dream sequence – part 76


I was standing at the bar, since I didn’t plan to stay for very long. I ordered a bright pink cosmo and sipped it slowly. You arrived shortly after I did but didn’t notice me. You seemed flustered, agitated, and in need of a drink.

I knew the bartender wasn’t ignoring you, but I also knew that your repeated attempts to get his attention only delayed his arrival to our end of the bar. In the meantime, a much-too-excitable young man with short curly hair and round glasses began flirting with you, hovering like a mosquito between you and the bar. You did your best to ignore him, even when he offered to flag down the bartender and buy you a drink. When it was clear that he wasn’t going to be deterred, you abruptly asked him to leave you alone. He departed in a huff, disdainfully tossing a five dollar bill onto the bar.

I picked it up and offered it to you. “Hazardous duty pay,” I said.

The bartender approached, asking if I needed a refill. I pointed to you.

“I’m good,” you replied, walking away.

“How about you?” teased the bartender. “Are you good?”

“I’m awesome,” I replied. “And I’ll have another.”


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dream sequence – part 75


Another recurring theme in my dreams is the inability to find my car in a crowded parking lot. This has only happened a handful of times in real life, as suburban living usually allows for more reasonably sized parking lots, relegating that nightmare scenario to those dangerous treks into The Big City. I also have a tendency to try to park in the same spot, or to memorize some landmark to help me quickly locate my car. More recently, I started using the camera on my phone to photograph either an aisle number or some other marker to establish location.

In my dream, I wasn’t in one of those sprawling parking lots one would expect to see in an urban airport. I was at a shopping mall, visiting some large department store. While it wasn’t labelled, it could have been a Wal-Mart or similar franchise, featureless, ubiquitous and efficient.

Except that this store was nearly void of product. Nearly all of the shelves were empty. Even the walls lacked decoration or signage. There were plenty of people, however, all somewhat disoriented by the abundance of nothing.

Having wandered all the way to the back of the store without finding much of anything, I searched for the exit, which was at an entirely different corner of the store from the entrance. I crossed into the parking lot and began looking for my car.

In the dream, I had the car I currently have in real life: a green, 2008 Toyota RAV4. It differs from the newer models in that it has a distinctive rear-mounted spare tire, so I began looking for that. There were other green cars, and other RAV4s but none of them were mine. It was frustrating that I could be overlooking my car in such a modest-sized lot, and yet there I was.

I clicked my remote to unlock the car and heard a faint beeping sound. I must have walked right past it. As I got closer to where I thought I had heard the sound, I clicked again, but the sound was fainter. When I clicked the panic button, I heard nothing at all.

At that point, I was rescued by the alarm in my bedroom.

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dream sequence – part 74


Despite being routinely punctual in real life, I have quite a few dreams about running late for one reason or another and rushing to get some place with increasing urgency and increasingly frustrating results. This morning I had another such dream.

As is often the case, I had no idea why I was rushing, where I was going, or even where I was. My subconscious had fabricated a completely fictitious location populated by anonymous people. I spotted what I thought was my Uber ride (something I’ve yet to experience in my waking life) in front of an official-looking building and jumped into the back seat of a nice new SUV. While it was clear that the driver was alarmed to see me, he made no effort to remove me from the vehicle or even to ask me who I was.

Another man walked up to the passenger window of the car from the sidewalk and motioned to the driver, who promptly jumped out of the car and opened up a rumble seat in the front of the car, where the car’s engine would normally be. This new passenger shot a disdainful glance at me known in the dog world as “stink eye”. The driver also eyed me warily, but nevertheless put the vehicle in drive, pulled away from the curb and drove toward our destination.

During the brief drive, I wondered about the other passenger’s special seating arrangement. Why wasn’t I offered the rumble seat? Maybe this person was being honored at some official event, and sought to make a grand entrance. We drove only a block or two before I realized that I was very wrong.

