Thursday, September 27, 2007

No Tommy Hilfiger

A friend asked me last night why I refuse to buy Tommy Hilfiger products (with the exception of my black bomber jacket). The explanation: I have no idea, other than the fact that my major other-worldly shopping buddy has it in for that designer for reasons unknown to me but having something to do with some Central American country. If anyone can figure that out, please let me know.

This imaginal friend of mine is a society lady, well known in fashionable circles and whose name you all might recognize, who died some years back; let’s call her Sarah. For some reason she started visiting me a year or so after she died, to my total astonishment.

My theory about why certain imaginal figures are drawn to us, or the other way around, is the same as my explanation of why relationships form in the real world: some resonance is present between the two souls, in terms of life experiences or passionate interests. It’s just the way the Universe works. Nevertheless, it does create some odd pairings, like this one: a high-society fashionista and me, who (although I clean up fairly well and actually taught dress-for-success for several years) has little interest in fashion per se.

Anyway, among the other topics Sarah and I discussed, my sartorial habits came up. At the time, I was running nearly every day, and although she regularly kept me company, Sarah thoroughly disapproved of my running gear: usually jeans and whatever t-shirt happened to be clean. Hey—-I’m running through the subdivision, for pete’s sake—what do I care what the neighbors think? As for her, well, poor thing! I mean, how perfectly dreadful to be not seen with someone inappropriately dressed! But after a couple of months I got tired of hearing the grumbling and agreed to go shop for suitable running attire.

So I get to the Galleria, and as soon as I arrive the grousing begins—-evidently the stores in this mall are not nearly upscale enough to suit my friend. I argue that my budget is not the same as hers was, and that I’m not about to shop at Saks for clothing to sweat in, thank you very much.

On the way down the crowded escalator one of those weird moments occurs where there’s sudden silence all around—-for some reason all the chatter of the people around you ceases at once. After several seconds, I hear a woman coming up the escalator say, loudly, “…and you must NEVER buy anything by Tommy Hilfiger!” Another heartbeat and the chatter resumes. OK. Message received.

Sarah and I compromise on Lord and Taylor. I grab a sweatshirt and a pair of jogging shorts that I can already tell she doesn’t care for and head for the dressing room. Picking a door at random, I open it and see that the last person in there apparently left all the clothes she tried on—-except that nothing looks like it’s been tried on. Everything is neatly on hangers, arranged just so. All are my size. All are jogging clothes. And not a Tommy Hilfiger in the bunch.

So I got my jogging outfits and Sarah was relieved. Ever since then we’ve shopped together off and on, and she finds the most incredible clothes. She no longer stocks the dressing rooms for me; it’s mostly a matter of nudging me toward the right rack in some obscure corner of the store. And she’s learned about sales, thank goodness! Designer stuff on sale works for me. Most of my favorite things are the result of these kinds of trips.

Sarah and my bad-boy alter ego Brian Kinney (whose favorite thing other than sex, booze, and drugs is expensive clothing) have recently teamed up. Last winter I was having a hard time finding a leather bomber jacket that I had wanted desperately for years and finally decided to buy. I didn’t want a girly-girl jacket but one with a harder edge to it and also some serious warmth. I can’t remember the circumstances, but I found one online, finally, at a good price. I hesitated to purchase it because the designer was—-you guessed it—-Tommy Hilfiger. But Sarah didn’t say a word and Brian just kept insisting that it was the right one. When it arrived I realized why they made an exception for this particular jacket: the sleeves are lined with red satin and there’s red trim and stitching inside. Those of you who’ve read Red will understand the significance!

Those two outdid themselves for my birthday this year, though—-a light-weight leather blazer with incredible sleeves and (it had to be) red accents inside, originally $500 and on sale for $99. Love it, love it, love it!

No more Tommy Hilfiger, though.

