The Struggle

I struggle with the struggle of body image, loving yourself, healthy weight . . . all of the things that go into healthy regard for differences. There’s this no-win vortex.

  • When you’re overweight, don’t body-shame yourself.
  • When you lose weight, be careful how you announce it, lest you shame someone who hasn’t.
  • When you’re too skinny, don’t body shame yourself.
  • When you change your diet and work out to build muscle on those bones, don’t brag in a way that body shames the skinny girl.

We tiptoe around healthy body image vs. healthy body weight vs. loving where we are vs. setting goals for where we want to be. I have friends who have legitimately worked on nutrition and exercise, but when they take photos of themselves to show their progress, they include a “disclaimer” of sorts to make sure they don’t tread over those who are still in the struggle.

I’ve always struggled with weight. We set impossible standards. When I look back at photos of my younger self, I wonder why I felt like I was fat all those years. I was fine. Can I say that? Fat? Fine? But fat vs. fine is not the real struggle for me. And this is not about PC.

A few years ago, I was sitting on my friend’s patio across from her then boyfriend. I don’t remember what we were talking about but, apparently, we were disagreeing  about something. I think he had had a few. When I felt like I was making a little traction in our discussion, he said:

Sit your fat ass down.
Whoa!

Can you hear me?

My friend apologized for her boyfriend’s comment. But my “whoa!” was not about his comment or my fat ass. At the time, my ass was bigger than I wanted, but I wondered Is that all you see? We were having a conversation. Is that really all you have?

I didn’t have a clever comeback in the moment. Honestly, I didn’t need one. I didn’t really care what he thought. But I’ve thought about that incident over the years. I realize that people, especially women, are dismissed if they’re too heavy, too skinny, too plain, too made-up, too pretty even! They don’t get to keep their voice at the table: Sit your ___ ass down!

I struggle with body image because it gets in the way when it shouldn’t. I remember an episode of a show Judd Hirsch was in, where he “met” a woman over the phone. They had several conversations and he pretty much fell in love with her. Then he met her in person, and she wasn’t what he expected.

I get it. Body chemistry counts for something. But it shouldn’t discount everything else. He liked her! She was funny. Clever. And Judd’s character could hear and understand her before he met her in physical.

Whoa! Sit your ass down! You don’t look like what I wanted.

I don’t have answers and I don’t think any single one of us can fix this. I’m also not unguilty of dismissing someone because they’re too something physically. But I’ll do my part to listen harder, hear better, see through it, and allow all the voices at the table —no matter what shape, color, or size— to be heard. Yeah. Even if you don’t or can’t, I’ll sit my fat ass down and listen.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2020.

Time Out

Time out

You’re in time out
Could be worse.
It could be a spanking.
You just wait until dad gets home!
Or it could be a rejection.
Out! I can’t look at you anymore!
But it’s just time out.

Stay in your room.
No, you can’t leave yet.
What did you say?
Just wait until I tell your mom!

You’re in time out squirt.
Sit here and think about what you did.
The mindlessness,
Like a rat, gnawing away at the fine edges of all the beautiful things.
No respect. No consideration for me
your mom
your dad.
Taking all the things we’ve provided for granted.

You sit here and think about that, why don’t you?
The ease of playing with friends in parks and at parties.
Parties! Dinner parties, birthday parties, retirement parties
where everyone shared cakes and punch and finger foods.
You sit here and think about all those things you didn’t appreciate.
The mountains of choices at stores.
The restaurants, Can I have a taste of yours?
The Hi! Come give me a hug!s at church.
The neighborly handshakes across a fence.
The friendly conversations around a fire pit.
Drinking from water fountains.
Splashing around in public fountains and pools.

You’re in time out and you’d best do as I say.
Sit here.
Be grateful for all you still have.
And don’t come back out until you can be a better human.

You’re in time out.
It’s for your own good.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2020.

Recovery

Post-op recovery threw me into all of my zones of discomfort. The surgery was minor, recovery time relatively brief, but the discomfort was enormous. The physical discomfort was tolerable with a few pain killers and Advil. But the discomfort in the socio-emotional spheres was damn-near intolerable.

