An image from Eloise: A Book for Precocious Grown Ups, Kay Thompson, author and Hilary Knight, illustrator. Simon and Schuster, 1969.
Hilary Knight’s website.
Image found via Vintage Books My Kid Loves.
“You did it again,” my husband says.
“You were keening.”
I now know what he’s talking about.
I have a reoccurring dream where at some point in the dream I begin a loud, sharp and shrill, quivery, high-pitched, unpleasant wail.
It wakes my partner out of solid sleep.
I remember the first time it happened. He held me, “Are you okay?” After seeing that I was, he says, “That scared the hell out of me.”
I’m curious and wonder what I sound like.
“Otherworldly. I’ve never heard a sound like it—like an Irish Banshee might make.”
I’ve awakened him many times with keens.
The reoccurring dream plot goes like this: I’m in an experience with others and things heat up. There’s usually danger or I have helpful or vital information that I urgently need to share. A person or people wait for me to speak. I try, but I’m mute. I feel myself dig deep inside. My chest tightens and throat constricts. My muscles physically and futilely try to wring and push sound forward, like squeezing the last bit of dough out of a pastry bag. The result is that keen.
There are two times, while having this dream, when I actually manage to utter something. Last night was one of them. I keened, and then I talked. The other time was about five years ago. It has a twist and goes like this:
I am part of a break-through committee. We sit in a circle with seriousness about saving an aspect of the world. I say I have the answer to a terribly important question. The members lean forward with earnestness. I open my mouth knowing that if I don’t get it right, I’ll get a Harry Potter-type Howler response from the committee. I feel a restrictive keen forming in my throat, and my eyes open wide. Out comes a whimper-sized wail, and then I speak. I say one word. I whisper the answer to the profound question stumping the committee. The word is:
(Don’t leave yet. I’m going somewhere with this story.)
The committee is stunned. I look around the room, and heads begin to nod. I think, “Well, I guess diarrhea is the answer.”
And then, I notice that another me is observing the dream.
That Observer Me sees me at the table begin to chuckle. I start laughing uncontrollably. One by one the committee members erupt into a laugh attack of major proportion.
(I had to take a break from writing because this dream still makes me laugh till I cry.)
Okay, settle down Susan. Find some meaning.
I’m thinking about the state of my voice and how these two dreams offer insight. This is what I’ve come up with:
I don’t like to talk. It isn’t a coincidence that I married a man who was a monastic for ten years and during that time practiced silence for a year. We eat our meals in silence. I avoid chatter, and am pretty bad at using the telephone. I’d rather send an email.
My voice was quieted by my parents’ beliefs.
My parents (who are no longer here, and whom I love very much) set a family tone steered by beliefs that caused sotto voce expression of my feelings and attitudes. You see, they used to say things like “children should be seen and not heard” and “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it” and “don’t rock the boat” and “don’t be a mopey-dopey,” (implying that happy feelings are allowed, not sad or the less-fun feelings), and “no belly-aching—just pull yourself up by the bootstraps and get to work,” (which is another way to say stuff your feelings). I swallowed my parents’ beliefs whole and took them on as my own. It wasn’t until much later that I sorted out my parents’ beliefs from mine.
I believe being spanked as a child contributed to my loss of voice.
In my parents’ generation, it was more accepted to spank. My mom said that when she spanked me I wouldn’t cry. I had already succeeded in stuffing my feelings, which is a form of stuffing my voice.
I like when you tell me what to do.
Well, I used to like that. Not so much any more. But the reason I liked not having to use my voice is I was lazy. I let you talk and think for me. I got used to and then loved being rescued, helped, or needed by you.
I try not to control, but sometimes I do. Uh oh.
Control squashes my voice. How it works for me is that I become pretty hyper-focused on you and what you like, think, feel, and do to the point that I no longer know what I like, feel, think, or want. It’s hard to break the habit of taking my eyes off of you because if I mind my own business and focus on myself, well—what I see is often painful. That makes me not want to talk about myself.
I discovered an inner roommate. (Thank you, Michael Singer.)
That voice in my head is a non-stop talking roomie who makes up whopper stories (and some of those stories play out as dreams). My roomie wears me out and is often not nice! I noticed that kind of talk recently on my way to a facial:
“Put on your seatbelt. Not too tight. (As if I need advice on putting on a seatbelt.) Put in that new CD. No, drive in silence, you can listen to that later. Put your phone in the glove compartment. Wait, pull over, and get your phone out. Text so and so that you’ll stop by after the facial. No call her. Wait, it’s early, you might wake her baby. No, it’s up to her to put her phone on silent. Just call and leave a message. Start driving. You can talk and drive. No pull over. Keep driving. You can do two things at once. No, you're bad at that. (Now I’m arguing with myself.) Wait, no self-incrimination. Be nice. I hope they made cucumber water and it’s cold. My eyes are droopy. Maybe I need Botox. What? You love wrinkles and dimples. No I don’t. Not today.”
When I realize this is happening, I find my breath. “Breath, oh breath where are you?”
I live in my head.
In college, I was quiet. It was not a quiet or stillness I now know in meditation. I was quietly living with that voice inside my head, disconnected. I put my focus on achieving and accomplishing. I felt love and sought attention through accomplishments and looked to others to notice them. If I did well, it mattered when I was acknowledged.
But I’m still shaking my head (and laughing) about the dream and the word “diarrhea.”
It’s so preposterous in its setting, and silly. But what if the problem the committee is discussing is this, “What do you do when someone loses voice?” And I’ve come up with diarrhea in response to that.
Maybe diarrhea is funny to me in the dream and the committee because we realize that people often think their real voice is that inner roommate and really, that roomie just has diarrhea mind.
And then a question arises:
I think, “Who am I? What is my voice?” and I begin to understand that I’m not the diarrhea voice of my mind, I’m the one who hears it. I’m the observer in the dream.
I am the one who who sees (hears). The diarrhea is an illusion.
From somewhere inside of me, a place between my mind and heart, I look out. Looking out, I am aware of the experiences, images, thoughts, and emotions that pass before and through me without getting caught up in the diarrhea or thinking that creates stuckness and view of my experiences as permanent and real.