A Conscious Stream of Unconsciousness

Completely sober, I drunkenly stumble up the stairs to my San Francisco apartment. I dizzily open the door to my Tampa room, where she is patiently waiting for me on that comfortable Chicago bed. I haven’t seen her in a year, but I’m not surprised at all. It feels completely natural to fall into her arms and express my feelings as if no time has elapsed. I see her with another guy, and we’re in a diner in the desert, and I’m with a different girl. We’re having a conversation about destiny and randomness and the afterlife, and we disagree, and we hate each other. We kiss. I’m on the Chicago Blue Line in the middle of the Peoria night. I get off at the airport. I’m flying east, I’m flying west, I’m flying everywhere and nowhere all at once. I doze off for a nap on a boat in the Bahamas and wake up on a hammock in the Midwest summer with my best friends and a staticky baseball game can be heard playing on a radio and the Cardinals are losing, and I have twenty mosquito bites. We are drinking around a campfire. A single bird flies south for the winter. I throw my drink into the fire and after the explosion I’m in Paris, where I’m with her again. We’re walking along the Seine taking as many pictures of each other in the afternoon sun as possible. It’s gorgeous, and we’re in love, and we’d like to have more pictures of ourselves to show others we’re living. We’re crossing the Pont de l’Archevêché and I see her slowly drift by under the bridge on a boat with her new husband.

I open a sliding door to Springfield, Illinois, to my grandparents’ backyard, one of my favorite places on earth, the earth that is so much bigger than I had imagined, and what is my place in it? I’m eight, and I’m hunting down Easter eggs with my sister. I’m driving back from St. Louis, and I’m questioning love. I’m at Turkey Run with my dad, and I board an empty train in the middle of the Swiss Alps. Cheerful church hymns play in the background. Now in the foreground. Am I capable of loving another human being? If so, why am I skeptical about these feelings? I’m sitting at early service with my mom. I don’t believe in any of this, and that makes me a terrible person. Maybe if I get baptized, things will be different. I’m heading west and the sun is too bright. My youth minister proceeds with the ritualistic dunk under water, and I’m middle-aged, and I’m still pretending something changed. I’m sitting with 200 students in a lecture hall. All their homes have been destroyed by the tornado, but I don’t feel a thing. I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know I tiptoe down the hallway, but it creaks, and the monsters turn around. “Colder.” I’m blinded by their eyes of lightning. “Ice cold.” I’m suddenly confused about what I had and what I lost. Now the voices are way up there, and I’m stuck down here. I’m no longer breathing. A large mirror appears in front of my dead body, and the person I see in it is alive.

I’m an actor. I’m handed my lines, but this movie is really just the playing out of my subconscious. I try to act out what’s on the script, but I keep screwing it up. My manager threatens to fire me if I keep making mistakes. I try harder, but I’m a terrible actor. It doesn’t help that the script is blank.

I’m floating through the air, or maybe I’m sinking in the water – I can’t tell anymore. The current carries me to a playground on the beach. My dad waits for me at the bottom of the slide, and I run over to the swing and jump off in the middle of the air but I don’t land, and I catch a kite, and I look down to see myself at the other end of the string running through a field. “Warmer.” A balloon pops and my soul crashes toward the ground. A violinist plays a dissonant melody. I’m weary from the journey. I’m going southwest, but the compass says I’m going northeast. The violin fades as I begin to black out, and I regain consciousness to the sound of a grand piano playing a slow and extremely familiar descant. It’s the middle of the night, and the northern lights can be seen in the zenith. It’s completely silent, so silent that you can hear the earth hum. “You’re getting warmer…Warmer…” I lift up my arms and try to meditate, and I’m on a Muni bus and I just pulled the cord to get off at the next stop. “Colder.” How is that possible? I can’t be that disoriented. This game is unfair. I’ve arrived downtown, but when I get out, I’m in the middle of a forest, and I head toward the sun. A mountain range looms in the near distance. I walk the treacherous path to the top of the highest peak, but as I approach the summit after a number of grueling days, I look down and see all the people I know and they’re collectively playing a beautiful harmony on a guitar, a song I’ve never heard, and I would really like to learn to play the guitar as well as other instruments because I think I’d be great at it just like I’ll be great at anything if I actually set my mind to it, and I miss everyone even though I don’t really know them, and the rocks I’m standing on suddenly turn to ice, which now melts, and I violently stumble down into the valley where the sound of the guitar is nothing more than a recording, and the images of my friends are actually cardboard cutouts of their faces. As I approach these cutouts, I realize they’re gravestones, and I’m standing in a cemetery. A door opens, and I walk out of the elevator into my office, and it’s snowing.

If I’m not drunk, high, daydreaming, or nightdreaming, where am I, and what the hell is intoxicating me?

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Seeing Darkness in a New Light

I was two or three years old when I started to enjoy bringing chaos into the world. My sister was napping on the couch, and I thought, as a designated destroyer, it was my unmistakable duty to mess with the status quo. I went over to the couch and pulled her right eyelid open. I saw her eye, and I assumed an eye open was equivalent to being awake. However, when I let her eyelid go, she kept sleeping as if nothing had happened. ‘I must be in complete control of her sleep! I need to hold her eye open longer!’ So I did. She stirred slightly but rolled over and went right back to sleep. I realized she woke up only because I was playing with her eye; this was when I learned that sleep goes beyond the eyes. Eyes don’t “close,” they just get shielded by eyelids. ‘Fascinating! What is sleep, then?’ In my insomniatic childhood, this led to years’ worth of nighttime experiments.

