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DREAM HOUSE: of birds, and strangers in line at airport security (8-14-22)

Updated: Aug 15, 2022

Only a couple of weeks ago, my 2-year-old neighbor started pointing while running around my backyard. “What’s that? What’s that?”

Now Sloan points and explains them back to me. “Is for snacks.” She adds, “for birds.” Yep.

“Is for climbing. For green beans.” Mm-hm.

“Is a house. For birds.” Right!

Yesterday, while wearing a fetching Spiderman t-shirt, she added, “Is birds in there?” Oh. Still no. Not yet.

She remembered that the newest house in my backyard, a multifamily complex, remains un-nested.

I’ve moved it around, a few times, over the past few months, trying to find a spot that some pair will consider congenial. More shade? More sun? Not enough foliage-coverage?

“The other ones.” She pointed vaguely. “Have beds.”

The other three houses do have beds. The other three have smaller door-holes, and have been claimed by (I’m 90% sure) brown-headed nuthatches. They are tiny creatures, almost hummingbird-proportions, but shorter beaks.

One extended family has produced dozens of babies in the oldest house hanging. I watch them come and go from my kitchen window while I wash dishes.

My cousin Teresa gave that one to me for Christmas, many years ago. Imprinted on the wood: avignonesi montepulciano.

Google tells me this is a specific winery, near the Tuscany/Umbria border. I love that their wine-crates recycle into bird-houses. (Thanks again, T.)

Over the rougher winters, its roof has separated from the house on one side.

Last spring when I was sure they were off on vacation – no activity for a few weeks – I cleaned out the poop and twigs with a mild bleach-solution, according to websites. Then I wrapped the house all around with shipping tape. I thought, “Doubt they’ll come back, it’s so beat up and falling apart and they’ve probably found a new home, up to code.” But they did. Come back! I’ve counted several rounds of new and noisy babies over this summer.

Closest to my vegetable garden hangs a squat, wooden rambler. Other nuthatches come and go; its nest reaches almost to its ceiling. Sloan’s Papi lifts her up to see the “bed” inside that one.

And by the lilac tree (a gift from my friend Jim whose house in Arlington just didn’t get enough sun – thanks, J.)? The little red house with a turquoise roof, and another wee nuthatch family. When I bring “snacks” (suet cakes, seed) to the feeders, I can see their little beaks peek out.

But the newer triplex? That holds no takers, after 4-5 months. Its larger doors could fit bluebirds or robins or cardinals, all of whom I see at my hanging snack-bars. Maybe they’re all holding out until the next Tuscan crate appears. Maybe they are all just that discriminating.

My own front door has a rectangular hole with a brass flap. Soon after I bought the house, I made a punch-list and hired a handyman-for-a-day. First up, please take down the 1949 metal mailbox – hardly bigger than one, letter-sized envelope – from the exterior brick wall. Then please cut a mail-slot into the front door; I had already bought the frame and flap.

That way, I could travel and not worry about an obviously overstuffed and neglected mailbox next to my front door. (Hey, no one home!)

One can only wonder what kind of bird would seek out a rectangular door-hole, wider than it is tall. Also with a banging, brass flap. Some kinda strange bird that would be.

I’m carrying on about bird-houses for more than one reason. For the sake of an absorbent brain and curious spirit of a 2-year-old, of course. (Sloan pinches my cut-grass clippings into her palm and feeds them to her toy horse. She runs up and down my front walk over and over, for her sheer love of running. She climbs my front steps as often as her Papi will allow, for her sheer love of climbing. She has not yet learned how not to feel joy while adulting, out of doing the obligatory, and necessary, and practical, and by not doing some of, even many of, the things that bring her joy.)

Her parents call me Tia Mary, so she thinks of me as family. It is my lifelong joy to have neighbors-like-true-family; I’ve been inexplicably lucky, in this regard. So that’s one big reason for the bird-house babble.

I’m also carrying on for the sake of a nagging, recurring dream. Involving a house, a human’s house.

My house. My tiny house with no dining room, no counter-prep space, no upstairs. With almost comically small closets. Post WWII. Solid as a literal brick-house. And, with whole walls without a single electrical outlet.

Yet, in this recurring dream, I discover other rooms. Whole, other areas of my house, that I have, what? Forgotten about? Didn’t realize were mine? (or still mine?) Just, suddenly there, beyond some door or threshold, somehow waiting for me to remember, or explore, and use, at last?