The Secret’s Art of Allowing and Don Miguel’s Don’t take it personally

The largest harp that I play to family and friends has two strings:

  • allowing
  • not taking things personally

Even as I play that harp, I know allowing is challenging. I am aware of the energy it takes to make peace with cruel or thoughtless words and acts. I play the harp well and I mostly live the tune.

For a couple of days after my surgery, I was failing at my most convincing harp tunes.

  • I was pissed because my surgeon didn’t warn me how painful recovery would be.
  • I was pissed because I had to allow myself to be helpless (I truly had no choice) as my daughter and a couple of friends made sure I was safe, hydrated, nurtured, and, importantly, that the plumbing was working properly.
  • I was pissed because I couldn’t get up and go as I pleased.
Recovery

Luda was found by a friend of a friend. She liked to roll in stinky stuff, catch rodents and eat bird seed (and poop with bird seed in it). She loved to crunch on ice cubes, and she danced the cutest two-foot dance when she wanted to be fed. We will miss her.

I’m not in control

On the third day, just as I was beginning to feel a little more at ease if not more independent, Luda, our first family dog, started behaving oddly. She was still wagging her tail, so we opted out of the only available vet visit that day. By evening, I realized this beagle-blue healer mix was breathing just like our mother cockatiel Annie did on her last day. My heart sank, then it sank deeper: I couldn’t invite Luda onto my lap. I couldn’t even bend over to pet her. I couldn’t be the one to go with her to the animal hospital.

The hospital called me at 2:20 in the morning. Luda had died in a breathing tent there. I had to allow her to slip away without a lap cuddle, without sitting with her like I did for Annie. I was angry and sad, but crying wasn’t an option with staples stitching parts of my core.

The next day, my first day home alone, our first foster fail had another seizure. This happens about once a month (that we know of), and I normally lie on the floor and hold her to protect her from hurting herself during the seizure. This time I couldn’t. Core staples. That distress was soon left behind by the stress of witnessing a “limp” seizure. She looked dead. After almost 20 minutes of my gentle foot nudges, she wobbled up and out. I’m still suspicious that that seizure changed her more than any previous (much more violent) ones.

That night, to most of the city’s delight, it snowed. I wasn’t expecting a snow, so the weekend before my surgery, I had done nothing to prepare for it. My garden and my pots of peppers were exposed. The power went out for 36 hours. I sat from my recovery chair watching the white dusting of snow and cold choke my plants. To salvage what they could, my daughter and my honey dragged some of the plants onto the back porch and ran water over the plants that were in beds. They boiled pots of water on our gas stove and pulled out camping equipment to warm the air so our cockateils wouldn’t freeze to death. I sat. I watched as others took care of a problem because I couldn’t.

Lessons in Allowing and Forgiveness

Maybe because I fiercely play that harp of allowing and forgiveness. Maybe because I find it so simple to apply in most of my situations and so logical when I harp at others about applying it. Maybe because I shouldn’t play the harp at others. Maybe because I needed a reminder. Part of allowing is allowing your own ugly feelings and process. Part of allowing is allowing yourself to face emotions that can’t be digested at that moment. And part of not taking anything personally is not taking your own shortcomings personally. Part of the tune is allowing yourself to recover even as you shake your fists at the pain.

The process trips over and folds into itself, but on the other side of it is forgiveness for what we didn’t like and couldn’t control and hope as we embrace what we still have and can take forward.

My recovery isn’t over. I still can’t jump up and go. I’m not supposed to lift anything over 5 lbs. (But I need that bag of sugar! It’s Christmas, for crying out loud!)

This is an itty-bitty recovery. This recovery is not worthy of sympathy, empathy, or even a blog post. The worthy is in the reminder. The worthy is finding the path on the other side of recovery.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2017.

