The Messy Art of Remembering How to Dream


I’m an expert at the liberating aspects of being an unabashed mess.

I wrote this sentence today to a friend whose dog is dying. It came out sounding witty, but it is beginning to feel true.

Granted, I don’t look like a mess to the naked eye. Neither does my life. And it isn’t really. It is, for the most part, organized chaos, its meltdowns cushioned by lots of love and consistency. But the past few days have been the kind that earn me a reputation as a mama who cries.

I am taking an online class called Mondo Beyondo, all about DREAMING BIG. Just like that, in ALL CAPS. I signed up for it on a whim back in August (the month that is not even over yet and already I’m talking about it in the past tense). I signed up for it thinking “Why not?” Or maybe I wasn’t really thinking at all, which is when some of the best stuff seems to happen.

I don’t usually give advice, but I’m about to. If you ever want to tease out a big, big cry, listen to “Fix You” by Coldplay. Listen to it really loud. Listen to it several times in a row. Listen to it on your iPod or at your computer or in your car.

This song undid me a few days ago. Which is a good thing, since it led to my telling Greg all about the big Mondo Beyondo list I had just written and sent out to a handful of friends. I was feeling crazy with a sense of something almost like remorse about having sent it out. I wanted to retract the whole thing. My gremlins were having nothing short of a field day, telling me that I had been impulsive, that some of the things on the list are silly or shallow or not quite right or dreaming this way to begin with is… is…

Is what????

No matter what the answer, it is a form of judgment.

After my big cry Friday night, the kind I should get a Seven Daysies award for, I felt spent. We wandered downtown Saturday for bagels. I avoided the Farmer’s Market, not because it isn’t glorious – it is – but because I just wasn’t up for being social, navigating the morning crowd. When we got home, we made a very spontaneous plan to go to Amherst for a couple of nights; my parents offered to take our girls to see a movie and Greg and I cooked up a plan with one of my sisters and her husband to see one, too.

“Dodge, Getting Out Of,” I told Greg. “That is where you’d find this trip in the dictionary.”

In the car, both girls crashed and I finally told Greg what was behind the latest, greatest cry. I told him about the class and the list I had written, surprising myself. You see, I thought maybe I would keep the whole experience at bay, be kind of an observer who leaves supportive comments for other dreamers but not really getting wet myself. I thought, “It’s nice for other people to make their lists.” I thought, “We talk about our dreams all the time.”

I read him the list. I described the unexpected feelings that had surfaced as a result of writing and sharing it, most tenderly the sense of loss I was feeling about my natural, innocent ability to dream, to live that way. We do spend a lot of time talking about our dreams. We do feel like we are in many ways already living “the dream.” But much of our talk occurs within the current context of our lives, that of us raising our girls and building our businesses and hoping someday we have enough money…

And money – well, that is a whole ‘nother thing, as far as what sucks the juice right out of the dreams themselves. Ack. I mean, oy.

Wait. Deep breath here. Full stop.

You know, when I was thirteen, and my friend Jessi and I wore Indian dresses made of the thinnest, softest cotton that shimmered with fine golden threads, when we listened to Van Morrison and Phoebe Snow and Joni Mitchell, when we smoked in the cemetery near school and drew beautiful pictures with pastels and wrote poems and marched through town like we owned it, we were dreaming then. We were dreaming without even knowing we were dreaming; we simply were. We were dreamers.

When I was twenty-two, poring over Emily Dickinson poems in my lonely Brooklyn apartment, pining for true love, confused and lost but determined, when I quit my job for nothing more than a ten-day writers’ conference in the Green Mountains, where at the Robert Frost cabin over veggie burgers I met none other than Greg Strong, who woke early in the subsequent mornings to walk with me up the fire road where we talked about everything and nothing, I was dreaming then. I was a dreamer. I was hellbent on Trusting the Universe, Anything Is Possible, and it didn’t matter that I didn’t know what “anything” was. I did know, in a way. I knew I was a poet who in college poured my creative mojo into academic pursuits and was busting at the seams to roar and bellow and live large and go deep into the heart of things.

And on it goes.

There are plenty more moments I could write about like these, moments of concentrated dreaming, of simply being so in tune with that way of being that there’s no need to make lists.

And maybe that’s what got to me then. The sense of separateness, as if “Here is my life” and “Here is my dream list.” I feel in my bones, in my soul, that there is no difference. But it took some coaching and reflection from Greg to really allow myself that it’s okay to hold both. I don’t have to choose. Choosing is nothing but judgment.

Pretty soon – the girls miraculously both napping in the car – I found myself moving from dismayed and disheartened to inspired and idea-filled. I was, as Greg affectionally says, jenarating.

“Oooh!” I said. “I should go through something like this with clients, and then have them circle the top five dreams, what’s really speaking to them most right now, and then narrow that down to three, and then flesh out those three by…”

By this time, I knew I had turned a corner, and that the $79 I dropped on the class had already paid for itself, and that nothing is wasted and that maybe what I really, really need to practice more is putting myself out there without worrying that I’m doing it wrong somehow. I know, I know – how can there be a wrong way to dream? But I am so very hard on myself.

What also really hit home was the fact that the very thing I do for others is something I haven’t been fully engaging in myself. In my work as a life coach, I encourage and support people to confront just these kinds of gremlins, to stay with the process, to find out what is true for them, to dream and to implement and to be brave.

Talking to Greg after writing my list after sending it out after listening to Coldplay obsessively all day Friday, I realized that I am being messy here, and that that is really, really, really ok. So freakin’ painful, but good. The kind of pain that leads to things, like labor. The kind of pain we’re designed to withstand, the kind that makes us so utterly, utterly human, so alike – no matter what is on our Mondo Beyondo list.

I don’t know where this is going, but I can’t resist ending with a little dare: Show me yours and I’ll show you mine… and if you don’t have one yet, maybe it’s time.

14 thoughts on “The Messy Art of Remembering How to Dream

  1. Kelly says:

    I don’t have one yet. Tonight at dinner I said “I’m in a funk.” and husband said yes and that he is too. Some days while raising an almost 4 and 1.5 year old, we are merely surviving. Going through the motions.

    Oh but I want to see yours. So maybe I will work on mine. So far only in my head…..


  2. The Other Laura says:

    Hey Jena. This process is pretty amazing and it’s bringing up all kinds of things for me too. I want to see your list – and I hope you’ll trust me with it.

    Mine’s on my Mondo Beyondo profile blog. Posting that thing was probably the scariest thing I have ever done on-line.


  3. jeanette says:

    I don’t have one yet, but maybe – just maybe – I’ll make one.

    Hey – that email I wrote last week to you all was one of them…who knows what else could come if I voiced the others.



  4. Stacy (Mama-Om) says:

    I saw the mondo beyondo class and bounced right away from it… oh, i’m not ready to dream yet… now isn’t the time… etc.

    ack. i mean, oy!

    but my list is coming. sometime soon. i can feel it.


  5. Jena Strong says:

    Kelly – I just had to chime in here to say yes, sometimes it is about surviving the day, trying to stay present to our kids and not throw somebody out the window. For me, the dreaming is a way of being MORE present in my life, seeing this moment in time as just that, part of some larger context. But I so hear you – carving out the time and space to dream doesn’t just happen by itself when somebody is putting peas up their nose (for example).


  6. Cheryl says:

    ooh. jenarating. I love it!

    Ok, I guess I have to go find out what mondo beyondo is if I want to know what I am supposed to write.

    Some days I dream of leaving my loved ones here while I go on a long LONG trip by myself.

    Today I dreamed of more days like today. Really.

    You are beautiful even when messy.



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