It might be in the few seconds the proverbial head hits the pillow. Maybe it’s longer, a few minutes, hours, or all damn night till right before the alarm goes off.
Your body goes through its ‘shutting-down-now’ process.
Like the No Cars Go song says: Between the click of the light and the start of the dream.
Just before letting go of consciousness, there’s opportunity.
Revisit good/bad memories.
Seethe over all enemies and plot to destroy the world.
Mentally create a grocery list.
And dammit why won’t that barking dog shut the hell up!
Sometimes in this moment I’m guilty of making up stories or writing tunes in my head, all of which will have been forgotten by morning light. Some of those stories/songs got pretty interesting, until I realized I was bastardizing the TV shows I watched earlier that night.
And now it’s 2am? Geez!
But there is a point of clarity right before that shift to sleep. I often wonder if it’s the same feeling just before drifting off into death (the non-head trauma kind of death). You get a moment to reflect. To visit your mind and see the nice and ugly things stuck there.
Perhaps that why a lot of people meditate (I should, and probably would be happier for it). It’s going to that small bridge between wake/sleep and taking control.
Fill it with peace. Fill it with happiness. Fill it with clips of the Three Stooges.
In the end, I guess it’s just about pausing and being in the present. That whole live-like-you-are-dying dogma seems to mostly work if you are aware you are actually dying. Unfathomable to some, and maybe unfortunate to those who fathom. But ‘being in the present’ is a slogan easier to chew.
If that’s the case, then why wait till the pause before sleep. Visit the mind right now. In the present.
He was the gangly Karate Kid back in 1980-something, but Ralph Macchio struck an equally nostalgic chord (pun intended) as Eugene, the wannabe-blues guitar player from Long Island. This was in the movie Crossroads, a flick that burned out those VHS heads from overplay in the Taylor homestead.
Those who’ve seen this oldie (well it’s an oldie where I come from, McFly), will remember Eugene hitchhiking the road with his yellow Telecaster, bland fedora and blazer getup, walking the sun-baked miles next to his mentor Willie, aka: Blind Dog Fulton (beautifully and unsettlingly played by the late Joe Seneca).
The movie was far from perfect, and I still swear all that fast guitar filming was sped up a half-step to sound Paganini fast (no disrespect to Steve Vai, who is awesome), but there was a scene right before the final showdown where the elderly Willie passed on a bag of Mojo to young Eugene. “I’m giving you all the magic I got,” Willie exclaimed. This is the part where a seriousness passes between the two where Eugene, who previously called ‘bullshit’ to all this devil/crossroads folklore, starts to feel that he is about to face down a real monster.
The mojo bag.
I looked it up. There are a lot of variations, but the typical mojo bag is small and can fit in one’s hand. It’s usually velvet-like in texture, with a drawstring to close up the magical contents inside. You can buy one conveniently through your Paypal account or go the YouTube route and DIY. What you put inside the bag is supposed to be magic. For some, that can be animal bones, hair, Xanax, the dung of ancestors, cat vomit, or voodoo-god-knows-what-else.
Years ago, I had a mechanical pencil that I took with me for every test during the hundred years I spent in college. The pencil was nearly falling apart by the time I graduated, held together by scotch tape and crazy glue. It’s now somewhere in a toolbox of forgotten things, but, man, did I need that pencil to cope with test-stress back in the day.
Then for a short time back in the 90s (because they were in style), I carried around a miniature, plastic troll on a key chain. It served no purpose, but I had to make sure it was with me wherever I went. If I left it at home, I was convinced something had shifted in the universe against my favor.
And for a while, index cards ruled my pockets. I had to have one everywhere I went. I didn’t always write useful quips on them like Anne Lamott suggested, but – dammit – the index cards had to be in my pockets or else I felt something was missing in my life.
