Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The New Year Rising and the Helm of Dreams

For Kenny, after reading about libraries and Neil Gaiman's marriage

How I loved him. Every night, waiting so eagerly to slip into sleep, easy as a scalded peach slips its skin – but of course, he was only a figment of fiction and I could hope, I could dream that perhaps I’d see his eyes as I’d written in a story so long ago.

Dream’s eyes. The Corinthian had none, only sockets capable of so much blood.

How she loved him, Jade the White-Haired. She’s found in no canon other than the long-forgotten annals of role-play in the Endless’ extensive universe – a demon in the shell of a scorned, betrayed girl, each tattoo on her beautiful, tebori-marked body a soul that she’d claimed. And of course, she fell in love with eyes that were pools of shadow with glimmers of light within. She didn’t mean to, but she did, and every night in sleep she would wait to see them. Hope for them to appear.

Her secret that she likely carried to the ends of forever, this. When the role-play universe of that world ended, she walked hand-in-hand with Dream and vanished into the distance, united at last with the one she had grown to love so well. I like to think that she was happy at last, and that she gave him pleasure too, the time they spent together.

A beautiful fiction invented to keep out the cold, to quote Vienna Teng’s beautiful ballad Blue Caravan. I too wanted to escape the mundane and search for the exotic, the fantastical, the greener grass on the other side of some mythical pasture far across the sea. Well. I can’t say ‘wanted’ when I still do, really.

The legacy of Dream’s Helm, isn’t it? Finding it buried in the corners of the mind deliberately left untouched for years, not being able to resist the temptation to pick it up and slip it on despite the bony spine, the bulbous skull, the alien, almost frightening appearance.

Because in the end, the need to dream, to wish, to yearn for, is sometimes as necessary as breath. Old desires, long-suppressed, sternly forgotten against one’s will, bubbling slowly to the surface in an instant of unexpected trigger – news of an old friend, now a successful author and recording artiste; the marriage of a writer/artist whom you’d always harboured a secret crush on; the jet-setting, exciting lives of acquaintances and more friends; the plans of dear ones.

None of it bad, of course, no such thing – in fact, you’re thrilled for them – but the secret little yearning reaches its tendrils out and tugs at the heart, whispering, ‘You wanted that life too, many, many dreaming ago. Now look where you are...’

So many heart-burnings. So many acid recriminations against the self, against the workings of the life you’re leading, against how mundane it all seems compared to the rest.

And yet – and yet – a little small still voice floats up from the depths of the envy abyss yawning in front of you, like hope in Pandora’s box.

Lives, it says. Your students. The lives you teach in this new life you’ve begun by accident and continued by choice. The ones that you can perhaps can make a difference to, the ones whom you have made a difference to.

I weigh them, as I’ve weighed them again and again – my life now, my students, my work, against the words I always dreamed of writing, the unknown artist I dreamed of marrying, the life I might have had if only I’d stayed in another country instead of returning home.

And what I know now, as I knew then but refused to accept, was that contentment is learned. It is a decision not based on the heart, but rooted in commitment and the surety that a life can count, if you make it do so.

So I sit here, holding Dream’s Helm between my hands – so heavy and smooth, this marvel of bone and memory! – and I wish the abyss away, close it with a decision. I’ll do it many, many times in the days and months that make up the year.

Because whatever else I might have dreamed and yearned for, this life counts, and I make it count only if I seize each day, each year of it and keep moving on. More often than not it’s plodding and trudging, but I have made my choice on what I value and what matters in the long run – and with that, comes contentment and peace with myself.

The Helm is heavy on my head, comfortable even. It promises flight and new dreams and even journeys into the past, pleasant or unpleasant. Oh I’ll indulge, I know - I can’t help it, I might even linger a little in those dark, familiar depths.

But I won’t be confined there. I must keep moving. Because in the end, life is short and the lives along the way are precious, and there is work to be done – and that, I think, is what matters.