Do you ever have those mornings when you wake muddled and wild? Any memory of the dreams that left dried traces of tears in my eye sockets evaporated instantly--all I caught was a wisp of nocturnal chaos:  a man I once knew well, crying in a crowded building while he talked on the phone to his therapist, about how he had lost his child in a crowd, and didn't the therapist know that he was a good, responsible parent who had never before forgotten his child? The therapist turned out to be the elevator operator, I realized as I raced past and overheard him talking, who was dressed in white head to toe, and wearing a phone headset while he brought people to their floors. I changed course and ducked into the elevator to hear what he had to say to this distraught man. I had a few things to ask him myself. And I let go off the hand of my small son, and promptly forgot him; he was left to wander the floors, looking for me. I was in my old office building, naturally; there were magazines to read on every floor, and dazzling photographs of impossible beauty hanging on the walls, but there was also the addition of the Saks Fifth Avenue wooden cage elevators, which required operators (and on which I was once stuck between floors for several very long minutes.) I woke in a gummed-up panic of loss, still tired, and fled from my bed.

Distracted by the tattered images flying through my mind, trying to retrieve them, pat them down, get them to sit still and make sense, talk to me, tell me.... I set about to make my morning pot of tea. Cleaned the small pot, put the water on, listened for it to come nearly to a boil. I gazed at the circular lid and thought I heard it chant, Ommm, bubbles popped against the surface of the dimming glass...I poured the water into the pot, and waited for the tea to brew--it is green, and therefore takes a bit of time, but I was in no hurry. I admired the sun coming through the jars of honey on my sooty window sill and thought vaguely that it might be time for some housekeeping, until it was time to pour the tea. It was surprisingly pale, and when I took a sip, I realized I had forgotten to put in the tea and was tasting hot water.

And then I realized I had put my sweater on inside out and backwards, which I do when I'm upset, and that was why it felt weirdly tight. And worse, I couldn't find my glasses. I have a thing about always knowing where they are, especially at bedtime, in case I need to flee from a burning building, or whatever catastrophe might befall "when I lay me down to sleep...if I should die before I wake". My eyesight is so bad, and I went for so long without correction because my mother didn't like the way glasses looked on girls, that I am now vigilant about keeping myself in a position to see. I once had a friend who slept clutching her glasses in her hand. Another panic. I push books aside, through a heap of sweaters onto the floor, sweep a pile of papers onto the floor. No glasses.

Inchoate dreams. Watery brews. Turned inside out. Far sight lost. I think I know what it is that disturbs my sleep--withdrawal from a long vacation with my two sons; anger that I lost half of their childhood in joint custody (but in so doing gave them both of their parents); anxiety about heading to a profoundly foreign part of the world; a snowbank of tedious paperwork on my desk. But I hadn't fathomed how deep go the roots of disturbance, how far back into darkness long undisturbed.

The morning was full of warnings, signals that I had better move carefully through the rest of the day, and do a few things to avoid coming more unravelled: slow down, pull in, be quiet, think, and let go. Let go of all that old anxiety about having been an insufficiently attentive parent. (I was good enough; they are fine.) Let go of anger, confusion, pain over every relationship that ever collapsed. (Relationships, like all living things, have natural life spans....just because something ends doesn't mean it should never have begun.) Let go of that old habit of doubting every decision I ever made. (That's only because, for the moment, I am not at peace with where I am now.) Let go of fear of venturing into strange lands. (I am afraid I will lose something, something important, like...myself. But so what? That might be good.) I will drink my hot tea, then meditate a while, as that always realigns me. Of course, I thought I had let go--and I had, for a while--but that's what happens, the old things reach up out of the loam and seize your dreams again....

I sat down to write this, because I wondered, does everyone have mornings like this? Does everyone have nights like that? Of course. But still, I wonder, why couldn't I have been born into the tribe of The Always Happy, as I think of them, the people who maintain their equilibrium no matter what, the people who always turn their faces to the sunny side? Is there such a tribe? Or has it, too, come undone? And to you who think you are alone in such confusion, I say, no, here I am too. Here, from time to time, we all find ourselves.

