Last night I had a dream. (And, side note, I hope I’m not the only person who immediately hears “I was in a desert called…CYBERLAND” after typing those words.) I was eating a piece of cheese and felt something crunchy and very uncheeselike, and looked at the cheese only to find half a cockroach perched on it. You know the old joke about a worm in your apple. I spit the cheese and the cockroach out, though I remember thinking it didn’t taste that bad, kind of like burned, overbuttered toast.
I had a lot of weird dreams last night, partly because I did eat a lot of cheese right before bed, which may not have been the best idea. But I think this one was particularly meaningful. To wit:
Last night about an hour before I went to sleep I got in a fight with my mom. It was about my upcoming trip to Portugal for the Gothic conference, and how I wanted to go by myself and then spend another week or so traveling around Europe. (I’ve never been but I hear it’s all right, as continents go.) We had talked casually about going together, but it seemed to me that the only way to grow from the experience–and, more simply, to do what I wanted–was to go alone.
My mother was aghast. Not at the fact that I wanted to go by myself but at the fact that I didn’t want to go with someone–my boyfriend, my friend Emily, maybe just an acquaintance, but someone. I couldn’t go alone! Why? Because it would be lonely and alienating and also VERY VERY DANGEROUS. I did my best to explain that the fifteen-block trek I take home from the MAX most nights at about 10 PM is probably VERIER DANGEROUS than visiting extremely populous areas of Western Europe, especially as a non risk-taker who’s fonder of cathedrals than nightclubs, but she was adamant.
Now, this puts me in a sticky situation. On the one had I know she won’t rescind funding–and her generous funding is making this, the grad school costs not covered by my stipend, and the J. Crew sweater I’m currently wearing possible. I could survive without her help, but I would live with six other people and eat a lot of crackers. (I eat a lot of crackers now, but that’s beside the point.) We’ve always been close and always agreed on a lot, and I know that deep down she will acquiesce to this because she wants me to grow as a person and somewhere deep down she knows she’s being a little reactionary. This will work itself out in a few days during which I feel sort of guilty but mainly stoically determined to go to Prague and see the bone church, because Jesus Christmas you only live once.
But what the argument got me thinking about was this: for a split second I was willing to go along, to say “you’re right, it’s dangerous, I should just go to Portugal with you and then scurry back to the states.” I want to adventure out into the unknown but I’m also afraid–not of danger but of loneliness and new things and francophones making fun of my accent. I am by default a homebody: I like my crummy couch and my crummy weekly rituals and knowing where to find not-so-crummy coffee in the town I know so well. There is part of me that wants to let her take charge of my life and do the easy, simple thing. This is also the part of me that’s too easily infected by her anxieties. My mother is an anxious woman, and I am an anxious person, and I am particularly susceptible to her anxieties even if I had never thought of them on my own. This has to end somewhere, and I think now is the time.
Which brings us around to the cockroach, and my own halfassed dream interpretation. When my family lived in Hawaii–when I was between 8 and 13 years old–my mother hated cockroaches more than anything. I had never really had a problem with bugs or worms or creepy crawlies before–I was, and am, a gross human being, and a gorehound to boot–but seeing her shriek every time she opened a drawer and found a roach, seeing her flip out trying to kill them, seeing her go to insane measures trying to avoid interacting with them at all, I learned to hate and fear them to. To this day I have to sleep with my feet under the covers (if I don’t cockroaches will crawl all over them) and to eat with a light on because I’m afraid of finding cockroaches in my food. (Blessedly this neurosis does not interfere with my experiences at the movies.)
Now for the cheese. This week I won in two categories at the PSU English Department’s Kellogg Awards. I had a good year of writing and submitted everything I had that vaguely fit a category and was lucky to boot, and because of that I have enough prize money to buy a one-way ticket to Frankfurt. It’s not much, but it’ll help get me closer to the bone church. Despite this wonderful honor, my favorite part of the Kellogg Awards has always been the big plate of cheese cubes they set out at the reception. I love them so much. I station myself by the buffet and eat cheese on toothpicks and awkwardly say hello to everyone who walks by. And when they started dismantling the reception and gave everyone to-go boxes the other night, I filled mine with cheese, which I was eating last night and dreamed about later on.
So, here’s my halfassed analysis: by eating the cheese I’m enjoying the fruits of my labors, i.e. the prize money that allows me to go to Europe. The roach I inadvertently eat along with the cheese represents my mother’s anxieties, this time about Europe in particular. But in my dream, the roach didn’t taste that bad. And the moral is: fuck anxieties. Embrace the cheese. Live your life and see the bone church, and send your mother a nice bone church postcard before you leave.