We pulled into an urban cemetery, driving slowly and deliberately. I suddenly remembered that I had somewhere else to be and wondered how I had ended up in yet another entirely different place and scenario. As I felt myself waking up, I debated the merits of making a quick, unexplained exit. When I sat up in bed, I realized that my alarm would sound in about 15 minutes.

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the problem of pain


Back in the 80’s and 90’s, I struggled with migraines and what were nebulously described as cluster headaches. The pattern went like this: I would have a mild headache most of the time for weeks or months, punctuated by intense, debilitating pain about once a week. The severe pain was often triggered by stress, bright light, loud sounds or odd odors. Sometimes I just woke up with it, at which point I didn’t care what it was called — I just wanted it to go away.

I’ve had a respite of over 2 decades from this affliction, but it seems to have returned some time late last year. While I have some theories around root cause, I’ve eliminated many possible triggers without much success: I’ve dramatically curtailed my alcohol consumption (producing the desired side effect of some weight loss) and am monitoring both my caffeine intake and blood pressure. Ironically, the elimination of one of my blood pressure prescriptions, atenolol, may have made me more susceptible to migraines, as it’s sometimes prescribed as a migraine preventative. In my case, it dramatically lowered my resting pulse — to the high-40s instead of the mid-60s in beats per minute — so I don’t fault my doctor’s decision to remove it from my med routine. If anything, I’m in favor of less drugs and not more of them.

For the most part I’ve been relying on Extra Strength Excedrin as both a treatment and a preventative when I feel that my default headache is getting worse. More advanced treatments, everything from beta blockers and opiates, render me a bit skeptical. In the past, the headaches have disappeared as mysteriously as they’ve arrived, so I’m hoping this unwelcome visitor takes a hint and packs up soon. It couldn’t be soon enough…

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dream sequence – part 73


In the dream, I was watching a hockey game between some local kids who had managed to get some ice time. Truth be told, I’m not much of a hockey fan, but it seemed that my brothers were playing, and I was just a kid without nothing better to do.

There was a girl on the ice who was outplaying the older boys by an almost ridiculous margin, scoring at will and essentially having the rink to herself. She didn’t wear a helmet, but given that no one could catch her, she really didn’t need to.

She didn’t suit up for the second period. Instead, she walked up into the stands, one or more rows in front of me, and tried to speak.

“I’d like to read a poem,” she said to the sound of skates. Nobody stopped.

“Would you like me to try?” I offered, not sure how I thought I might improve the situation. I suppose I was trying to show off.

She handed me a sheet of paper with messy scrawl, decorated with doodles. It took me a few seconds to figure out where it began, and where it would go from there, but I boomed it out as well as I could. Midway through the ordeal, I realized I was reading a poem about how much she missed her college roommate. The booming voice was definitely overkill, so I switched to a much softer tone. The players stopped, and listened.

I stopped when I got to the end, and play unceremoniously resumed.

“You missed the last line” she said. I was mortified.

“It’s fine,” she said. “It turned out great. Thank you for reading it.”

We had to exit the rink through the changing room, where the kids were all talking about her.

“Even Joe scored when she left the game,” referring to my youngest brother. They grew silent when they realized she was there.

I asked her if she ever read in public, in front of other people. She confessed that the very thought terrified her. I tried to encourage her.

“Not that you’re necessarily writing for other people, but when you read in front of a crowd you get to see what works, and what doesn’t.”

Wasn’t I the expert! I started to get self-conscious, realizing that the other kids were watching me. Then I asked her if she was familiar with haiku. I recited my favorite translation of the Basho classic.

the old pond…
a frog jumps into
the sound of water

She leaned forward to give me a kiss.

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first thought, best thought


The phrase “First thought, best thought” originated with Allen Ginsberg, but Jack Kerouac popularized it in his essay Essentials of Spontaneous Prose and illustrated the approach in his epic novel “On the Road“. Popular myth holds that the original manuscript was written on a single continous sheet of paper in one amphetamine-fueled session, Kerouac claiming that “punctuation only hindered the process, and that pausing and thinking were also detrimental.