The Tommy Hilfiger jacket

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Gnosis and synchronicity

Early in childhood, in order to survive, we learn to suppress certain ways of knowing and ways of perceiving the world that don’t fit the commonly accepted framework of society. I learned not to “hear voices,” or converse with dead people and other imaginal beings; I learned not to sense people’s energies or see their energy fields. I suppressed these abilities so thoroughly that it is only in the last few years that I’ve been able to re-develop them to some extent. Had I not done so, it’s quite likely that I would have been medicated, given shock treatments, or institutionalized. Along the way I suppressed my intuitive nature almost completely, and learned to value only things that “made sense” in a linear and rational way. As a result, part of my soul withered into years of depression.

What happened in my life is a microcosm of what has happened in western culture for the past couple of millennia: my own gnosis, my intuitive and certain knowledge, and my own body’s knowledge and wisdom have been denied their reality and subjugated to the logos of reason and intellect. I often encounter events in my outer life whose relationship and meaning are nearly undeniable, but they are not related in terms of logos; rather, they are apparently random events that happened to coincide in time: synchronicity.

Here is an example: I woke early one morning several years ago from a dream about being painfully misunderstood but unable to speak up for myself. This was a situation that I had encountered very often as the child of an authoritarian father. An hour or so later, my father unexpectedly dropped by the house. As I opened the door and let my dog Wendy out to greet him, I noticed that the neighbor’s dog, who hated mine, was loose. Before anyone could react, the neighbor dog attacked Wendy, who outweighed him by about 70 pounds. Wendy, of course, wound up on top, growling as though she would tear the smaller dog limb from limb. From my perspective on the porch, I was the only one who could see that Wendy was all bluff; her teeth were not even near the other dog. My father raced over to the two dogs, dragged Wendy off by her collar, and began hitting her on the face, telling her what a bad and vicious dog she was. For some reason I was completely calm. I raised my voice to get his attention, and said, “Don’t you punish my dog; you let me do that.” He stopped immediately.

Seen rationally, there is no logical connection between the dream and the event, and no meaning to be derived from their coincidence. But my intuitive knowing says that they are intimately, though not causally, connected, and that there is meaning in the synchronicity: on this morning, in the “real” world, I was able to speak up for my dog in a way that I had never been able to do for myself as a child, and because of the dream, I understood that. This kind of knowing is my essential way of being-in-the-world, and yet it was not only dismissed by my family, but actively discouraged. In the same way, our Western culture has suppressed all such forms of wisdom. It has been going on since before Plotinus; Descartes just happened to phrase it in a way that caught on: Cogito, ergo sum.

Friday, September 7, 2007


Here’s a story that will make you think. If I hadn’t already been convinced that there are no coincidences in life, this series of events would have done the job!

Back in 2004, I was working part-time at the local medical school. It wasn’t a great job, not even an interesting job, but it did give me health insurance and enough money to make ends meet. Most of my free time was spent with my father, who was dying of pancreatic cancer. Our relationship had always been difficult; his influence over my life was enormous and in many ways kept me from living my life as I would have liked, out of fear of his judgment.

Dad died in early March. His death freed me in many ways, especially financially: he and my mother had left me a trust fund that would give me a small but significant income each month. A the same time, Dad’s death forced me to examine how much of the constraint I had felt in my life was due not to the man himself but to the internalized father, to the parts of my own psyche that seemed to speak with his voice. This was a difficult realization, and much of the work of transformation was internal, unconscious, and frequently reflected in dreams.

During that spring I had many odd experiences, but none stranger than my encounter with red. It began with a dream:
We are settling my Dad’s estate. There is some kind of object involved that we have to keep around, or keep a record of, because it will change things—it’s a transformational object of some sort. I don’t remember what it was or looked like in the dream, but the symbol that seems to have replaced it in my mind is something red and disk-shaped, 3-dimensional.

About a month later, a seemingly unimportant event brought the dream of the red transitional object back to my awareness. One of the cats had caught a dove and was torturing it, as cats do. I went outside to put the bird out of its misery. After stalling for quite some time, not wanting to use my bare hands to dispatch the poor thing, I picked up its body and literally ripped its head off.

