I always like to start a new year off with a little death. Just to tidy up and make way for the new. It’s one of my favorite traditions.
Luckily Jeannine Hall Gailey indulged me with her death dreams. Until recently, Jeannine was the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She’s the author of four books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, Unexplained Fevers, and The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, out in March 2015 from Mayapple Press. Her work has been featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror.
Let’s examine Jeannine’s dreams and see if we should be shitting our collective pants.
In the first dream, I knew I was dying, and I was at a party with all my friends and loved ones from all different times in my life. I was trying to tell people I was dying, but they were involved in their own things, so I just decided to keep quiet and enjoy the time with all these different people. I remember specifically giving away certain items to people I loved, and then thanking a female biology professor for changing my life. (No female biology professors in real life, however.) Then I went to the hospital to let the lab folks run all their tests, even though I knew it wouldn’t save me, I thought it would give them good practice.
On Dying in a Dream
I took in so little oxygen
didn’t want to bother you with my story
it was just enough to nod and say goodnight.
I handed out possessions – a wrestling trophy,
a diamond ring. I took in your emotions,
but stayed quiet, my lips turning blue,
my hands purple with veins, so cold.
I thanked my biology professor
and the hostess of the Christmas party
with equal grace and gravity, wearing
a wide-brimmed hat to hide my eyes.
I let the lab assistants run their tests on me
without any hope, to give them practice.
I went out not wanting to ruin your afternoon,
just let you note the inconvenience
of my missing person the next day.
In the next dream, I was a member of the X-Men and a group of enemies was trying to kill us. I kept taking X-men from hiding place to hiding place, running across town, including a beautiful church, but eventually I knew they were going to get us all, so I held hands with all the X-men folks around me, telling them I loved them, as I watched the laser cannon that was going to kill us take aim and fire.
People get so freaked out over death dreams. But essentially, what is death? It’s an ending and everything has to end sometime, right? Endings aren’t necessarily bad. Some are long overdue. Sure Buffy’s TV ending left a hole in all of our hearts, but the ending of that AWP off-site poetry marathon that you were forced to suffer through because your best friend was one of the 500 readers was sweet relief. And you’re not a terrible person for feeling that way.
So let’s not get all freaked out about death dreams. In the first dream, Jeannine is trying to communicate to those near and dear that something is ending for her, but she’s having a difficult time getting through to them. Maybe these are aspects of Jeannine resistant or oblivious to this ending. She’s letting go of things and thanking a biology professor for changing her life. That’s a lesson relating to the study of physical life, a fairly broad subject, but if Jeannine thinks on it, she should be able to figure out what this is referring to. She lets the doctors go through the motions of trying to save her, not for a chance to beat death or extend this cycle, but as a learning experience. Her poem based on the dream reiterates this message.
The second dream involving X-men is her going through “heroic” efforts to try to avoid this ending, but alas, the end is coming and not even Wolverine can stop it.
For something new to come, something existing has to die to make space. Whether it’s leaving a crummy job to pursue a better one, ending one relationship to engage in another, finishing one book to make time for the next, first something has to end.
What follows winter? Spring. But there’s a transition and sometimes that’s a sort of limbo.
A week after Jeannine sent me those two dreams, she sent me this third one:
I dreamed I was waiting to get on the ferry, and as I watched the ferry come in, a storm blew up. The boat was knocked upside down by the waves. A male friend wanted us to get in a speedboat and ride out into the waves ourselves, so we wouldn’t be trapped on the dock. I told him to turn around, but he kept going out, and of course we had to speedboat right through a couple of big waves. I got him to turn around, but when we returned my luggage was missing, which was really upsetting, but I did find an old umbrella with my name on it.
A little River Styx anyone? It’s what’s between one life and the next phase. That’s where Jeannine finds herself. Part of her wants to hurry up and get to the next destination, start the next big thing — but now is not the time, there’s a storm and they’re not going anywhere until it passes. The connection to the old cycle is already gone, which can be difficult to let go of, but she didn’t lose everything. She still has her trusty old umbrella to help weather this psychic storm. All those life lessons this past cycle have helped her acquire portable shelter during this poor weather.
Storms don’t last forever. Hunker down, Jeannine, have some patience and remember, this too shall pass and soon enough you’ll be on your way to the next big unknown.