Strong and Vulnerable

Bernice, our first foster failure, had another seizure this evening. This was a strong seizure. Her legs stiff but flailing as if she were trying to run or swim away, body folded at one moment, hyperextended the next, eyes popping out and sinking at once, and mouth clenched. I held her close to protect her from banging against edges, my hand cupped over her racing heart. How was her heart not exploding under the pressure of these seizures?

I fell to pieces the first time I saw her have a seizure. I woke a little after midnight and I fussed at her.strong

Settle down, Bernice.

When she didn’t I turned the light on.

Steven!!!! Something’s wrong with Bernice! 

I couldn’t sort through any of the questions.

What do we do? Who do we call? How do we get her downstairs? She’s not going to die, is she?

She didn’t, but we learned a lot about seizures into the wee hours of the morning.

We’re Both Strong and Vulnerable

As far as I know, Bernice has about one seizure a month. I probably see most of them since I work from home, and she’s my shadow. Seizures vary from violent (she might hurt herself or me) to limpish (stiff but no flailing or shaking). Sometimes she groans as if she’s in pain or afraid. Sometimes it’s as if she’s not even breathing.

As I hold Bernice through a seizure, I’m amazed that this strong creature is so helpless. Of our three dogs, she’s the strong, buff one. Through a seizure, I marvel at her heart, those delicate layers of tissue continue to pump blood, holding together even as her body seems to be imploding.

During a seizure, strong and vulnerable collide, spilling reminders: No guarantees. In a heartbeat. Life is precious.

I know the seizure is almost over when Bernice begins to pant and drool. Her joints slowly loosen up. She struggles to get up, but I hold her a few seconds more. It takes a few more for her legs to steady. I follow as she hazards a crooked path through the house to go outside. She’s going to be fine.

Yes, we’re also vulnerable. Sometimes, it’s in those moments that we find our strengths, like Bernice’s heart, fragile layers of tissue, solid as a rock as they give her the oxygen and strength to pull through the seizure.

I’m vulnerable, but I’m also strong.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Rest and the To-Do List

My to-do list was ridiculously long this weekend. I managed to cross out quite a bit of it. After I did a few things that weren’t on the list, I quickly jotted those down and just as quickly crossed through them, tilting the balance of done and still to-dos. I felt a little more accomplished.

Add Rest to the To-Dos

My to-do lists are always ambitious. I’m not alone, and like many who scratch out marathon to-do lists, for years I skimped on rest to tackle them. Recently, I began making it a point to sleep more than four hours a night. It’s hard on my joints, but even when I wake up after four hours, I make the effort to go back to sleep a little longer.

Sometimes as I drift off, work is heavy on my mind. I might have odd dreams of being physically trapped in excel spreadsheets or in div code. One night, when my honey came to bed and spooned me, I barely woke from dreams of HTML and CCS code. I quickly slipped back into dream to figure out the div and flex code for his body spooned next to mine.

To avoid dreams of excel prisons and html relations, I consciously fold ideas from creative endeavors —characters, plots, and personal projects— into that sleep liquid that bathes the brain.

I honestly don’t notice a great difference in the way I feel after two to four extra hours of sleep. I’ve never been a sound sleeper. But I do notice that I have more energy for those creative endeavors. More creative stamina.

I trust those sleeping brain juices. I trust the quiet.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Congratulations! It’s a hernia!

I realized a few months ago that the chunk at the top of my belly seemed to be independent of my belly. For years I’ve made self-deprecating jokes about my “kitty litter belly,” shaped like a litter box, but maybe just a belly full of kitties.

The chunk grew a bit. I ignored it a long bit. Until I realized I was trivializing when I shouldn’t, and perhaps my cavalier disregard for this growth might even be disrespectful of friends who had dealt with the discovery of dangerous bodily growths.

When I finally mentioned it to people in my life, the response was mostly alarm and that tilted-head, raised-brow look.

OK!! I’ll go to the doctor.

And I did. The diagnosis took mere minutes.

A gigantic umbilical hernia!

Happy the Hernia

He didn’t actually say gigantic or use an exclamation point, but it is big, and . . . (exclamation point please) I am so happy!!!! It’s a hernia!! I’ll name it Happy. I don’t have a square belly! I don’t have a tumor! I have a Happy Hernia!