It was a real surprise to discover how little force it takes to actually pull a bird’s head clean off its body—far less than opening a bottle of beer, for instance. And I wasn’t prepared for either the blood that poured out of its neck or for the flapping and flopping of its body afterwards. I held my hand over it to keep it still. Its head moved, too—its beak opened and shut, and so did its eyes. It was very strange. Afterwards I went upstairs and washed the blood off my hands; I could smell the iron…. It was such a little thing, the killing of it. One could get used to it quickly. How interesting, I thought.

By the next day, the color red was on my mind constantly. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Being a good depth psychologist, I decided to surround myself with red things, even wearing my father’s red flannel shirt and drinking redbush tea. What would happen? What would red feel like, sound like? Red was not a large part of my life—I’ve always avoided the color. Why?

Red kept appearing in disquieting ways. I found just the fact of being surrounded by red very uncomfortable and unsettling, but kept at it for several days. I noticed red everywhere—not just flowers and clothing, but stop lights, “Do Not Enter” signs. I saw a documentary about a man who was genetically female but always felt male. They showed parts of the operation he underwent to remove the female organs and create a kind of penis. It seemed too horrible to take in—the bloody destruction of all that was female in that person’s body. It was shocking, sickening, riveting.

I began to form an idea of the meaning of red in its many aspects. Red: blood, danger, anger, passion, survival. Red: sexuality, power, intensity, strength. Red draws attention, commands attention, revels in attention.

At this same time I began a series of art pieces involving the color red. The first piece, “Meditation: Red No. 1” was a kind of spiral or vortex created with torn pieces of the red parts of magazine photos and wrapping paper. “Meditation: Red No. 2,” which I began a few days after the first piece was completed, was a blood-red linen shawl, unadorned except by long fringes on the ends. Sitting and working on the piece was magical. This was springtime, and I felt myself slowing down into an almost trance-like state as I worked, sitting in a small rocker outside the back door.

My internal transformation continued through dreams, and I came to realize other aspects of red: Red is confidence, authority, courage. Red is returning to my own sense of agency, my own appropriate sense of power. Personal power and integrity—red.

On Sunday, May 9, I wrote in my journal:
I want to enjoy this new freedom I have, and also work very hard on discovering what my soul wants. I feel I’ve been given a huge gift of trust and support. Mom and Dad, in an odd way, are supporting me while I do what I know I need to do. Love and “trust,” in a way they couldn’t have done while they were alive. Now I want to live up to that trust. The Universe is supporting me, and I appreciate the opportunity and the responsibility, in the sense that I want at the end of my life to know that I lived as consciously as possible, and as courageously and joyfully as possible.

The next morning before I went to work, my journal records this statement: “I’m feeling very weird today. Nervous—like something bad is going to happen.” I got dressed, and decided to wear a white blouse and my new red shawl. I rarely wore red at all, and certainly never to work, but I decided to make brave and see what would happen.

An hour or so after I got to work, without warning, my supervisor informed me that my job had been eliminated. I had one month’s severance pay, and she wanted me to clean out my desk and leave immediately.

I’ve often wondered what the scene was like from her perspective, with me dressed like the sacrificial lamb in white and blood red. In my shock, all I could think was, this is what happens when you wear red.

In retrospect, as so often happens in life, the “disaster” of the moment was a great blessing. What I “lost” with the job was more than made up for in other ways. The income from the trust replaced the lost salary; my partner was able to cover me on her company’s health insurance plan due to a sudden change in policy. Most importantly, the “loss” of the job has enabled me to do the work on my dissertation that I would otherwise never have been able to do; and I would never consciously have relinquished the security of a “real job.”

I had let it be known that I was ready and willing to live consciously, courageously, and joyfully, trusting the Universe to support me, and immediately, the opportunity to do just that was presented to me. As they always say, be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it!