Burning Bright

Sunday morning: gray, wet, and cool. I am making tiger cookies.

We haven’t had tiger cookies in, probably, years. But we have frosted flakes in the cabinet, and chocolate chips, of course, and, a couple of days ago, I mentioned the possibility to Jim, and his eyes lit up.

“I like tiger cookies,” he said.

Last night, thinking about this morning’s cook-a-thon in the rainy weather, I offered up the possibility of regular old chocolate chip cookies, but, “No, no,” said Jim. “Tiger cookies would be great.”

If Jim had been a little older, he might have said the cookies would have been “…grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr—-eat!” but he, a nineties kid, missed knowing too much about Tony the Tiger. Wikipedia (not, mind you, a legitimate academic research source, but a fine place to start) tells me that Tony was birthed by Kellogg’s in 1951; his final iteration was polished by a group of Disney animators. The tiger spoke his signature line in 1955,–the year, coincidentally, that I was born–when he stole a mic from Groucho Marx, and said of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, “You bet your life they’re Gr-r-reat!”

The Wikipedia article says Tony is still around (Thurl Ravenscroft, who voiced Tony for a long, long time, died in 2005, but able mimickers are working), so it’s possible Jim heard him utter that rolling great line more than once. But Jim and his generational peers were VCR kids; they got their cartoons via VHS tapes, and the commercials that formed a life-soundtrack for older folks were mere annoyances to them.

Anyway. However Jim says ‘great,’ I melt the butter, melt the chips, crush the frosted flakes (an off-brand, I’m afraid; not Tony’s own, but we like them just as well), and use the wrapper from the butter stick to grease the cookie sheets (how unusual to have a recipe that says to grease the sheets!). The oven bings its readiness; I mix the ingredients in the KitchenAid, and then I scrape every sticky bit of goodness off the beater, back into the bowl, so I can swirl the melted chocolate into it.

And I use a tablespoon to scoop dough onto those greased cookie sheets, and I bake us up some tiger cookies.

And they, my friend, taste GOOD.

A tasty, trusty recipe…

***********************************************

I can’t think the word ‘tiger’ without mentally adding, “…burning bright.” I may have been a slapdash student, rushing through reading and written work to get to the other work that paid the rent or the party that succored the seventies’ soul, but Blake’s words reached tentacles out around the distractions and sank in.

Because of my haphazard scholarship, I have to look the poet up at poetryfoundation.org to find his biography (born in 1757 to a family of moderate means; apprenticed when younger to an engraver; always and forever a thoughtful, imaginative rule-breaker). I find the words to “The Tyger” there, too, and glory in that meditation on fearful symmetry.

 “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?”

That’s something to ponder, for sure, on a rainy Sunday morning while cookies cool. And, “Hey!” I say to Jim. “Are you reading any Blake in your lit class?”

“Blake?” he says, and he checks his English lit syllabus. “No. I don’t see Blake.”

You can’t fit every poet into a survey course, and Jim’s been reading great things. Still, “Rats,” I think.

No tyger, tyger, for the boy this time around.

*******************************************************************

The cookies are done, and I start the fixings for chicken broth. Into the old black enamel cookpot, on top of a shimmering olive oil slick, I dump two bags of chicken bones I’ve been saving in the freezer. Then I clean out the produce drawers in the refrigerator.

I add the last of the celery, growing limp and pale; some aging lettuce leaves; two carrots, peeled and chunked. I chop up an onion and throw it in. I sprinkle in basil and sea salt and ground white pepper; I add, because I have none fresh, some garlic salt.  And what the heck: I dash in some oregano, too. I drizzle more olive oil on top and use two wooden utensils to lift and stir and toss.

Then I put the pot into the hot oven. Almost immediately good smells waft.

Funny: the mean cat—fat and scowling, white and black and brown; the cat who uses the grass around our little tea rose for a litter pan and waves one sturdy paw in dismissal and disgust when Mark yells it away, the cat with the pale yellow eyes it squinches at us when we dare to walk past its house—is prowling through the yard today. It stops and looks at the house.