As soon as I started writing, I found my glasses.

They turned out to be hiding in plain sight.


Madgew said...

I had heard that how you wake up is really what the dreaming was about. If you wake up happy you had a great dream even if you can't remember but if you wake up weepy or sad it was the dream that made you have those feelings. Some days I wake up so happy and try so hard to see my dreams, others days distant and sad. I have learned that most days I can't remember my dreams at all so I look to my mood to determine how the night went. And yes, I have those days and I have often thought how great it would be to not wake up thinking and to not think during the day and to turn off the anxiety that has been with me since birth but them I look at my life and feel it has been so rich that I wouldn't trade being a thinker because it goes with my creativity. Lovely writing today.

david terry said...

Dear Ms. Browning,

1. My first reponse is "This woman needs to get a puppy". As a longtime, deeply-personal friend of yours (so, you know that I would never lie to you, right?)...I can promise you that nothing jerks you out of your pre-dawn, just-awakening, self-incriminating, neuroses-belabored self so much as slipping out of the bed and stepping into a big pile of some un-housetrained,2-month-old's dogshit.

I promise you, Ms. Browning...doing so restores a sense of PROPORTION AND PERSPECTIVE. (as you have mentioned in your writings, these are qualities required of The Modern Woman)

I've had/raised terriers for years now. Oh....and I know what it's like to get up from the bed at 4 a.m., with a heavy, memory-laden heart and a mind replete with regrets.

I've done that so many times over so many mornings over the past forty years.

But I can promise you that the moment you step barefoot in still-warm dogshit, you forget about all those misty lifetime-regrets and internal confusions.

If nothing else?...you have to hop on one leg to the bathroom (it's always too far away) to wash off your foot, and that's BEFORE you get around to cleaning the rug and trying not to obey your instincts (which are TO KILL THE PUPPY).

Puppies are very useful when it comes to taking your mind off yourself.

Once again, I recommend that you get a puppy.

You could, alternatively, have another baby, but that would (I gather; these are not my people) probably entail getting another husband/boyfriend.

In any case, it sounds like you need to have more babies or get a puppy. Both leave little time for thinking of (much less worrying over) one's self.

Advisedly (and, I'll admit, more than usually concernedly) yours as ever,

David Terry

Gretchen said...

who are these Always Happy people I hear about? Where do they reside, and do we know what they're doing at all hours? Some of us are better at hiding our discontent, our fears, our anxieties, while others live life completely in the open, not pretending to be, nor to feel, whatever we are at the moment. Just as I actively avoid contact with toxic folks, I find the Pollyannish Tribe to be equally grating and false. Give me more of You, Ms. Browning, a reality dose. Perfection in the imperfection, knowing that every moment is a chance to do better while recognizing it sometimes will take more than a moment to get there.

veronique said...

Pace Mr. Terry, you travel too much to have another child in the house, whatever the species. I do have a recommendation, though: get your hands on a copy of "Becoming Attached" by Robert Karen, PhD. It provides a fascinating, well-grounded perspective on why some people (Chinese, Jewish, French or otherwise) use a "fear model" for parenting -- and how those of us raised by such parents have to struggle to undo the effects lest we repeat the pattern.

A Sister Traveler said...

Thank you... so beautifully written.

My Dog-Eared Pages said...

It helped greatly for me to read this today as I have found myself at the end of the 'natural life span' of a relationship. I was just thinking about the Always Happy tribe yesterday... and in reading this, have found some solace that I'm not alone. I wish I could join the E.D. trip! Thanks for the comforting post.

Old School Brand said...

