My mother politely answered while he slowly added ketchup and napkins to the bag.

As he leaned out to hand my mom the fries, he abruptly asked for her number. Her number. Not me. Not the female closer to his own age, with matching freckles of acne, sitting within hello-distance. Nope. He asked my mother — my 40-year-old mother. She laughed, quickly turned him down (declaring her age), all while rolling up the window and putting a little bit of weight on the accelerator. I remember his mouth open; his you look so young shock.

We drove away laughing as we both reached for handfuls of fries. It was funny when it was happening to my mother. Not so funny when I feel the need to somehow insert my actual age into conversation, because I think it would severely alter the way someone views me.

Next week, I cross over one more invisible threshold: I will be 33-years-old, sometime early Monday morning. But I already know not much will change. I will still see eyebrows jump above widened eyes, with You’re how old?!, and No you’re not! offered in response.

Yes, I am in my thirties. I struggle with 30-year-old ideas, though my virtually line-less face doesn’t show it. I wonder about having a family, the next step in my career, paying off car loans and student debt, and what I will invest in the next decade of my marriage.

But just like the 20-somethings that might mistake me as one of them, I still care what people think of me. I still feel the need to define who I am. I still fight to let go.

And really, when I stop being annoyed, I get really close to admitting it’s not that bad of a predicament.

I guess I still have some growing up to do.

Instagram Love

27 Nov

Twelve years ago I bought my first cell phone. I called it my electronic leash and grumbled every time it buzzed in my pocket, interrupting what I thought was my busy life.

A few weeks ago I finally bought my first smart phone. It took a total of fifteen minutes for my life to change. That was specifically the amount of time it took for me to load my social media apps and finally sign up for this “Instagram” thing my friends all talk about.

Insta-love.

As a closet-photographer, I have quickly become one of those people standing in the middle of the sidewalk, my iPhone at arm’s-length, a wide Cheshire grin stretched across my face as I snap Hipstamatic shots of leaves.

And #hashtagsaremynewlanguage.

Yet, with this new electronic distraction, my life also became easier. Convenience fit into the palm of my hand. I can now access my Kroger coupons with a swipe of an index finger. I can reply to emails without having to drive uptown for the wi-fi. I can check my Facebook at 3 a.m.

And I can play (and win!) 5 games of Words With Friends simultaneously, while walking across campus. In the rain.

But Instagram has won my heart. It was the unexpected experience of this new plugged-in life. My creative self was craving an outlet that wouldn’t require too much of me, something I wouldn’t have to find time to fit into my working/schooling/living calendar. A way to make pictures without carrying an extra 10 pounds, hanging off my shoulder 16 hours a day. Now I can giggle at footprints in the snow, and share that moment with my friends. I can smile at the sun reaching across a hillside and post that experience for others to feel.

I’ll freely admit, it’s nice to check my bank account balance by only moving my thumb. Yes, I like to wake up and see that I have a dozen Facebook notifications. Yes, I want to scroll through pictures of life through the tiny lens of these very portable cameras.

(I just need to stop calling it Hipstagram.)

Find me @elleeprince

Image

Connections.

13 Oct

There’s bass coming from the stereo speakers of a nearby car. They wait at the top of the hill for a light to turn green. I wait for them to fade in the distance, muffled by the rows of brick buildings as they turn the corner. An older woman, with short faintly tinged lavender-white hair rocks her foot to the beat. She wears bright orange Crocks with the back strap positioned over her heels. It seems a subconscious motion – she continues to talk, unbothered, to the table of other older women. “Sexual interaction,” she says in her long stream of explanation. Hand motions accompany the topic. A breeze pulls her voice away, after the bass softens in the background.

 

For a time, when I dated my husband, I lived in coastal Virginia. Crowded beaches. Jet noise. Flip-flops year round. And bass resounding at every stoplight. Never mind the pick-your-own strawberry fields in late May, or the ferry ride from the south coast to North Carolina, or the vineyards full of muscadine grapes. I don’t immediately recall the salty breezes miles inland or moonlight walks along cold sand beaches in December. Instead, I recall air-conditioned car rides – not because of the heavy humidity, but because of the people’s love for a specific kind of music. Bass rhythmically shocking their side view mirrors, so the reflection looked like one of those slow photos capturing a moving object. Bass so loud that the plastic and metal frame of each car buzzed high-pitch with each beat.

Once when I was a teenager, but not yet driving, I depended on an older friend to get me around. She would swing the car door open by leaning across the seat with a wide smile, her blonde bangs hanging half over her blue eyes. “Hey!” she’d shout as I dropped my body in. Turning the volume up, she’d lean back into the driver’s seat, still smiling. The bass would vibrate in my ribs, nausea rising to my throat, as I pretended to hear the conversation she was attempting to shout over the rattling hum. My ears would ring for days.