Does it smell chicken bones roasting? Does that aroma pierce its angry feline heart?

The mean cat makes me think of another cat, not mean at all: Stacks, who used to live at the Zane State College/Ohio University-Zanesville campus library. Stacks had his own office, but he often prowled the library proper. Cat-friendly folks could ask for kitty treats at the desk, and Stacks would run to get them. Then, like a dog, Stacks would roll over and let the gifter scratch his belly.

Stacks had to retire from the library eventually; he went home with one of the librarians, and I wonder if he’s there and happy still, or if nature crawled up and claimed that loveable cat.

And it occurs to me, now that I’m meandering about tigers, that the college was a definite feline-friendly institution.

I taught at Zane State College; when I first visited there in 2003 I was startled to see a Bengal tiger, stuffed but clearly “real,” caught pacing in a glass case over the back door of the main building. That, I was told, was Monado.

I learned the tiger’s story piecemeal over the years, and then I had a student in a tech writing class who plunged into a Monado project. She filled in all the blanks, and wrote about how…

  • Monado came to the campus as a kitten after the fledgling school, in the 70’s, decided it needed a mascot;
  • The tiger was named by the student body. (I cannot find out for sure where the name came from; although there’s a sword named ‘Monado’ in Xenoblade, the dates don’t line up, as far as I can see. But it’s a strong, unique name.)
  • As a kit, the little tiger roamed the college’s halls and curled up under the president’s administrative assistant’s desk. He would fall asleep, warm and heavy, on her feet.
  • Monado lived in the dorms and would greet the students when they came home from a night out. There was rough and tumble play, but the tiger never hurt anyone. In fact, he would tolerate a leash, and he’d come out for sporting events.
  • Eventually, the tiger reached his full growth and had to be housed in a fenced enclosure.
  • And then, the story goes, Monado had a toothache so painful he had to be taken to the Ohio State veterinary clinic in Columbus. There, people in white coats did things to him he didn’t like at all. And after that, Monado lost some of his people-friendliness…
  • …which led to his escape from his enclosure, and law enforcement’s attempts to capture him. Finally, he was shot with a tranquilizer dart, and the medicine worked all too well. It stopped Monado permanently, not just temporarily. And the community who’d known and loved the tiger mourned.

Now, Monado’s spirit has been invoked as a college Mascot; pictures of college events show a dashing, dancing, grinning Monado-impersonator interacting with students, and images of a tiger grace college literature and paraphernalia. There’s a Facebook page devoted to the real Monado, too.

Tiger, tiger, burning bright…in memory at least.

****************************************************************

It strikes me, speaking of tigers, that while Jim isn’t steeped in commercial pop culture from the 90’s, he IS immersed in 1980’s rock music. These days, it seems, people listen to everything, classic rock, punk rock, early metal, and all those sounds and genres that have evolved from those roots. Jim is drawn irrevocably to eighties rock.

So when we are riding in the car and Jim is providing a soundtrack for the ride, we might hear Joan Jett, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, and the Beastie Boys.  He’ll play Duran Duran, Don Henley, Rick Springfield,…and certainly Survivor. Jim loves “Eye of the Tiger.”

We’ll be driving along, and Jim will play a song and I’ll say to him, “What’s the story behind this one? What’s it about?”

And Jim, not a picky English teacher like his mother, will say, “I don’t know. I just like it.”

I’ll say, “Well, I’m looking it up when we get home. I’m gonna find out.”

And then of course, I forget to do that until the next time we’re in the car and Jim is rolling his eyes.

So this morning, I look up “Eye of the Tiger,” and I learn, from songfacts.com, that Sylvester Stallone picked the band Survivor, liking their sound, and they wrote and recorded “Eye of the Tiger” for Rocky III. Three weeks after the movie debuted, the song climbed up to number one and the charts, snuggled down and stayed there for quite a while.

Survivor would have other hits, but none as anthemic as “Eye of the Tiger.”

In the song, the website tells me, the tiger’s eye is the place of edginess and hunger, the dangerous place where the beast prowls. It’s the place Rocky’s trainer pushes him to find…the liquid, volatile place where he’ll tap, again, into the will to be champ.