There are days when upon the moment that my eyes open I must gather my thoughts on where I am, what I have to do and how do I feel. The night slumber whizzed by and I can't remember if my thoughts are part of a dream or reality. Were there any messages that I missed in my dreams?
I am grateful to have another day to make a difference in my life, to be content with my ability to SEE and not just look. The knowing that I AM ENOUGH!It is an affirmation that I am a woman that welcomes the reminder that I am still humbly human. My sweater looks deliberate inside out, great with jeans and scruffy boots!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

As I, too, am traveling soon to a "profoundly foreign part of the world", I am experiencing rather strange dreams at present as well. Such as riding long and impossibly high escalators with a warning bell going off that only I can hear. Shudder-worthy. (Turned out to be my husband, softly snoring, which made me laugh. But, still.) My days have been feeling a bit distracted as a result. Not depressed exactly, just distracted. I don't particularly like distraction.

Ronnie said...

Oh no! I may have been born into that other tribe - Hopefully, not the Pollyannish tribe Gretchen is referring to, but the one that never wakes in a self-labored panic. Until now...now I will wake inside out, with catastrophic feelings that I will never write such an eloquent recount of a bad dream.

Ellen said...

Admitedly, when in the company of others, I am generally relaxed and happy.....but late at night....well, that is a whole different universe......fear creeps in....that I am not enough...not a good mother.....or wife....or friend....or, well, you get the picture....
More importantly, I was once told by a therapist that it was her opinion that "truly inadequate mothers rarely worry about it"....in other words, those of us that worry in the extreme, probably are just fine.

Thea said...

your dream was so vivid! it made my stomach clench reading it. i rarely remember dreams. but last night i had a dream that scared me enough to wake me from sleep. i was walking down a long flight of stairs through a stone tunnel. water started trickling down the stairs and as i looked ahead, i could see water starting to flow up the stairs. I grabbed the rail and turned to run back up but the torrent of water caught me and I could barely breathe (this is where i jolted then woke up, then went back into the dream) and at that moment i realized I just might not make it. So i relaxed my body and let the water carry me up until i reached a landing and i stepped out of the stairway and waited to see what would happen next. and that's all i remembered. it was very metaphoric!

William said...

Jeez Dominique,

Pour yourself a scotch and relax!!

david terry said...

Some Reponses, and a Question...

To "Ellen": Thanks for that wonderfully useful (and no doubt utterly acurate) comment from your therapist.

To "Veronique": it's too late. I bought another puppy from my breeder just yesterday, in fact. It'll arrive in about a month. In any case, I have really wonderful dogsitters (a dogloving grandmother & teenage grand-daughter duo who live right next door). The dogs adore them and, from what I've been able to tell, don't ever miss me very much. They're terriers and are invariably aborbed in their own projects.

QUESTION (and this was, in fact, a topic for discussion here a while back): Which sex is more prone to feeling anxious/depressed/"nervous"/whatever in the morning, right upon waking up? My opinion was that women are more prone to having "bad" mornings (and certainly more likely to be affected by dreams that most men don't seem to even remember). I know plenty of men who grow depressed/anxious/whatever....and they tend to do so late at night and miss their bedtimes.

Just for the record? I get the hyper-anxious willies in the morning on a regular basis...that unproductie avalanche of "What hasn't gotten done?", "What needs to be Done?", "Did I actually hit 'Send' last night?....", etcetera.


David Terry

Vivien said...

A very moving post. But those who are nearly always happy and placid are often rather boring. Would they ever write a post like yours, or a deep poem etc which would resonate with others and their regrets, guilt and disappointments, or even be capable of a conversation that wasn't superficial? I suppose the thing is to accept any gloom but try not to let it go on too long. I'd been feeling a bit blue lately with midwinter and various disappointments but it all seems a bit better now that spring is near, and being a bit sad and lethargic can start to get tedious!

Dominique said...

okay, okay, I've relaxed. Gotten a lot done (relaxed?) and taken a long walk....it is so interesting how nervous this sort of post makes some people....how would you know what relaxed feels like if you were never tense? all is well, not to worry...this is what life is like, up down and over. puppies? maybe someday! I've been thinking about it...but that step into dog shit....and by the way, I usually have GREAT mornings!

karensandburg said...

puppies, blech! don't get me wrong, i love dogs, but that puppy phase is ROUGH. still, once they're past the difficult phase they are sweet hairy angels (i have 2) nudging you for a pet and a soulful look -- i look into mango's deep brown eyes with her scruffy ears and i scratch her just so and i'm in heaven...

