Sacred Disorder | Cliff Bostock's blog – 'Finally, I came to regard as sacred the disorder of my mind' (Rimbaud)

Dream of an authentic Indian ‘pig in a blanket’

Occupationally, I have two lives. In one, I’m a writer and in the other I’m a PhD in psychology who tries to help clients expand the capacity of the imagination (work that I like to distinguish from psychotherapy). In the last year or so, the only writing I’ve done has been my longtime dining column for Creative Loafing, “Grazing.”

It’s pretty rare for my interests in food and psychology to meet one another (although the formation of taste does fascinate me). Last night, I had a dream in which the two collided.

The dream was set in the food court of a huge multicultural flea market. There wasn’t much of a plot. I was sitting at a bar eating some kind of food I could not really identify at first. The owner, obviously Indian, kept insisting I try this and that dish and I found most everything mediocre at best.

In the dream, I kept thinking about how often I’ve told people that a chef’s ethnicity is no guarantee that the food he cooks is either authentic or good. The most familiar example is Mexican cooking. I’ve been in lots of restaurants where the staff and clientele were Mexican and the food turned out to be mainly Tex-Mex or tasted really bad regardless of authenticity.

pig in a blanketSuch was the case in my dream. I realized after a few dishes that I was being fed something like really awful Indian fusion food. The climax occurred when the owner presented me a hot dog wrapped in naan bread, insisting that it was a “genuine Indian pig in a blanket.” I burst out laughing in the dream, noticing that the delicacy had been retrieved from a carnival-style cart. The man insisted that it was a regional specialty. He talked nonstop, eventually getting angry at me because I kept laughing at his claim. Then I found myself getting annoyed.

My father appears

At this moment, my father, who died two years ago on Thanksgiving, appeared in the dream. It may be that the man behind the counter turned into him. There was immediate tension between us, just as there inevitably was in real life. (I’ve written a lot about how my father disinherited me.) He stood beside me and his disapproval and contempt were overwhelming.

In the dream, he was young, probably in his late 30s. He asked me, in accusatory fashion, why I was complaining. When I was a teenager, he used to lecture me endlessly about my “bad attitude” and started the same in the dream, telling me I shouldn’t question what the Indian man had been telling me.

“So,” I said, “I’m supposed to simply dismiss my own experience — just like I’m always supposed to do with you. No matter how nasty you are, I’m supposed to pretend like you’re not. You told me I was to blame for my unhappiness all my life but when mama had her stroke you became miserable yourself. You stayed that way until you died and blamed everyone else for your unhappiness.”

Suddenly, my father started crying. It his hard to describe the emotional impact. He lost all his defenses and I felt profoundly sad myself. I also felt love flowing between us. My fear of him was completely gone in that moment. It was such an alien feeling, even in the dream, that I felt like I’d lost control of myself. Everything seemed to be melting.

I woke up sobbing.

Dreaming as usual

It’s not unusual for me to dream about my father. The horrible thing about being disinherited is that it leaves you feeling fated to try to work through the rejection for the rest of your life, with no sense that you can gain acceptance, since the rejecting¬† parent is dead.

I think the first part of this dream was a metaphorical expression of the reality of my circumstances when my father was alive, especially as a child. I had no choice but to listen to his distortions — like eating the absurd food I was being fed in the dream — because any effort to resist his anger only made him more enraged or icily contemptuous at best.

Dreams often seize the most mundane images of our lives, like eating at the bar of an ethnic restaurant, to express something in a metaphorical, oblique way. Pat Berry, author of Echo’s Subtle Body, compares the work of psychotherapy to the way Perseus slays Medusa. Because looking directly at Medusa would turn him to stone, Perseus views her in the reflection of his shield in order to decapitate her.

Similarly, we often can’t face the ugly truth directly, so we need to find some means of approaching it indirectly. Dream images are one way of doing that. Indeed, humor — like the absurd image of the naan-wrapped hot dog — is another. (And humor is under-utilized in therapy, which is founded on Freud’s tragic view of life.)

In my dream, my actual father is approached through the comedic metaphor of the dining scene. The implication is that his contempt disguises both his actual love and, perhaps, his lifelong fear that the depression he reviled in me was lurking within his own psyche.

The dream doesn’t suggest a particular remedy apart from the usual: forgiveness. I think it also demonstrates the difference between depression and real grief. The former disguises the latter with all kinds of neurotic symptoms like denial and festering anger.¬† Depression also numbs the heart’s capacity to love, it seems.

I’m certainly not unfamiliar with the process of forgiveness. One of my own therapists stressed it constantly, even as I was waking up to the reality of my experience with my parents. That was 20 years ago. I think I did fairly well with that process with my mother, but not so well with my father, mainly because he scared the hell out of me — so much so that I avoided visiting my mother during her last 15 years as a stroke patient.

I would really like to come to peace with my father’s rejection of me, but I did learn that forgiveness is a slow process. I also learned that its value is pretty strictly the peace it accords. It doesn’t disguise the truth or make one want to enter a relationship with the person who needs forgiving — any more than my sense of humor made me willing to eat a naan-wrapped weenie!

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