And the last known survivor
Stalks his prey in the night

And he’s watching us all
With the eye of the tiger…

…is what the song tells us. It’s talking about someone training hard, overcoming hardships, realizing their potential.

*****************************************************

Now it seems to me that tigers have padded on my path throughout my life. I remember, back in 70’s high school English classes, earnestly debating the story of the prisoner who had to choose a door—behind one, a beautiful woman who would be his wife should he choose well; behind the other, a hungry tiger who’d make the prisoner its dinner should he choose poorly.

I remember my father being loyal to his hometown teams, but having, always, an affinity for Detroit’s Tigers.

I remember one Christmas bringing my brother and me little black and gray tiger plushies; their bellies zipped open and we could stuff our jammies inside till bedtime came again.

I remember catching a tiger by the toe to choose captains for teams or to see who went first.

…And I remember now to check the chicken broth.

****************************************************

It has boiled down nicely, brewed into a rich concoction. I strain it into the big old Pfaltzgraff bowl, dispose of the bones and boiled off veggies, and wash the big pan.

The sun shines in on me as I stand at the sink, and I shout to the boyos, who are ready for a walk. I pile the cookies into the plaid cookie jar, rinse off the platter, dry my hands.

And we head off for a walk on a breezy sunshine-y afternoon. It feels good, very good, to get outside, to stretch my legs, to breathe deep, especially after a morning spent inside and in thought, exploring all the corners of an unexpected tiger’s lair.

********************************************************

…And then, last night, deep in the dark heart of the night, Mark gasped and cried out. I woke him from a bad dream, and he sat up and looked at me with shocked eyes and then settled back into sleep.

In the morning, he tells me a tiger was chasing him in his dream, drawing closer and closer. I woke him just as he was about to be eaten.

“A tiger,” I say, wonderingly; a tiger. Is that our theme for the week or the season?

So I look up the meaning of tigers in dreams, and in life, and journeyintoreams.com tells me that tigers symbolize our intuition and power. “Being chased by a tiger in a dream may mean it’s time to embrace your own power,” I say, reading from the site..

“Huh,” says Mark.

“Tigers often come into our lives and dreams metaphorically as a symbol of strength and power,” the website says. And certainly, tigers have padded through my life this week, a recurrent theme, an interesting concept to ponder and explore, especially in days when power and control all seem to reside somewhere else, far away…

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https://journeyintodreams.com/tiger/

How Now, Black Cow

This was a new house, I realized, and it was nestled inside a fence. Inside the fence, outside the house, there were five animals—sheep, maybe? Goats? Whatever those hazy creatures were, the grass was just fine for food, thank you.

When I came out of the house, they surrounded me, jostling, gentle and happy to be there.

And then the cow came, jumping in, I think, where the wooden fence, in front of the house, was lower. What a beautiful animal it was; sleek and black and healthy and HUGE. I was nervous, at first, but it didn’t seem hostile or dangerous.

It didn’t want to be petted or fussed over, either.

But, unlike the other animals in that paddock-y yard, the cow needed more than grass. It would jump outside the fence and snort, and it would not come back in until I brought it food from inside the house. It liked, I think, homemade bread and jam.

And then another person arrived, a nice, opaque woman whom I didn’t trust. She had a basket; she may have been selling eggs. She was long-haired and lean-faced, a weathered kind of person, and she had that kind of frozen serene aura that makes me want to shatter it, to shout and scratch and dance around. A woman of the earth, she was, and she offered to take that black cow back to her farm, where it would be fed and brushed and treated very, very well.

I looked at that sleek and hungry, gleaming black creature and something shifted inside me.

“No,” I said to the opaque woman. “I’m going to keep this cow. I need this cow at home.”

“Well,” she said, and her face scrunched disapprovingly. “Well. Then you’d better learn how to feed it.”

*****************

Often I wake up and my dreams will linger in shreds and snippets, but that black cow was very, very vivid. What does it mean, I wondered, to dream about a cow?