I was in a band with my brother for years. We played what we thought at the time was incredibly unique music: a mix of folk and rock and punk and psychedelic emotional laments. We carted our own equipment with us – guitars, drums, microphones, speakers and one short black monitor that we positioned at a forward center point on the stage. The only place that every band member could hear: about two feet directly in front of me. As I sang, my soprano voice always floating on top of the mid-range sounds of the instruments around me, I could feel the bass pulsing through the chaos. My feet absorbing the sharp insistence of it’s beat.

 

The group of older women have left. Their Crocks and Danskos and Earth shoes have moved somewhere else and left an empty table. A couple to my left speak Slovenian, while the man smokes strong smelling cigarettes. His voice dipping into a lower register when he laughs. Haw haw haw, a smoker’s crumbling laugh. He must have made a joke. Her laugh, a giggle almost, tucked tight in-between the words she says in reply. Their language reminds me of rolling down the grass hills of my youth.

 

The night I met my husband, a mutual friend introduced us. I shook his hand while I looked at his shoes and tried to decide where he was from. Pennsylvania? his blue patterned Velcro Tevas suggested. No – there were no socks. I walked to the front of the room and sat on the assigned stool. My brother lifted the fabric strap of his acoustic guitar over his head, looked at me, and smiled. My cue to relax. Even after years of performing, my ears filled with my heartbeat and my mind grew light above me. Like a helium-filled balloon in a small child’s hand, soon to be lost. We sang, and I gripped the microphone – squeezing out the songs we had written together for almost ten years. I didn’t know then that we were singing one of our last few shows together – him off to college, me off to marriage. I didn’t know then that I had just ignored my future husband based on a pair of shoes – a man who would see more potential for life in me than I would ever see in myself.

I was putting away cords, wrapping them palm to elbow to palm, when someone made this future love of mine laugh from the back of the room. His unusually low baritone hitting the floor beneath me and shocking weakness into my knees. I reached out to steady myself as I noticed his smile for the first of a million times, wondering how I might hear those deep tones again.

 

The empty table next to me is now occupied by a balding man in moccasin-type house shoes and a thin ponytail. He reads a tiny book with a blue ballpoint pen steadied in his fingers, while my husband walks across the street with a friend. Justin Timberlake belts from a four-door at the top of the hill now. Every fourth beat hits a deep electric bass. I look up to see my husband now sitting with his elbows on his knees, and my heart thumps out a low sustaining pulse.

I have a black thumb.

5 Oct

To get to the root of it, you have to dig. Which requires you to get down in the earth, on your hands and knees, back aching and fingernails ruined. Even more unpleasant if you weren’t planning on this level of gardening today.

People tell me I’m very self-aware. They tell me I really know who I am. And apparently that’s great. What they don’t know is that the root of me is still stuck in the ground. I’m still buried beneath the public relations filter that we all walk around with: Like me. Think I’m smart. Support my choices. They hear me talking honestly about my emotions or traumatic experiences and they think I’m so real.

The trouble starts when I begin to like that perception of me – and even to depend on it. I stop gardening. I stop digging.

Today I started to dig again. And I’m not very pleased with what I’m unearthing. It’s a little too honest to fit into my schedule right now. A little too messy – covered in dirt long undisturbed. But here I am. And here I choose to be, working in the garden, trying to cultivate a real life. I’m exhausted and aching, but I’ve managed to face it this time: the work of it.

I will be grieving the loss of parts of me, which I’ve found rotting just below the surface. And I will be extremely conscious of my black thumb, but I am determined to bear good fruit. Unfortunately, that requires some Saturday afternoons spent sweating just inches above the earth, being honest again. Digging into life again.

It starts by planting an awkward blog-seed into cyberspace.

Four miles down, one billion to go.

26 Aug

For the first time since major surgery, I ran four miles without stopping. This was a significant milestone for me {pun intended}.

I celebrate these small victories of health with mini-parties. If anyone is around, they receive the gift of my wide grin and an endless stream of words explaining to them the awesomeness of my run. If they’re lucky, there is also a vigorous high-five involved. But often, after these moments of effort and focus toward a specific goal, I am alone. Unlacing my shoes, stripping of my socks, walking with sweaty tip-toes across the cream-colored carpet, and still talking out loud a half-octave higher.

Running changed my body, my health. It changed my lingo (hello, farleks and PR). Eight years ago, it changed my perspective.

With these milestones I built a road. A smooth path to remember moments of strength and sweat and rhythmic determination. And miles. Miles and miles and miles. And every time I return from this road, I celebrate the miles I have left to go. Which suddenly seemed odd today, when I looked at how many rows were left in the database, how many to-do items were left on my list, how many months until I graduate. Too many, I thought.

Yet, after running another four miles last night, I considered how many miles I have left until I simply can’t run anymore.

Not enough, I said out loud. With a wide grin.

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