I didn’t think it would be any more serious than a lump of fat, but, what do I know? Sometimes the odd things that appear on our bodies are not only serious, they are life-snuffing. I’ve been on that journey with more than one friend.

This is not one of those journeys.

I’m grateful. I’m grateful for my health. My knees are wrecked, my back is a little crooked, and I have regular bouts of IBS. But, my heart rate is low, my blood pressure is impressive, I don’t take a single medication, and that lump on my belly is just a hernia!

I’m also grateful for my friends and family. They’re the ones who will make sure I sit still long enough to heal after the hernia extraction. If you’re the praying type, pray for them. Sitting still is not listed among the skill sets on my résumé.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Thirty Days

Today begins the fourth month of my “commitment” calendar (thirty days more or less), during which I commit to doing something each day. This month, lucky world!, it’s a blog post each day!

I was first intrigued about making a monthly commitment when I heard Matt Cutts on the Ted Radio hour. This sounded doable. Safe. Fruitful.

For my birthday, I created a calendar with beach photos I took during a women’s retreat. That first month, I committed to moving for at least five minutes a day. Yup. Working from home requires unspeakable things. I would go, not only days, but weeks!! with minimal movement. Chained to my computer getting the job done. I was only able to cross out 19 of the 31 days of July, but hey! That was better than any of the previous 6 months! I walked, gardened, mowed, and . . . other things? I can’t figure out what some letters I jotted on my calendar mean (CJ? Jacks? P?), but they all mean I moved at least five minutes. Most often 30 plus minutes.

In August I committed to a cup of green tea every day. After the stress of moving for at least five whole minutes daily, I deserved to relax and have tea. 29 out of the 31 days of August! On 12 of those days I continued to move at least five minutes (mowing and walking).

For September, I set the bar higher: clear the kitchen table. Working from home also requires special talents.  One of those is the ability to turn a blind eye to housework. After twenty plus years as a freelancer, I’m an expert, so even clearing the table was a special challenge.

What’s heartening to me is that the challenges from the previous two months kept chiming in. Not 100%, but often enough to know that the challenges had made a difference. I moved at least 5 minutes (often over 30 minutes) for 23 days, and drank green tea 21 of those days.

The calendar challenge doesn’t and will not perfect me. But it makes me a more mindful and balanced person.

October is for Blogging

This month the commitment is to a blog post a day. This feels less “doable” and less “safe,” but here I go! I promise these won’t be introspective posts about how I manage to write a blog post. I have much more to explore: feeling choked, living in echo chambers, murderers, stories, friends, and a smidgin of politics.

So let’s dive into October. I won’t be perfect. It’s after midnight and I’m already late dammit. But I’ll be more balanced. More mindful.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

from product to DIY skin and hair care

Three and a half years ago I started dabbling in DIY solutions. My gateway DIYs were household cleaners: dish-washing liquid, dishwasher detergent, laundry detergent, furniture polish, oven cleaners, and even cultured enzymes for cleaners. While I still make household cleaners, it was the oils and butters for DIY skin and hair care potions that hooked me. I clean, treat, and moisturize everything —from the hair on my head to the soles of my feet, from the rough elbow and heel callouses to the delicate eyelid folds— with things I make.

That’s the DIY thrill. “I made it!”

With what?

Vinegar, sugar, salt, honey, beeswax, baking soda, butters, and oils.

But why?

When I tell people about my journey the responses are mixed.DIY skin and hair care

  • Wow!
  • You’re an overachiever.
  • I’ve been thinking about trying that!
  • How do you find the time?
  • Interesting!
  • Why on earth would you do that?

My answers are equally mixed and often vague. Although I’ve tackled some specific needs, I didn’t start down this DIY road because of specific needs. My DIY journey is more of a meandering response to my “How can I . . . ?” curiosity. How can I . . .

  • . . . live a little greener and remove toxins from our home? I’ll turn orange peels and pulp into cleaners!
  • . . . save money? I’ll make my own eye cream!
  • . . . go hard core with my three Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle)? I’ll wash those jars and fill them with DIY foot cream!