For maybe 15 years now, a few times a year, I have had this dream. You would think my sub- or un-conscious, dreaming self would, at some point, realize we’ve been here before – why do you still not remember these rooms, this whole wing of unused space?

Of course, when I awake, my 900sq/ft house is still itself. No other rooms, forgotten or obscured.

Of course, as a human I dream in symbols. (I imagine that other mammals, or birds, or adventuresome lemon-cucumber vines, might dream in symbols; your guess is as good as mine.)

“Rooms” in my “house” must be aspects of my self, I reckon. My core spirit, my still-alive body. What I attend to, or don’t. How I mete out my time, my activity and rest. How I “use” what’s most mine to use, being tendencies of my true self, or not use.

Neglect. That’s the recurring word, when I wake up from these dreams. I must be neglecting areas of my life, spaces where I could be, to become my-most-self. The younger self who sold enough artwork to pay for her months-long adventuring in Europe, who sang with her guitar in the Tubes and Metros of London and Paris, enough to pay for a return trip, she whose poetry and prose have been published, if at long, long periodicity? The younger self who read for and got the role of the dockworking leader’s wife in season 2 of “The Wire” (if, ultimately, cut for pacing). What happened to her?

An epic pandemic can make it easy to identify overt areas of neglect or gone-fallow. Couldn’t swim when the public pools were closed. Lost a tooth (#13) when dental offices were closed. Couldn’t fly off, sit in a theater, even walk the halls of the school where I’ve worked for over 15 years now. Couldn’t touch, or feel the touch of, another living thing, except plants, and inadvertently, worms.

But I’ve had these dreams since long before the global shut-down. And we’re back on-campus – for a year now – and I woke from another one of these dreams just last week.

This time, though, it was different. More like a sequel.

Recurringly for years, I would come upon these extra rooms, clearly part of the house where I already lived, and reachable through some forgotten portal. These recurring rooms are cooler, and quieter, and hold a good bit of wood, and upholstery, somewhat worn. The term “shabby chic” might fit. Places to sit, comfily, and places to sit, more for-work-like, and places for creative work. Windows, that allow sunlight, but dappled, from all the lovely (fruit-bearing?) trees just outside. A window-seat under one – a lifelong, waking dream.

Rooms I’m not just surprised by, but shocked to see/remember; ones I’m delighted to (re)discover.

And the obviously neglected? My musical life. Just playing my guitar, Clarence, for my own joy of singing out and loud.

My sketchy, painty, sculpty life. Just drawing whatever, likely architectural, building a relationship between my eye, hand, paper and whatever I feel compelled to draw.

My creative writerly life. The half-written children’s books (illustrated) stuck in my head; the novels, from YA to magical realism; the short-stories; blog-essays like this one, on a more regular basis. Obviously neglected rooms.

Swimming laps. Dancing! with other sweaty, happy bodies. Wandering some unfamiliar neighborhood, landscape, culture, country. Recurring unused rooms, if I can analyze my own dreams at all.

Last week, though. Last week came a new version. If not a sequel, more of a HEY! HELLO! Paying attention?

Okay, so.

This time, inside the dream, turns out I had forgotten about an entirely other house. A second house, a bit down the road from my known and current house.

Also mine! Turns out this extra house had come with the one I live in now – some kind of BOGO deal.

Only after all the signing, I somehow forgot all about this whole other house. Inside the dream, still, I shook my head. I remember saying, “How in the world could I forget something like that?”

Inside the dream, I then said, “I have to call Joanna [my realtor for my actual 900sq/ft house] and ask her about this. I don’t even remember this amazing deal. But, it must be in the contract from 2008, the deed, the whatever. Joanna will know.”

Heartbreaking, to feel, even inside the very dream. No one was living in this whole other house. I felt sad, still inside my dream, that this empty house had been sitting right there, all these years? Someone could have been living there; I didn’t need two houses. (Inside the dream, and very briefly, I wondered: Gosh, if the Other House has a Dishwasher, maybe I should move there and find a tenant for my Current Actual House.) I wasn’t even sure what the rooms inside looked like, in this Other House. I didn’t remember ever checking it out.

(Hold up! I moved in, this very week, 14 years ago. The angle of light, the pink flurries of my crape-myrtle petals, freed by today’s Sunday breeze, must be just the same.)

Anyway. I woke up, still determined to call Joanna about this other of my houses. That objective persisted through my first pee, and while I padded into the kitchen to make coffee – for almost 2 minutes?