I remembered the story of Joseph the dreamer in the Old Testament…Joseph, who’d been thrown into jail, and there, had a dream of seven sleek and beautiful cows. Then seven lean and mangy cows appeared, and those ugly creatures devoured the healthy ones.

Joseph knew what his dream meant—seven years of plenty would be followed by seven years of famine…those seven lean years would eat up all that had been gained.

He shared his dream with the overseer, and his dreams bought his freedom and granted him prestige.

So, hmmm. Could my one black cow signify a year of plenty?

*****************

Ages ago, someone gave me a dreamer’s dictionary, which was, I thought, a very cool thing. But it sat on my shelf for years, truly; once in a while, I’d pick it up and look up some dream image, and I’d share what it said with someone—Mark, or a friend,–and we’d laugh at the crazy randomness of all that.

And then for some reason, at some point, I decided to start a dream journal; I must have thought there were hidden nudgings I needed to address. I kept a notebook by my bed and scrawled down the dreams first thing on waking, and later in the day, I’d pick out images and look them up.

At first it was just fun: oh, I’m dreaming of dogs, and dogs symbolize friendship and protection. That’s nice, I’d think. But a day later, I’d have a vivid dream about something completely unrelated, and I’d look that up, and the book would relate that image, too, to friendship.

Patterns emerged; it was fascinating. What do you know about THAT? I would think. Friendship is clearly on my mind. Or, my dreams are telling me I’m feeling anxious. And I would think about the why behind those patterns.

And then, for some reason—marriage? Motherhood? The need for that deep-sucking kind of sleep that precludes dream remembrance?—I stopped writing down my dreams.

In some move or other, the dreamer’s dictionary got left behind.

******************

So I look up ‘dreaming about black cows’ on line, and behold, there are millions of hits. Cows are, as Joseph could have told us, ancient dream symbols. Auntyflo.com says that “…the cow itself is a powerful animal and symbolic of nurturing and of a new life.”

Dreaming of a cow, she tells me, entwines with abundance, and grace, and protection of the soul. Dreaming of a cow talks of caring and of nurture.

I like that, so I dig further, and Aunty Flo tells me that a black cow in a dream tells us of hidden thoughts and talks to the dreamer of connectedness with others. A black cow, she says, hints at possible transformation. “There is also,” says Aunty Flo, “a focus on being mature when you don’t have to be.”

Hmmm, I think. Permission to be indulgent? That doesn’t sound so bad.

I rove over to dreamlandia.com to see if there’s more on the black cow of my dreams, and I learn this:

The black cow represents “…a deep unconscious desire to progress in life.” Often, Dreamlandia says, the cow appears in our dreams to deliver an important message.

I don’t like what it tells me about feeding the cow, though: this, says the source, suggests the dreamer will have to face people who envy her—that there will be damaging gossip that could cause conflict.

I can’t think of reasons for envy or fodder that might fuel gossip. But still. That’s a little chilly.

Dreamlandia also tells me that a dreaming of a healthy, well-fed cow is a harbinger of ‘functional changes,’ of an opportunity to alter the way things are. Be careful, warns the site, not to miss your chance…

***********************

Huh, I think, and I am darned glad I didn’t let the opaque lady take my cow from me.

**********************

That night, I head to bed early and slip soundly into deep sleep, but the morning leaves me with no memory of dreams. But I take the notebook out of my nightstand anyway, and make sure there’s a working pen.

What the heck, I think. I might as well start writing down my dreams again. Because, while of course, I don’t believe in all that hocus-pocus stuff—of course I don’t—if that black cow’s got a message for me—if there’s a transformational moment tipping toward me,—well then. I sure don’t want to miss it.

And maybe, in my dreams, I’ll learn how to feed the cow.

Different Houses, Unfamiliar Places

It is not THIS house, but in my dreaming, it is a place where I’ve been living for a long, long time. And it is empty, except for a few random rags, some paper, a damaged box or two. There are gleaming blonde wood floors, white walls, low, slanted ceilings.