Cristina said...

...the sharing of these minor mornings' earthquakes, makes you even more charming. besides, if even your aplomb is not always unshakable, the rest of us can't be that much out of (mental)shape!

Lisa said...

When I wake, I lose them. I find them now and then throughout the day and then they are gone again.
Oh wow! I just remembered!

Silly...I'm talking about my dreams, not my glasses.

Yes, between the lines here, I remembered that AGAIN, I had my "big black bear" dream last night.

Thank you Dominique for your interesting & inspiring words. I think I'll be able to tackle this one!

Have a great day.

sparkletruly said...

Interesting stuff this morning. I have a friend who purports to be a shaman. Who am I to say she is or is not. In her shamanic view of dreams she tells me that we are all the characters in our dream - the therapist, the lost child, the child roaming the floors, ourselves. Perhaps. I have mornings like yours, frequently in the winter months when I don't see the sun for weeks on end. The season makes me introspective. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and helping me attain some balance myself this morning. I think about a puppy from time to time, They are supposed to be good therapy, taking us out of ourselves. Not sure I could manage one though. Not yet anyway. Still learning to take care of myself after many years of caring for husbands and children.

crabapple said...

Everyone has these moments, some more than others. Not everyone is so honest though, so thank you for that.

I love the puppy idea; I think that deep thinkers can be the best dog owners and often forge indelible bonds with their dogs, quite apart from the poo issue. I refer you to Caroline Knapp's book on the Pack of Two. It seems that you are in a phase of transformation as she was when she wrote the book, and maybe you would benefit equally from a furry presence in bed on nights when dreams take an unsettling tone. Not to mention happy walks on the beach.

William said...


I'm glad to learn you are feeling more relaxed. One trick I've learned, on those tough mornings, is to throw a couple of extra shots of vodka in my morning blueberry power shake. As for puppies, that's a great idea, and keep in mind that a puppy, too, enjoys a shot of vodka with the Alpo every now and again.

Valerie said...

Yes, over here in California I'm definitely having one of those mornings, and was so grateful to read about yours and to remember that I'm not alone. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing and at such a serendipitous time as I had a similar night and morning. Time to sit on the cushion and finish breathing it away!

jayneonweedstreet said...

D.B., dreams exquisitely shared! What a night you had! Last night I fell asleep with tired, red eyes after a most sad day of saying goodbye to my labrador retriever . Dreams stayed in their place and did not intrude on my waking day. I gave Lily a place in my blog which no one reads, but there she is, still alive in cyberspace, and in my head, where the dreams will still come.
Friends are leaving for India on February 3, by the way, and the wife doesnt really want to go. I bet you both come back so glad you stretched beyond where you wanted to go!

William said...


I'm so sorry about Lily, that breaks my heart - I read your blog and what a beautiful sweet dog she was and Clementine looks adorable. I'm so, so sorry for what you must be going through today. I have a 4 year old yellow lab, he's the center of my life - a monster but I love the guy. People say to me on the street, "oh what a beautiful and well behaved dog you have" - I laugh to myself thinking "oh if you only knew". I'm sure you can relate. Again, I'm so very sorry about your loss.

david terry said...

Dear "jayneonweedstreet",

Well, I'm so sorry.

Just this morning, one of my chores was writing to a friend in Virginia who's spent many years keeping, raising, and training assistance-dogs (i.e., for the blind, the disabled, etc). The dogs are never placed far from her, and she visits them often.

Her best girl ever (been through 3 "clients", and, in between times, spent "vacations" back-home) just died at age 14 (a hardworking, gentle, very smart lab, by the way).

I wrote to her this morning, letting her know that I know what's it's like when a longtime dog-pal dies. you tell folks at work (I did, actually and for some years, technically have a "job" for which I had to show up every morning)"Oh...my dog died yesterday".....and your auditor/co-worker says "gosh, that sounds terrible....hmmm...ummm....Well, anyway... can you take over the Wednesday study-sections?".