Then I actually woke up, while awake, to the not-only-no-other-whole-house, but no-other-rooms-unused-in-this-actual-and-tiny-house, like so many times before.

I spooned an extra heap of coffee-grounds into the little basket, and for some reason my mind turned to the woman I met in the TSA line, in mid-March.

A 3-1/2 day visit to Louisville had turned into 5, after snow and flight cancellations and nothing available even the next day. (No-go on Southwest at all; miles on United, to a different airport, worked.)

Everyone in line for security was in that backed-up-and-recalculated-life boat.

A blondish woman behind my left shoulder started talking to me.

I was not in the mood. Why do people always start talking to me, on a subway, a train, a bus, with all these other people around to bother?

But gosh, when I turned left, fully? She looked so much like one of the special-ed teachers I worked with years before, at a children’s hospital in Charlottesville. Jane. This woman was her twin, aged a few decades, appropriately.

I joined her complaints over the slowness of the line and the small percentage of face-mask wearers, when it was still federally required in airports (“Welcome to g-d Kentucky,” Jane’s twin said).

We swapped re-booking details, reasons for travel, how our respective plans had been impacted. We talked about the state of the virus, our shared era of hot-flashes and lack of panty-liners, which, she noted exceptionally practically? Would help with the “wet bits when you have to pee and you have to laugh.” About this, we laughed so loud, many unmasked, scofflaw Kentuckians turned to stare at us.

We talked about the world; Russia had just invaded Ukraine, among other sadnesses.

I didn’t talk about work except to answer her “where do you?” She asked about my laptop-briefcase, and I explained about telework, and visiting my mom. She herself was heading to Seattle to care for her father-in-law, in hospice.

The line inched forward, for over an hour. We finally took our shoes off, put our phones in a tray. She said, “I don’t even know your name.”

She laughed when I told her. “I’m Marian.” She was almost a film-negative image of me, with opposite proportions, as hippy as I am busty, as light-eyed and –haired and fair as I am brownish and olive-skinned. We had met. We had somehow, miraculously, met.

We heaved our carry-ons off the x-ray belt, then realized we were heading to different terminals. When I turned to walk our last yards together, she put her hands on my shoulders to stop me.

Marian kept her hands there; she would not let go of my shoulders. She was effin-dang serious about something. Okay. Listening:

“Mary.” I half-shook my head, half-nodded. “I need to say something.” Listening.

“When both my parents died, last year, I decided to retire. Can I afford to go wherever I want, do whatever I want to do? NO. But. Am I so so glad I did that? Am I so much happier now? YES.”

My eyes, I soon discovered, had totally teared up. I couldn’t say anything. I kept nodding.

Then she said, “I love you, Mary.” She meant it.

“I love you, Marian.” I meant it.

We hugged a good, long, mammalian-touching one, and walked away from each other, altered.

I got home to my tiny actual home that night, in the dark. I imagined with the time-change, Marian still had some daylight when she landed in Seattle.

I still wonder at her intuitive sense of my overload of spiritual space, my very constrictions.

To recommend retiring, and early, for reasons more important than those she imagined I told myself.

She was a being of light, in Jane-like form, whom I first resisted even talking with, and with whom I spent about an hour in a long TSA line in an airport, but whom I will never forget.

I could barely budge open my front door. Whenever I travel now, my mail lands safely inside, through its rectangular door-hole. But some of the mail also wedges underneath the door when I first push it in. Stay away long enough? So much, the mail, impeding entry. I have to inhale and squeeze myself through the gap.

We had just sprung forward. (A big huzzah! For me, at least. A chance to walk in the woods, after work!) That same night, I remembered I wanted another bird-house, since all three were already occupied with (I’m pretty sure) brown-headed nuthatches. I found a triplex with larger door-holes online.

You already know: the triplex remains untenanted, as I write tonight in mid-August. And: that 2-year-old Sloan remembers: no one’s bed is in there.

And the taped up, years-old avignonesi crate house from my

cousin? Chattering away with young and impossibly small, fresh birds.

Like me, they don’t need the ‘chic’ of a life even shabby-chic. But. They make use of all the room they have. They don’t even mind if the roof doesn’t quite close. Much to consider.

Time to add a “snack” to their closest feeder.


Time for a long walk in the woods.

Time to let my brain/soul house go ahead and dream, before I go to sleep.

If these dreams have taught me anything? It’s to go ahead and dream, before I go to sleep.

THANK YOU for staying awake with me during my dreams (of houses) (of self-hood).


Muffin, none-the-wiser

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