 I do not know what’s going on. Where is my son? Where is my furniture? Where, I realize suddenly, standing there in my rumpled pajamas, are my CLOTHES?

 Mark suddenly appears, beckoning. We climb into a car that is packed full. Jim is in the back seat, much younger, maybe ten, nestled between a television and a narrow cardboard box. He greets me halfheartedly, and then we are moving, on a strange trip that involves meeting people we know, some dead, some living, some nearby, some far away. We also stop to talk with strangers who are quickly woven into whatever story this is.

 Sometimes we walk. Sometimes we get back in the car and drive. Endlessly.

Always I am embarrassed by my bare feet and jammies.

When we finally arrive at the new place, in a town I don’t recognize, it is almost empty.

“Don’t WORRY,” says Mark. “Your clothes are here. Somewhere.”

************

We come home from a shopping trip; I am driving.

“Hey!” I say as we pull up the drive.

Jim pulls out his earbuds. “What?” he and Mark reply, in unison.

“Look at the rhododendrons.”

I stop, level with the bushes, and we look at the row of blooms, magenta and cheerful, among the lower branches.

“Isn’t that weird?” I say. “Rhodies in the fall?”

The boyos make noncommittal, sympathetic noises.

We unpack the groceries and put them away. Just before dark falls, I go out and clip some blossoms, make a little bouquet.

“Weird,” I think again. I wonder if global climate change has even hit my shrubbery.

*******************

Another dream. With Mark and Jim and—wait. Is that my father???–I walk into my house—which seems, I realize, to be an apartment. It is full of people I don’t know, sitting in a huge living room. We stop, staring at the crowd.

 A woman jumps up, bustles over. She reminds us that we share this space. And she is having a party. She invites us to join in a meal. Puzzled, we decline, and go off to find our rooms.

 We discover the space is in an old city block building. We open a door and walk beyond the finished living space and come into a work area. It smells like saw dust and the kind of oil people use to lubricate heavy iron machines; there are woodchips on the floor. Work tables are lined up throughout the room, hunkered under things like drill presses and enormous table saws.

The saws look scary. I grab Jim’s arm; in this dream, he is about five, I think.

 Mark and my father—it IS my father—yell in delight and they move forward to explore those worktables, to experiment with those tools.

 “Where ARE we?” I ask, out loud, and Jim looks at me, worried.

*************

I am driving to teach with the radio on. The President is making a speech…in Wisconsin? In Houston? He says that he will be giving the middle class a tax cut of ten per cent next week.

The audio cuts to commentary, and the newscaster asks an expert if this sudden tax cut is possible.

The expert says, Well, no: Congress is not in session next week.

So he’s lying? Asks the newscaster.

There’s a long pause, and then slowly, reluctantly, the expert says, Well, yes.

They cut back to the tape and we listen to the crowd cheering.

Chilled, I turn up the heat in the car.

Later that week, the promised tax reduction is modified to a probable tax cut resolution.

******************

One night I dream I live in a house I inhabited long, long ago, but again, there are people there—and there are animals there—that I don’t know. It seems I am always asking, “Where AM I?” in my dreams these days.

 *************

I avoid it as long as I can, turning the newspaper over when I sit at the table, shifting quickly to academic websites, ruthlessly culling my email, taking a book upstairs to read when the news is on.

I so badly want to pretend, to not know.

But I have to know, of course. On a quiet morning, days after the event, with Mark and Jim both at work, I open my computer and read what happened in Pittsburgh.

“All Jews must die!” shouted the killer as he burst into the Tree of Life temple and unloaded into the crowd assembled there. Eleven people attending the bris, the baby-naming ceremony, died. The dead were between the ages of 54 and 97. The 97-year-old, Rose Mallinger, was quickly reported as being a Holocaust survivor, which was not true. But she was a devoted temple attendee who lived through the horrors of World War II and she certainly did not deserve to die at a gunman’s hand.

Nor does anyone, not any one of us. What is going on?

Six people, including first responders, were injured. The shooter survived several gun shots and will stand trial. The news reported this morning that he pleads ‘not guilty.’