DIY is doable

Contrary to what you might think, going DIY for skin and hair care doesn’t take that much time. Once you’re in the groove, it takes less time to make your own than it does to go to the store. And in case you suspect otherwise, I’m not an overachiever. In fact, I’m lazy. In just about every endeavor, including work, my efforts are to find the most expedient way to get from A to Z. Honestly, I’m wont to question why I can’t just stop at M or N. What is the merit of going all the way to Z?

So if you’re poised to dismiss dabbling into DIY because it would take too much time and effort, you’re a little bit right but mostly wrong. The learning curve of the first dabblings might feel daunting, but two batches in, you’ll whip up a batch of face wash and eye cream with one hand, while you toss vegetables in a wok with the other. That’s an exaggeration, but I insist: DIY is doable.

The struggles of the learning curve aren’t all bad. My missteps and flops were rarely absolute failures. Often, I found my way to the perfect potion after a misstep or a flop. I credit one flop with shielding me from two to six weeks of transition misery when I went poo-less.

Poo-Less, my real Do-It-Your-Own-Way adventure

I first heard about discontinuing shampoo when one of my daughters went poo-less. She experienced the oily and itchy scalp as it made the adjustment from being stripped of its natural oils and overproducing sebum, to being left to its own devices.

DIY skin and hair care

I had this taken on the day my hair was 12 months shampoo-free, and a full week without being rinsed.

I dove head-first into the poo-less movement last year, bracing myself for the crown misery. Tight for time and effort, I didn’t do much research. I tried one of the first methods I came across and oiled my hair with a mostly carrier and essential oil solution, rinsed well (very well), then went to church.

I’m a wash-n-go girl, so, on my way to church, I drove with the windows down to help dry my hair, shook my head as I left the car, and entered. After the service, I noticed our minister staring dumbfounded at my head. My reflection when I returned to my car revealed why. My hair felt soft and dry but looked oiled and heavy! Oops!

For the next couple of weeks, I continued to oil my head, but I followed up with generous amounts of baking soda and vinegar. This, I think, is what saved me from the misery of the transition. After a couple of weeks, I had time to do more research and settle into a routine that suited me.

The takeaway from this experience: when you substitute over-the-counter products with DIY methods, allow yourself space and time to experiment (and fail!) so that you find what works for you.

DIY changed me

The changes range from the condition of my skin and hair, to how I stock my pantry, to my shopping list, and to my mindset when it comes to skin and hair care.

I take my skin texture for granted now and forget that, even in my supple 20s, I had bouts of chaffing and chronically dry, flaky skin. That’s the old me. The new DIY me no longer has:

  • Dry skin
  • Rough elbows
  • Cracked heels
  • Foot fungus

And my head? I no longer suffer from:

  • Itchy scalp
  • Oily hair

I haven’t shampooed my hair in over 14 months, and it has never felt better. My scalp never itches, and my hair never gets oily. In fact (and don’t judge, I was experimenting!), I have gone more than two weeks without even rinsing my hair. Still not itchy, not oily.

The changes in the texture, comfort, and health of my skin and hair are so pronounced that today, if I’m stuck somewhere without my DIYs, I will shun over-the-counter skin and hair products and make my way to the kitchen instead.

The most significant change is possibly my shopping list. I no longer buy:

diy dry skin cream

My first DIY potion: easy eye cream

  • Eye cream
  • Face wash
  • Body lotion
  • Foot cream
  • Face cream
  • Makeup remover
  • Shampoo
  • Hand cream
  • Body scrubs
  • Medicated creams for bites, rashes, and other skin irritations

These things have been usurped by essential and carrier oils, Shea butter, beeswax, and vegetable glycerin. Some of the oils are pricey, but even if I use only the most expensive essential oils, I still spend less money on skin care than if I were buying over-the-counter eye and face cream and body lotions. Add to that, the ones I make work as well and often better. So why would I buy over-the-counter?

