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color of my dreams

September 2, 2011

Often when I have a puzzling dream, I can glean clues about its emotional content by recalling what colors I remember seeing in it. Were characters in the dream wearing memorable outfits? Distinctive clothes or jewelry? How were the rooms decorated? If the characters were outside, what colors predominated in the natural environment? If there were animal characters, what colors were they?

I had a dream this morning that took me several hours to tease out what it meant, and the key that unlocked it turned out to be an image of clothes that dream-Spouse had thrown away, and dream-me retrieved. The clothes themselves were dark muddy colors. Taken together, the colors did want to be together, but the overall tenor was heavy, ponderous, despairing.

My dream persona wasn’t one of my usual selves; it seems to have been an aspect that feels a lot of affinity for my mother. I did an episode of active imagination to talk to her, because I couldn’t figure out why she would want to hold onto clothes that felt like a millstone. I realized, while talking to her, that her perceptions in other parts of the dream were like an unreliable narrator (in fiction). She experienced everything as gloomy, hostile, and pathetic. In fact, she seemed to be depressed. So clinging to gloomy things kinda made sense. I encouraged her to put away the pile of gloomy clothes, maybe in a box in the back of her closet, to see if she could live without them. In the meantime, how about we look at brighter livelier colors. Okay, you’re still feeling drawn to darker colors. Well how about dark colors with clear undertones — espresso brown, eggplant, indigo, spruce green, oxblood. How about a mosaic that includes both darker and medium-toned colors? Do you see any you like? Do you need to go off by yourself and interact with these colors? Okay, that’s fine, the rest of us will wait for you here.

It was only after I opened my eyes and started reflecting on what had just happened that I realized that the colors of the clothes in the dream were symbolic of more than just my character’s frame of mind. She wasn’t just depressed. She felt ugly, and she felt like ugly people don’t deserve to wear clothes that make them happy. Like, if you are ugly, you should wear ugly clothes. Because the most important thing about you is how other people perceive your looks. How you feel – about yourself, and your appearance — is utterly irrelevant.

Most of my selves would not agree with those ideas, when presented baldly, but somehow those ideas were in fact making waking-me do things that I didn’t want to do, and keeping me from doing things I did want to do. That’s what the dark clothes represent. I’ve been clinging to outmoded and toxic ideas that are giving me tunnel vision.

This dream-aspect was trying to protect the rest of me from what the rest of me wants to be doing, because she thought it would be hard to make work, and other people won’t understand, and some of them might be mean. And that’s all true. But those aren’t good reasons to not do it. Because those conditions are in force all the time. And so what?

I paid my dues, for years, waiting for the moment when some external authority would give permission for me to start living my life in full-color, holding nothing back. I’ve been waiting and waiting.

In the meantime, I somehow became an Elder in my own right. But most of me didn’t notice. Until yesterday. The authority I’ve been looking for everywhere is my own; I already have it.


This afternoon I recalled something creative my mother did. When my father first became an executive, my mother was helping him decorate his office. They did not have a lot of money to spend, unlike the more senior partners. My mother bought several yards of Marimekko fabric, and had it stretched over a frame, making a huge art piece that dominated its wall. It made a really big impression on me, even though I was quite young, maybe 7 or 8. I seem to recall that the senior partners’ wives hated it. Someone told my mother it was hung “upside down”. My mother loved that thing, and so did I. (And I’ve loved Marimekko ever since.)

If my father is creative, it’s not visually. He doesn’t like visual art. I think he was humoring my mother with the Marimekko piece; left to his own devices, he probably would’ve picked something bland and conservative, hoping to fit in with “high-class” people. He came from a very humble Irish Catholic working-class background. He didn’t want to make waves, he wanted to fit in.

My mother has a dramatic, larger-than-life personality, which takes after the adults she was raised by. When I was a kid, it looked to me like she was doing a really good job of helping my father advance professionally, because she understood aesthetic things he didn’t. I’m guessing she was the life of the cocktail parties they attended, but she wanted a lot more than dazzling accountants and their wives. I wonder if she expected that executives (or their wives) would be more like she is? Colorful, interesting, unpredictable, creative, fascinating, complicated. Impossible to ignore.

She didn’t fit in with them either. But she doesn’t really “fit in” anywhere, and I don’t think she ever wanted to. She wants to rule. I think she would’ve been a really good queen, if there was some way to be a ruler and an artist. She settled for becoming matriarch of our family. Over the years, she stopped doing larger-than-life creative projects. I would guess because nobody understood them or appreciated them; instead, they were embarrassed by them. She didn’t have allies explaining and appreciating her genius to other people, encouraging her to continue. Artists who don’t have supportive communities don’t tend to succeed. Being an artist is too hard to do on your own. You have to have support and encouragement and appreciation. You have to be loved and understood as you are.


That Marimekko piece was something my mother thought of in the early 70s. I think it was pure genius. What might she have done if someone celebrated that, instead of trying to embarrass her (or my father) over it?


For the last several years, I’ve had this idea about clothes. Making my own clothes, but with a postmodern sensibility. Making stuff that can be worn in multiple ways. Stuff that doesn’t look tailored or polished.

The whole concept of “flattering” clothes really bothers me, and always has. Why is it flattering to pretend like your body is something that it isn’t? How can you possibly feel good about yourself if you’re always trying to hide or camouflage or minimize large swaths of your body?

My stomach has always stuck out. Years ago, I was super-skinny (anorexic looking), but my stomach stuck out. Now I’ve gained weight all over, and my stomach sticks out more. But that doesn’t bother me, and I refuse to act like I should hide it. I’ve been thinking I want to emphasize it. But what kind of clothing style would emphasize your stomach? How can I re-learn to see so that I perceive a fat stomach as a thing of beauty? Because it is. My body is beautiful the way it is. I am beautiful the way I am. I don’t look the way I did when I was younger, but I do love myself more now. I need to learn to see differently. I think clothes are an integral part of that process.

I decided the dream meant that I needed to get rid of the last of the clothes that were part of a restrictive, body- and self-hating life. I’ve packed up everything I don’t love, and it’s getting donated today.

I need a dress form that looks like my body, but I have no idea where to get one. I’m not one of those people who can think in 3-d; the best I can do is fractal dimensions between 2-d and 3-d, so draping is my friend. I’ve even tried constructing clothes on my own body, except you can’t really step back and get a good look.

I need to start living the life I want.

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