birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Water Street

I saw Joseph twice the week that he died: once in group session in which he made a lot of jokes about death, and once in an individual session. “Keep writing,” he had said. “That’s your gold.”

I had been exploring dreamwork and studying Jung and Jungians with Joseph, his wife Willa, and their group for nine months. I read Ed Edinger and learned to use the operations of alchemy as a framework to interpret dreams and creative works. I had a calling, I thought, to do this work and he and I agreed the first month we met that I would be his apprentice. I hoped someday to earn a masters degree and become a counselor.

The group met Monday, my individual session was Tuesday. On Wednesday my roommate’s girlfriend Carmen was describing a dream to me. It was a death dream. I don’t remember the details, except she mentioned there was a tunnel and she was trying to get to the light at the end of it. I told her it would be interesting to write about the struggle to get to the light—or to draw it—to really stay with the struggling part of it, to reflect on that process rather than just focusing on the light. It could be fertile ground to stay with the tension of the struggle rather than just trying to overcome it. “What feelings come up, and what do they remind you of? Is there a way to amplify those feelings?” I asked.

And then my lips went numb. And then my hands and feet went numb, too. I dropped the spoon in my hand and looked at the soup I was eating. Was there something wrong with it?

“Are you alright?” Carmen asked.

“Uh...yeah. I need to take a shower,” I said. My whole body started to feel numb, and I felt like I was floating, dissociated. The urge to get in water was overwhelming. I thought it would bring feeling back into my hands and feet. I had had anxiety attacks before, but this was something new. I kept touching my lips to see if they were still there. “Sorry, I’ve got to go,” I said as I headed to the bathroom. I turned in the shower, tore my clothes off, and got in.

I was disturbed by the sensation—or lack of it—that I was having, but not quite scared. “What is going on?” I wondered. I smelled my shampoo, hoping the scent would make me feel more grounded. I felt profoundly adrift. I tried a tactic I had learned from a book on anxiety: I had a dialogue with myself.

I asked “What’s the worse thing that could happen right now?”

“I could die.”

“Well, go ahead and die, then.”

As the book had predicted, I felt better. This was a sort of paradoxical, but effective relief for anxiety & panic: imagine the very worst, and then let go and allow it rather than fighting against it. It sometimes stops the fight-or-flight response in its tracks.

I stepped out of the shower with the feeling in my lips, hands, feet, and everywhere else restored.

Later that night a friend of Joseph and Willa’s called to let me know Joseph had been kayaking earlier in the day and he was missing. He had disappeared from view around 5 pm. The next evening, she called back to say his body had been found floating near Whidbey Island. Perhaps he had drowned when I was in the shower.

Four of us in the group rode together to his memorial the following weekend. We shared the dreams we had the night before and the night after he died.
One woman dreamed she was waiting for someone to get out of the shower. The sole man in the group dreamed he was swimming out in the Puget Sound, and a rat swam by, wearing Joseph’s sweater. A few weeks later, we learned from Willa about her dream the night before he drowned: mermaids came and took Joseph down Water Street, and she had to go back to the restaurant where they had eaten to go find her purse and her I.D.

In my dream, I woke up to see a beautiful, glowing light in my room.

“I wasn’t ready for you to go yet,” I said. “It’s okay,” the light answered. “We’re still going to do dreamwork. We’re just going to do it in a different way.”

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Singlet + Headgear