Getting Started with DIY Skin and Hair Care

DIY skin and hair care

I use my mixer for whipping body creams more than for whipping up cakes.

Skin care

Figuring out how and from where to dive into DIY can be intimidating. Last year, I posted three pieces on getting started with skin care.

  • The first piece (DIY Skin Care Part 1: Oily Pantry) explains how to stock your pantry so that you always have what you need at hand.
  • The second (DIY Skin Care Part 2: Oily Starters) provides some basic recipes for you to get started. I prefer calling these processes because if you understand the basic process, you can experiment with it, tweaking the ingredients and the ratios to make it just right for you.
  • The third (DIY Skin Care Part 3: Oily Personals) is a list of essential and carrier oils, organized by skin and hair conditions, problems, and so on. This will help you personalize the creams, lotions, and unguents you concoct.

Hair care

Many blogs and websites offer DIY advice for hair care.

If you’re considering going poo-less, you can begin exploring ideas online.

But more importantly you’ll need to allow yourself opportunities to experiment and find the right method for your hair. Of the various poo-less approaches, the one that works for me is condition and rinse once or twice a week, and about once a month, rinse with a baking soda solution followed by vinegar before conditioning. For a while, I was using no conditioner, just soda and vinegar, but my hair needs a little moisture and conditioning. I’m experimenting with DIY conditioners but haven’t nailed it yet. When I do, I’ll share the process.

Freedom

One of the unexpected emotions I experienced on this DIY journey is the joy of freedom.

  • I’m free of the toxins that enter homes and bodies through over-the-counter cleaning and beauty products.
  • I’m free to design my products with the scents and textures I want, targeting the conditions and problems I have.
  • I’m free from the advertising mind games. Even the best packaging and slogans can’t lure me to purchase that age-defying unguent.

Knowing how to make things for myself is one of the most liberating feelings I’ve experienced, and one of the best reasons to at least dabble in DIY, even if you’re not willing to dive in deep yet.

Wishing you fun and fulfilling DIY skin and hair care adventures, whether they’re little dabblings or a lifetime journey!

© Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2017

I Choose to Change the Story I Tell

Many of us bemoan 2016. Tears, sadness, disappointment, despair. We wallow in the sad stories we tell about this year.

Before I stumble into 2017, I’m determined to change the story I tell.

I’m not trying to magically transform the sorrows of 2016. The losses will weigh on my heart for years to come.

I change the story I tell to celebrate the joys that I lived this year, to lift them to their proper place of honor, above the racket and confusion of 2016.

This is not forgetting. I’ll hold the the injustices, hate, and insanity of this year close even as I fill my narrative with joyful remembrances.

I change the story to draw more joy into my life and into my circle of family and friends.

This is not turning away from the problems. The dismay of 2016 will fuel my words and inform my choices as I face the infelicities, as well as that felicities, that 2017 will bring.

I change the story to define the life, the community, and the country I envision.

This is not complacency. I will be engaged, but this is my initial act of protest, that voice that insists: love and goodness must win.

I change the story I tell so that there is less room for bad.

I am not Pollyanna. But I have faith in love, acts of kindness, and goodwill. I believe the more good I do and tell about, the more good will come.

I started out with a personal goal of remembering at least one good thing from each month. Later I made this calendar that highlights one personal joy from each month of 2016. I decided to share because this is a good story about 2016. It’s important to give our joys at least as much voice as our troubles.

I spared you the details of each joy, but if you’re interested, ask! I will be happy to tell you the story!

Change my storyWhat would your calendar look like? What are your 2016 joys ? Tell that story. If you felt disappointment and despair in 2016, be defiant and give voice to the joys you experienced.

© Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2016

Dreadful Dreams: Crimes Against Myself?

The dreadful dream

A few years ago I awoke in the wee morning hours with a start. Heart racing, I traipsed down the stairs and curled up on the couch. Clutching a pillow, staring into the darkness, I agonized. “What had I done!?”

I felt sure it was heinous. I had hidden it, . . . hadn’t I? Maybe. And if I didn’t? Would I be caught? All the details were foggy. Something I did or didn’t do, but the result was the same: a dead body. Had I hidden the body? Covered my tracks?