We now know that “On the Road” experienced multiple edits before its publication years later, and that spontaneity and “purity of speech” were all part of a carefully crafted illusion.

I encounter the same dilemma as a haiku poet, and knowing that Kerouac wrote some exceptional haiku allows me to benefit from this very basic struggle: to capture an authentic image in perfect clarity.

The first part of this puzzle, the “authentic image”, hearkens back to the Zen origins of haiku and its ancestors in Japanese and Chinese poetry. In meditative practice, poetry is a by-product of emptying the mind of the trappings of life and focusing on nature and its intersection with humanity. In its purest form, a haiku begins with an observation, be it in the woods, the workplace or the subway.

The poet’s conundrum starts with an attempt to translate the authentic image into words. I’ll use an example from a recent trip to Baja California Sur, Mexico. An hour or two past sunrise, I paced around on the viewing deck of the casita we called home for the week, searching for inspiration. The first thing I noticed was the persistent sound of ocean waves crashing against the beach in El Gavilan.

each pounding wave

Easy enough, I thought. Now to bring it all home with a little juxtaposition without trying to get too “crafty”. Although secondary images abounded – expat vacation homes in various states of construction, empty lots strewn with sagebrush and trash, and the Sierra Laguna mountains to the east – none seemed to compliment my experience of the waves without overwhelming it.

I shifted gears to contemplate how the sound of the waves made me feel. The first word that came to my mind was “gentle”, so I wrote:

each pounding wave

I came up with “unrelentingly” as a modifier of “pounding” and “gentle” as a contrast, and while I’m pleased with the result as a poetic exercise, I can’t help feeling that I can do better. Despite adhering to my “first thoughts”, I’m handicapped by the limitations of language, saddled with the unenviable burden of giving voice to intangible thoughts and images. And then there’s the perennial fight between the artist of my right brain and the engineer of my left brain. My right brain searches the heavens, while my left brain searches Google.

I guess I’ll just have to keep on writing until I get it right.

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how a haiku is made


Haiku might not be as tasty as sausage, but at least you’ll recognize all — or at least most — of the ingredients.

I’ve been writing haiku for over 25 years now, and I find that I’m writing more, and at a much more rapid clip than I did when I was younger. Sometimes I think I must have more time on my hands, but I know that really isn’t the case. And far from having more inspiration as raw material, I find less of it while living and working in suburbia than I did when I spent ten years commuting into downtown Boston. So how do I account for this increase in productivity after over a quarter century?

For one, I no longer wait for inspiration to walk over to me and introduce itself. I write about where I am, where I’m going, what I’m doing and what I see around me. It may or may not be interesting to anyone but me. If it strikes my fancy, I write about it.

As for making time to write, while I do try to find some “quiet time” every day, sometimes I just have to pause whatever I’m doing for the 30 seconds or so it takes to gather my thoughts into words. Technology helps in this regard: a voice recording app on my cellphone enables me to capture words when I’m driving or otherwise don’t have access to a keyboard. Here’s an example, written about 3 hours ago and immortalized via my voice recording app:

Spring Cleaning Haiku

For those who would rather not hear my voice, here it is in plain text:

spring cleaning —
choosing the memories
I will keep

Never mind that it isn’t Spring. Rather than a seasonal activity, “spring cleaning” has become the mindset my wife and I have adopted ever since we decided to sell our home of over 22 years. And while it’s one thing to put a house on the market, it’s quite another to scrutinize birthday cards, Christmas gifts and other mementos of intangible value, deciding in an instant whether to save them or relegate them to the recycle bin. To state the obvious, it’s a pretty draining undertaking.

So I took a break from sorting through drawers, shelves and boxes and made my weekly drive to the Wayland Town Dump, knowing that I was about to part with innumerable time capsules of various shape and form. Somewhere on Route 27, between West Plain Street and Old Connecticut Path, the words formed in my head, and I knew I needed to record them before I pulled into the dump and lost my train of thought.

That, in a nutshell, is how this particular haiku was made.

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