I started to enjoy examining the inside of my eyelids and seeing the way light got through. I created shapes and art forms, and if I closed my eyes harder, the shapes were completely transformed. My eyelids served as a projector screen for the images in my mind. This was wonderful at first, but then my imagination went another direction…

I don’t know how much of an effect the insomnia had on things, but I started having violent nightmares. They usually involved Chucky or Gremlins (both of which I was probably exposed to a liiiittle too soon) or Ursula from The Little Mermaid (who still haunts me to this day). These nightmares felt eerily real because the transition between awake and asleep was becoming less pronounced. In fact, it was virtually impossible to gauge my level of consciousness. I would be lying in bed creating a performance inside my eyelids, and when I took a break to look around in the real world, an image of a fictional monster or villain would suddenly appear on my wall. I was still very awake, though. An invisible man walked around in my room, and the only way to follow him was to watch his sunglasses. Kidnappers tortured me, snakes and spiders crawled around my sheets, and I had to fight for my life against the onslaught of bullets, arrows, and other ominous airborne projectiles suddenly materializing out of thin air. Yet my eyes would still be open, and I was in the same house I had always lived in. In a matter of moments, I would drift into an alternate universe, and the evil would follow.

By the time I was deep into these nightmares, I usually realized I was dreaming, but how was I to escape? Fear and inexperience clouded my judgment – I thought dreams were just a nighttime reality, and I had no choice but to endure the horror until, according to some set schedule, it ended.

I was already barely sleeping, and now I was so afraid of the nighttime that I wanted to sleep even less. I regretted needing an outlet for my intense imagination. I wanted the old normal dreams back. It had gone too far. I needed to change things, or I was in danger of losing my mind to fear (and a lack of sleep).

Flash forward a few hellish months. In my daytimes, I was starting to grasp the concept of boredom. I never napped in day care or preschool like the kids were supposed to because I was never tired (even though I only got about four hours of sleep a night), so in my waking state, I had to do something to pass the increasingly excruciating seconds. Thus I started daydreaming. I went wherever my imaginative mind took me, but I was still looking around the room to keep myself grounded in waking reality. I soon figured out my dreams could be fooling me by carefully placing the same surrounding objects in the same positions. Now I needed something those clever dream creators couldn’t touch, something more internal. It’s simple, but this is what I settled on: I closed my eyes as hard as possible and shook my head. If the world around me was still the same when I reopened my eyes, I was awake. Sometimes I was surprised when my surroundings had disappeared…

Most likely through repetition, I carried this over to my nocturnal life. I still had the same vivid dreams, but now I had an escape plan. Over time, I was able to wake myself up when things got really bad. Eventually, though, I took another route. Knowing that I was now much safer, I began standing up to the monsters. After all, I had nothing to lose. Once they were out of the way, I was able to go on incredible adventures. I tried to guide my dreams a certain way and found it surprisingly easy. I eradicated the villains and transformed evil into good, atrociousness into beauty. The nightmares dwindled then disappeared completely. I started sleeping a bit more, and I looked forward to the nightly journey. My waking hours were enhanced by the experiences I had in my dreams.

Fast forward to now.

It’s been about twenty years since I even thought about dreams. Once school, friends, work, and the real world were thrown into the mix, sleep became less fun. Stress took over. Nighttime became associated with anxiety. Anxiety about social situations, about homework, about the future, about the past. I had no time for dreams anymore. I dreaded waking up the following day, but tomorrow came quicker and quicker and quicker once I abandoned my dreams. I would drift into uninteresting slumber and, no matter how many hours had elapsed, I would wake up feeling like I didn’t sleep at all. My apprehensions would instantly pick up where they left off the night before as if it had only been a few minutes. If I did happen to remember a dream during this period, it would usually be an extension of a worry I was facing in the real world. My anxieties consumed my dreams, so I faced 24 hours of stress a day.

As you’ve probably been able to tell in this blog, I’ve been trying so hard to break free from the obstacles and trepidations in my mind, and I have seriously made progress. Unfortunately, I’ve had occasional relapses. There are triggers that start the whole depressed, self-loathing train again. I’ve experienced some slaps in the face in the job world, relationship world, and other worlds, and my fortitude is still being tested. In order to strengthen myself, I need to make further changes, and this is where I am currently focusing on dream improvement.

I sought an escape from my vivid nightmares as a child, but now I seek an escape from my dull nighttime meanderings as an adult.

I forgot about dreams; I completely disregarded that 33% or so of my daily life. I have been much closer to being dead than asleep. In order to get where I really want to be, I’ve got to place more emphasis on enjoying sleep and the dream state. I’m practicing relaxation techniques before bed. I’m trying to put myself back into the lucid, or at least vivid, dream state. My last expectations before falling asleep or no longer that of a vapid, forgetful stroll but rather of a sentient, stimulating voyage.

As much as I am looking to “wake up” in those hours I am actually awake, I equally need to “wake up” in those hours I am sleeping. I need to continue those nighttime eyelid exhibitions and work on attaining that “dream virtuoso” status I once held.

I just want to wake up feeling more refreshed, more alive, and more mindful of how to pursue my goals, and I think my efforts will have a positive effect.

I learned how to recognize and control my dreams twenty years ago, but what’s the point in having these valuable tools if I’m not going to use them? I’d rather let my imagination get out of hand and put those tools to the test than have no imagination at all.

Before I typed this last sentence, I closed my eyes and shook my head. Still here.