They Could be Better by David Swatling


During recent months, many friends have been posting their dreams. Not necessarily nightmares, but strange and unsettling nonetheless. Stress is said to trigger more vivid dreams and we all have enough anxiety these days to fill a Jungian encyclopedia. I’m no stranger to bizarre dreams—I’ve had some real whoppers. However, lately they’ve been, for the most part, annoyingly banal and usually forgotten soon after waking—but not always.

I dreamed a meme in days gone past. (Apologies to Les Mis fans!) A variation on the one with Batman and Robin, so ubiquitous it’s almost embarrassing to admit. That didn’t keep me from using Google to find a template that turned my dream into reality. Ta da! My first meme! I know—old dog new tricks—but don’t expect to find me on Tik Tok any day soon.

“The more things change, the more they remain the same.” The epigram first appeared in a mid-19th century satiric journal, Les Guêpes, or The Wasps, coined by French writer Jean-Baptiste Alfonse Karr. (Thanks again, Google.) It seems the phrase was originally infused with a hefty dose of irony, or even cynicism. Not so surprising, considering the literary influence of Voltaire a century earlier. So maybe my subconscious was messing with me a bit. Wouldn’t be the first time!

Although frightening for some, I’ve always embraced change in my life—whether deliberate or opportunistic. Thirty-five years ago, a friend in a New York City bar asked, “Does anybody want to sublet a place in Amsterdam?” Three weeks later, I boarded a plane with a one-way ticket and never looked back. After working as a radio producer for twenty-five years, I was nudged into early retirement. I spent a year traveling and then sat myself down to write my first novel—based on a ten-month stint of homelessness when I lived in a jeep with my dog.

I thought becoming an author might be the last major change in my life. The universe had other plans. In 2015 I was diagnosed with a chronic life-threatening condition, which had to do with a chromosomal mutation called translocation. (Let’s not dwell on the irony of that genetic word choice!) I won’t lie. The early weeks of wrapping my head around a new normal were more than a little surreal. (Sound familiar?) But five years later, thanks to groundbreaking meds and topnotch medical experts, I’m still here. (Cue the Sondheim song.)

Don’t get me wrong—there remain challenges to overcome. I was at the halfway point of book number two when I stopped writing to deal with my health issues. Getting back to a regular routine is tricky since a side effect of the medication is fatigue, which follows an erratic course of its own choosing. Fortunately, I like naps. (Crime writer Patricia Highsmith swore by them but her situation was quite different to mine.) And I’m optimistic I’ll eventually finish the book.

Even considering my age and underlying medical condition, the potentially deleterious effects of a global pandemic don’t worry me so much. (My vocabulary is expanding thanks to Dr. Fauci.) At least, not in terms of how it will change the world around us. Things won’t be the same but I’m willing to bet they could be better, once we’re able to get past the heartbreak of losing so many.



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