There’s this three-year-old that lives in my house who swears by his blankie. It’s not just a security blanket that Linus Van Pelt would approve, but it has magic powers. It keeps the monsters away at night, and it adds an invisible shield of comfort and protection everywhere it goes. And if the magic fades, one simply passes the blanket through the washing machine to restore its powers.
Ironclad confidence, peace and security, when found, are forms of magic — especially for children. Maybe it will take a special coin, rock, or doll to help the kids along as they grow up and become adults to continue searching for new magic. Maybe it’s a lie that we tell children that eventually becomes the truth on the chance that we make them believe in themselves, like the bits of confetti we put under their pillows at night to make the next day at kindergarten tolerable.
Maybe the mojo bag is a bag filled with lies inside. And if you don’t believe the lies, the magic won’t work. You can fill it with pencils, trolls, and index cards, but what good will that do if you don’t believe in their power. It surely won’t help you beat the devil at the crossroads.
But maybe the person giving you the mojo bag has the real magic, and maybe that magic does work when it’s passed on to you. It doesn’t have to be in the form of a small bag you can buy at a gift shop in New Orleans. It can be encouraging words, a hug, a moment of quality time, or a feeling of nurturing support. And this all doesn’t have to come just from someone else; it can come from within. That’s the real mojo, right there.
In the meantime, it’s okay if we personify an object and make it house our confidence and self-assurance. Sure, let’s bottle it and sell it to ourselves. After all, it’s never about the object anyway. It’s about releasing what’s already there inside us the whole time.
It’s one of the hidden gifts of life. When you can be alone and for whatever strange stirring in the brain, you laugh out loud. And not in spite of yourself. Who all wants to spite themselves anyway for laughing? That’s just stupid.
Anyway, if you’ve never experienced the unexpected laugh fairy visit while alone, then you should order a lighter version of yourself. Step down as CEO. Quit working at the DMV. Whatever you can do to open the laugh gates once in a while. Certainly if your brain is capable of processing at least one thought a second, by the law of randomness even an old dirty joke long years forgotten will resurface to your short-term memory sooner or later.
The mystery of a true, good-hearted laugh is that it can’t be forced. It comes out like a sneeze, a knee-jerk ejecta. You let it out in a stifled huff or a full series of bellowed guffaws (best done inside your car while sitting in traffic). We watch comedies, pay comedians and, unless you have coulraphobia, hire clowns to manufacture the laugh for us because we can’t seem to do it on a whim.
Except we can. Laughter is infectious. We can surround ourselves with others that like to laugh. If you’ve ever been accused of laughing too much, avoid the accuser at all costs. Because laughter is a rarity, a biological commodity that runs out if we don’t tap into its reserve. Laughter has helped the beaten, the weary, and the sick. To die laughing wouldn’t be a bad way to go. (I could float up in the air laughing like old Mr. Dawes Sr. from Mary Poppins, rising up to the ceiling laughing my head off until my heart seized).
But social laughter aside, it’s the laughter in solitude that is the real magic. To be able to just be alone and laugh. I’m not talking about the crazy, mustache-twisting insane type of alone-laughter. I mean when you’re just sitting there by yourself and you suddenly remember that time when Larry tried to slip a silent fart at the last meeting and failed. Or while you’re alone in the bathroom brushing your teeth, you recall that one time a passing stranger tried to give you the sexy smile just before he walked into a wall. It’s okay if you just sprayed toothpaste all over the mirror from laughing just now.
Sometimes the laugh trigger is strange. It was funnier reminiscing in private the idea of Steve Martin juggling cats instead of actually watching him do it. The other day I snickered loudly to myself after arbitrarily recalling Orlando Jones talking about fearing spiders on the football field, a line from a movie that as a whole really wasn’t that funny.
Whatever the laugh trigger is, enjoy it. It is your rare gift to yourself. The world is mad, but not mad with laughter. In this time of ours, more than ever, we need a good laugh. The equation to fix all of our problems may never be solved, but be assured laughter is in there somewhere in the solution.