**********

It is a gray, rainy, cold day, and I start a fire in the fireplace. I shut off my thoughts and I wrap up in a blanket, and I open the book I’ve halfway finished. I huddle and I hide.

I am reading the wrong book, Stephen Markley’s Ohio, which takes place in a thinly veiled version of the town we called home for ten years. The pretty people in the book are, some of them, smiling cold killers. It takes me a while before I get it: the legends are true, and the missing may be the dead.

Too close, I think, too close to home. The Florida shooting hurt kids my niece’s kids know. The Pittsburgh shooting is less than three hours away; a friend texts that she was in that neighborhood the day before, that she keeps having these weird grief feelings.

We did not know these people hurt, but their lives rub up against ours; they touched people who touched people we know. And we are, all, interconnected, anyway. Remember the butterfly in Tibet? The same applies to anguish in Pittsburgh.

I am an idiot, an optimistic idiot. I always think it will get better. I always think we’ll be all right. I always think that tragedies have meaning, that they teach us something, that those who are left behind will rise stronger and wiser and more clear-eyed. That we will prevent this kind of hate-filled evil from happening again.

I read about Pittsburgh, and the belief that things will be okay slides off my back like a tattered plastic rain coat. It huddles on the ground and I walk further and further away.

****************

I go to sleep, exhausted, and wake up abruptly. Sticky shreds of nightmare cling. I have been in a strange house, I have neglected two dogs and a pony and left them starving in a basement. I put a toddler in a bathtub with the water running and forgot to stay by his side.

How could you?  the head voices say, and I vault out of bed, make tea. I find a different book, a light and wryly funny book, and I sip the tea and read the blurry pages until sleep comes back to find me.

Where am I? I think. What should I be doing?

 Is there any point?

*****************

I attend the breakfast meeting because I am on the board of an organization that ensures people with mental health and addiction challenges get the help they need. On this early morning, ordinary regular folk like me mingle with criminal justice and social work professionals. There are community volunteers there, and not-for-profit leaders and judges and wardens, sheriffs and nurses and social workers and CEOs.

They talk about grants they’ve received…monies that will help pregnant women with addiction and their babies, that will help inmates with mental illness and the disease of addiction get the help they need while they are incarcerated, and then link firmly to services when they are released. They tell us about specialty docket courts. They discuss intervention programs that keep people with substance use and mental health issues out of the criminal justice system. The programs get people, at least during their first brush with the legal machine, connected to services that can help them become, as one speaker says, productive community members.

Two people get up to speak, respected professionals, and reveal that they were helped by just such programs.

Advocates talk about services for those who’ve served in the military forces. People exchange cards and the sheriff thanks the mental health community for the help they provide law enforcement. A swell of thanks rises up, flows back toward him, spreads through the room.

There is a kind of weaving going on, I think to myself; among people of different politics and widely varied beliefs, a net is being fabricated. It will catch a lot of people.

Of course, it is being woven as people are already falling in front of its progress, but the weavers’ hands are flying. The epidemic, the creeping stain, was not predicted, but caring people have banded together, and they are making a significant impact.

******************

I drive home slowly, thinking. The streets are slick with rain and empty. Yellow leaves flutter down; one sticks to my windshield wiper, and I let it rest there. I leave the radio off, and I let my thoughts settle.

The pain in Pittsburgh seems like a final pain, the Last Thing before the turning of the corner. It is the splash of vinegar on the dirty window. I can’t help but see it now.

This is where we are.

This is who we are.

I am sick with the need to acknowledge that we are, none of us, safe from hatred and violence. It is not a time for cock-eyed optimism.

But that meeting. That blending of very different people of good will into one tapestry of caring, one active force.

Not a time for optimism, maybe, but certainly a time for action. I will explore this week, discerning just what I can do, and then I’ll find a way to be part of the action taking place.

*******************

“Where am I?” I think, and I can’t escape that there are terrifying things in the not-too-distant shadows. Can I help to illuminate those shadows?

Maybe I can add my hands to those that are already working, even if, at first, I just hold a lantern to light an unfamiliar place.