Blurred details aside, the sense that —either by commission or omission— I had ended a life was starkly vivid and disturbing. So much so that I sat in the darkness more than two hours, sorting images in my head. Motel stairs, running down passageways, damp night, and a car trunk. Irreversible. Whether I faced retribution or not, this dreadful remorse and self-contempt would be mine forever.

As early morning light began filtering through the blinds, the fingers of dread and regret eased their grip on my mind and heart. I took some convincing, but I finally realized: It was just a dream. A dreadful dream.

This was a new dream, not one that revisited previous dreamlands or dreamscenes. Maybe that’s why the emotions of it squeezed my mind for so many hours.

I kept the dream and my reaction to myself for several days, because the idea of disclosing it produced a sense of dread and guilt. Finally, a week later, I shared it with a friend at a party. She gave me an odd look then glanced at her husband, and moved to the patio without responding.

Uh oh!

I obsessed about her reaction and finally, a few days later, I built up the nerve to ask why she reacted that way.

Oh nothing! I had a disturbing, hard-to-shake dream. My husband and I had just talked about it before we saw you that day.

Whew! So I’m not psycho, right?

No.

A few months later, I had a similar dream that woke me with a start, and the dread and self-doubt began setting in. This time, however, I didn’t have to wait for the sun to rise to snap out of it.

These dreams. They are the most infrequent but the most dreadful. What do they mean?

This week, I had another one. Although the “crime” seemed less severe, I started my day with a foggy head and a sack of sand on my heart.

Like most anyone, I’ve done things I don’t like to confess. I may have actually done a thing or two that I’ve never confessed, but those embarrassing acts never involved loss of life, as do these dreams.

What do my dreadful dreams mean?

I’ve considered three things: Community, politics, and self-achievement.

Summer 2016 has me thinking and frozen. The shootings and the injustices in my city, the deaths of friends, the heartbreak of friends, the floods, and the piles of molding memories stretching along curbs of entire neighborhoods . . . frenzied thinking.

In the struggle to do something significant and helpful, in the effort to make a difference when the need is so large, I question my days, the history of my endeavors, my time spent. Does it help? Does it matter? Can I do better?

Are the dreadful dreams about time not spent in lifting up my community?

When I fold in the 2016 political climate, I question my honesty. As the mis-/dis-information piles higher and higher, like moldy belongings on a curb, I wonder if my polite quiet is appropriate. Maybe my political silence is even harmful and dishonest.

I’ve always been gray, in-the-middle. Gray, grey, gray . . . never extreme. Am I lost in that?

Is it dishonest —a crime!— when sometimes my mind draws dark, bold lines through the mucky muck of political banter, but I politely listen. Doesn’t someone need to listen?

I wonder if the occasional angst and existential dream that jolt me out of bed are driven by my gray pool of politeness.

Maybe my dreadful dreams are about crimes against myself. Not so much about what I have done, but rather about what I did not do, what I didn’t complete. Those three novels, fifty-some short stories, mediocre poems, and a few screenplays.

Could those dreadful dreams indeed be about a death? The death of a writer? A malnourished mind and a neglected “pen”?

Then I circle back. The sunlight pushes through the blinds.

I’m sure my dreadful dreams may have something to do with paths not taken, the house I didn’t help gut, the well-bitten tongue in a swarm of political nonsense, the books I didn’t write, the time I butchered with bites too big to chew, and the broken promises to myself.

But I’m a believer in allowing. And in mirrors for reflection.

Allowing begins with self.

I gave what I could.

It’s in my nature to be gray, to listen.

I write when I can.

Is my dreadful dream a crime?

You might say “the jury is still out.” But not really. It was a dream. I’m the jury. I know I didn’t kill anybody. I decide if I’m guilty or not of a crime against myself. It’s up to me to define the dream, to come to terms with myself. Maybe I’ll decide to help more, to speak more often, to write more. If I don’t, that’s my dreadful dream.

What are your dreadful dreams?

© Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2016