I've had many dogs over the years (I grew up with foxhounds and beagles in my father's kennels), but my favorite was Amos.... a very silly, stubborn yorkshire terrier that my very-EX-sister-in-law got rid of once he was too big to carry around in a clutch-bag.

He was blind by age six and lived until he was 18 (no kidding). A very smart and intersting and amusing little dog. He died the day after Christmas about seven years ago, when I was back home in Tennessee (having brought him along, of course, since he was failing). I was just heartbroken. My life and circumstances (financial and "artistic success", to be blunt) had, by that time, "turned around"...but I recall my father's driving me back home from the vet's office (with Amos in his bag on my lap) and telling me "It's okay....you can cry....I know...".

And I recall saying "Goddammit...I don't ask for much in life, but I don't want my best DOG to die..."

I buried Amos, that day-after-Christmas afternoon, in the fern garden I'd started when I was 12 or so.

And just to be factual? I was back visiting the following June for my birthday, when my eight year old nephew came around the corner of the house with a latrine shovel, announcing that he was "going to dig up Amos 'cause I need the bones for a science project".

My mother told him that he needed to ask Uncle David's permission, and I told him "no".

Anyway...most folks don't seem to understand how awful it is when your dog dies. I do. So, Like "william" has done....you have my sympathy.

Level Best,

David Terry

david terry said...

P.S......Poor Ms. Browning....her blog has gone all doggy on her. But, then (as as other posters have noticed) her writings are evocative and tend to get folks thinking.

Personally, I think it would be a very nice thing if some folks with a lot of money gave it to Ms. Browning so that she could start-up her OWN magazine and/or "SlowLoveLife" retreat-center franchises. Lord knows they need some in the Northeast, I-95 corridor.

I don't think it would necessarily be a bad idea if she were given enough money (Bill Gates, are you reading this????) to buy up one our states that are currently going bankrupt. She could probably make something productive and useful out of the thing. California would be a nice start.

Level Best as Ever,

David Terry

karensandburg said...

a retreat center with lots of friendly dogs, frances farmer teaching pottery, nature walks (and talks of course), a book club, meditation center, healthy cooking classes (i can help here!) -- oh, why don't we just have it at dominiques!

William said...

@ david terry

Please don't say "like William has done" in your comment to tie my comment to yours. After your one sentence "Well, I'm so sorry" you made your comment all about you. Do you see that or get that? My guess is probably not and my further guess is you probably never will.

david terry said...

Dear "William",

I'll bear your comment in mind regarding my future responses, but it remains that,at this particular moment, I can't help noticing that (in a very brief,five line paragraph) you employed 13 personal pronouns.

That said, I'd be quite happy if Ms. Browning would delete any indications of a spat (it can't be particulary interesting or fun for anyone), and you can always send your suggestions for self-improvement to me via "dterrydraw@aol.com".

Bemusedly yours (and I've got admit that this is the first time in YEARS that I've thought "Did I date this guy's sister one time long ago and supposedly treat her badly?",

David Terry

Thea said...

really do believe this - All dogs go to Heaven. I feel for you, t

Bradley said...

William, do you need a hug?

Dominique said...

Sometimes people just feel grumpy. Personally, I'm usually too uptight to express the grumpy things I'm actually thinking, so I have to admire spatish behavior. I'm not deleting anything (I believe, Rev, that was your advice lo these many months ago...?) Anyway, all this doggishness has really gotten me thinking, maybe someday. I went to Jayne's blog, and the picture of Lily is wonderful, she has such an expressive, sweet face.

Anonymous said...

I recently saw your video on GMA and your comment about long hair at 55 caught my attention because I'm 58 and keep my hair long although many a hairdresser thinks I should cut and style it. It is natural, shiny silver-grey and makes me feel good. After moving from California to New Jersey, I have gone from teaching to food serving to try and get myself into an economically healthy state but I have found that my talents seem to be bubbling over as I serve others with a smile of hope. You are inspiring and reminding me to be in life not just the observer. Thank you!