On vacancy and bad dreams

nightmaresI haven’t been feeling like myself for a few months now. Tough to explain, but the easiest way to try is to say I feel vacant. I don’t feel angry, or sad, or anxious; just vacant. I don’t care about much beyond my work. I feel very un-passionate about many things, and that’s unlike me.

So I decided I need to do something about this. I went to my doctor for a full physical and got some great advice in the process. I also have gone back to vinyasa yoga classes, and introduced TRX- and Kettle bell-training into my workouts via Pedal NYC, a ’boutique’ fitness gym on the Upper West Side.

Perhaps most importantly, I lightened my freelance work load. I am still struggling with this, but I realized I can’t do it all. (Something that has plagued me for much of my life. The inability to say no. The overwhelming pressure that I put on myself because I feel like I have to work twice as hard as everyone else to do a good job; to get some kind of accolade by someone superior.) I’m feeling better, but it is a work in progress.

In the meantime, I keep having bad dreams. I wouldn’t necessarily call them nightmares, because I don’t wake up frightened. Instead I wake up exhausted from the stress of the experience. And I wonder what they mean. So, of course, I consulted a dream website on the Internet. (Can’t get more legitimate than that, right?) It’s called Dreammoods.

Check out the interpretation for the dream in which my brother David and I were trying to survive an awful tsunami with brutal tidal waves. I didn’t know if the rest of my family was even alive. It was pretty bad.

That same week, I dreamt that I was catching butterflies and trapping them in a special butterfly cage. The interpretation for that one isn’t anything to brag about. And is it right? I don’t feel possessive!

Then there was the dream in which my dog had dog friends over. (Weird, right?) And then my apartment began getting infested with baby rats, I started screaming and jumping on the couch, and the dogs all went to town on them, viciously sinking their teeth into the little rodents. There isn’t an exact interpretation for dogs biting rats, but there is dog protecting a master and vicious dog. And a different interpretation for rats, of course.

Most recently, and perhaps most disturbing, was last night’s dream. In it, I was on my way to my apartment (which wasn’t my real apartment because the hallways were carpeted), when a man tried to assault me. I can’t say for sure (you know how you can’t remember EVERY detail of a dream), but I thought he was going to rape me. So I killed him. With a screwdriver. I stabbed that tool several times through his heart.

Then, my friends (I can’t remember who) were trying to help me to hide, but I kept arguing with them about going to the police because I felt like I had a good argument for self defense!

And then I woke up. Frustrated, like I always am when I dream like this.

According to Dreammoods.com, “to dream that you were raped or almost raped indicates vengeful or resentful feelings toward the opposite sex.” (Really? Obviously things I haven’t dealt with if Dreammoods is, in fact, right.)

As far as me killing the would-be rapist, “to dream that you kill someone indicates that you are on the verge of losing your temper and self-control.  Consider the person you have killed and ask yourself if you feel any rage towards him or her in your waking life. Your dream may be expressing some hidden anger. Alternatively, you may be trying to kill an aspect of yourself that is represented by the person killed. Identify the characteristics of this person and ask yourself which of these qualities you are trying to put an end to.”

Well, since I didn’t know this guy, perhaps there is hidden anger in my life. (That one I can believe. Trust me.)

And as for hiding from the cops (though it was against my will), I found some clues here. And Dreammoods says “to dream that you escape from jail or some place of confinement signifies your need to escape from a restrictive situation or attitude. Alternatively, it suggests that you are refusing to face your problems. You are avoiding the situation, instead of confronting them.”

Hmmm.. Guess I have a lot of thinking (or some more dreaming) to do!

A Bronx story that relates to the murders in Chicago

ImageBy Mark Naison
Professor of History, Fordham University
Jan. 30, 2013
It’s the mid 1950’s. Howie Evans, a 15 yearold up-and-coming basketball and track star, is shooting hoops in the night center at Public School #99 in the Morrisania section of the Bronx, which like most elementary school gymnasiums in New York City, was kept open five nights a week from 3-5 p.m. and 7-9 p.m.

Howie’s friends rush into the gym. Their mostly Puerto Rican gang, of which Howie is a member, is having a rumble with a much feared Black gang called the “Slicksters.” The head of the night center,Vincent Tibbs, a powerfully built African American teacher who was a friend to many young people in the neighborhood, overheard what was going on and walked slowly over to the door of the gym. When Howie tried to rush out, Mr Tibbs stood in front of the door and said “I’m not letting you leave here. You have a future. You’re not going to die in the street.”

Howie, who told me this story during an oral history interview I did with him, screamed and cried. But Mr. Tibbs, who had the strength and appearance of a weightlifter, wouldn’t move. Howie ended up missing the rumble. It is well he did because two young men died that night, not something that often happened in a time before guns were common weapons on the streets of New York. And Mr Tibbs was right., Howie did have a great future. He went on to become a teacher, a young center director, a college basketball coach (which is how I met him) and the sports writer for the Amsterdam News, a position he holds to this day.

But the story is not just about Howie, it’s about the incredible after school and night centers that were a fixture of every single public school in New York City until they were closed down during the NYC fiscal crisis of the 1970’s. These centers ( I attended one religiously in Brooklyn) had basketball and Nok-hockey, arts and crafts and music programs, and held tournaments and dances.

Some of them, like the P.S. 99 Center, held talent shows which spawned some of New York City’s great doo-wop and Latin music acts. But all of them had teachers like Mr. Tibbs who provided supervision, skill instruction, mentoring, and sometimes life saving advice to two generations of young men and women who attended the city’s public schools, a good many of whom lived in tough working class neighborhoods like Morrisania.

Now let’s segue to Chicago, where young people are killing one another at an alarming rate. The Schools in that city are in upheaval; many have been closed, some are faced with closing, teachers and students are being told that the fate of the schools they are at depend on how well students score on standardized tests; some of which have been installed at the expense of arts and music and sports programs in the schools. Those in charge of education, locally and nationally, think these strategies will improve educational achievement.

But what happens in these schools after regular school hours finish? Do they offer safe zones for young people in Chicago’s working class and poor neighborhoods? Do they have arts and sports programs that will attract young people off the streets? Do they have teacher mentors like Mr. Tibbs who will take a personal interest in tough young men and women and place their own bodies between them and the prospect of death through gang violence?

If the answer is no, that these schools are largely empty once classes end, and they do little or anything to attract young people in, maybe it’s time to start rethinking current school programs. Wouldn’t it be better to have a moratorium on all policies- like school closings- which destabilize neighborhoods- and invest in turning schools into round the clock community centers the way they were in NYC when Howie Evans was growing up?

And if the problem is money, how about taking the money currently spent on testing and assessment, and using it to create after school programs where caring adults offer activities that build on young people’s talents and creativity?

But to do this, we have to rethink the roles school play in neighborhoods like the Bronx’s Morrisania and Chicago’s Humbolt Park, and view them, not primarily as places to train and discipline a future labor force, but as places which strengthen communities and nurture young people into become community minded citizens. But to do that, we have to also treat teachers differently, respecting those who have made teaching a lifetime profession and who are committed to nurturing and mentoring young people even in the most challenging circumstances.

If we don’t do that kind of reconfiguration of our thinking, and ultimately, our policies, we are likely to mourning a lot more young people killed by their peers, and not just in Chicago.

Mark Naison is professor of African American Studies and History at Fordham University. He is the author of White Boy: A Memoir.