Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Something to Believe

I waited 18 years To start a life Should’ve waited 10 more Got it right Alone I spend most of my time alone I spend most of my time… --Lucky Boys Confusion, “18 Years” On a good night I can get to or from Wicker Park in about 20 minutes. I kind of hate knowing that. There are a few places in Chicago I love. Wicker Park/Bucktown/Logan Square is one. The area up around Sheffield and Belmont is another. I love those areas. Whenever I’m up there I feel like it’s where I belong. There’s so much movement, so much noise, so much life. I’m starting to think of places like that when I think of the city I call mine, not the skyscrapers and arenas. I hate the fact that I have to leave at the end of the night. For although I call myself a Chicagoan, I am not truly, nor have I ever been one. I grew up in the suburbs. I’m still tied to them now, since my job requires me to go to one of the smaller of the fringe cities forever enslaved to the gravitational pull of their master. I now live in a compromise, a working-class town between the city I love and the job I need. It lacks the excitement of Wicker Park, the verve of Sheffield and Belmont. The fact is, I like that about my place when I moved here last fall. I wanted to be alone. This is how I always respond to trauma. I close up, lick my wounds, seek shelter from the world. I suppose that’s normal, human. It’s probably a leftover from our animal ways when we’d crawl off somewhere and try to heal in peace. My little two-bedroom perched atop a post-World War II three-flat in the suburbs has primarily been a place of solitude since October. A few friends have stopped by. My buddy who moved to Texas spent a week in my guest bedroom. My family comes by occasionally. But the vast majority of the time it’s just me. Up until this weekend I liked that about my place. Even if it sometimes felt lonely, the feelings never lasted long and always dissipated rapidly. Until this weekend. I spent Thursday night in Wicker Park for a Local H show. I spent Saturday afternoon in the city, too, running an errand and getting lunch on the Magnificent Mile. Sunday I was in Wicker Park again, this time for Lucky Boys Confusion. There’s something in the movement and noise of a concert I suddenly want to be surrounded by at all times. There’s something in the flow of people down sidewalks that I miss when it’s not around. Apparently I’m no longer content to hide, to wait. Apparently I’m now ready. I drove home from the Lucky Boys’ show last night to my empty apartment with regrets for my departure from Wicker Park still lingering in my mind. I had a dream. I’m kind of weird with dreams. Most of the time I think they’re pretty much a spasm of a mind trying to process the events of a day, a week, or a lifetime. However I am also a writer, so I understand plot, subtext, and symbolism. I’m pretty sure my subconscious mind does, too. So every once in a while I have a dream that’s laden with subtext and symbolism. When that happens the narrator who resides in my head wakes up, watches what’s happening, does its best to remember. I pay attention because the narrator realizes that my brain is trying to say something. It’s not prophecy. It’s not a message from the divine. It’s simply my mind’s attempt to take account of what’s been happening. So like any good storyteller, I listen, especially when I re-create my own version of The Inferno. I found myself in some sort of crazy abandoned industrial park. I was there with people. We were partying or camping or exploring or something. All of the sudden an announcement was made from the ether. The world was about to end. Everyone who wished to make it to heaven was welcome to try. The entrance, as it happened, was right next to the bizarre, abandoned industrial complex. All you had to do to make it was to cross an invisible bridge under the power of your own faith. So my companions and I traveled to the bridge. There was a crowd of people already at the gap. Some were crossing. Some failed to make it. I edged to the gap and looked in to the abyss. Down, far below, there was a massive grey expanse. Tiny forms were moving on it. People who hadn’t been able to cross the gap. I withdrew. On leaving I ran in to one of my companions, one of my former high school youth leaders. We decided to tough it out in the dying world and divvied up the supplies in our camp. The possessions we chose from were nonsensical, mp3 players and iPhones instead of the actual camping gear. As the lights (literally long industrial fluorescents, for the record) started to go out for the last time I decided to try for the gap, telling myself the entire time that I belonged in heaven, that I had the faith. I took one step on to the invisible bridge, then a flying leap, catching the edge of the afterworld with my fingertips. I climbed up and found myself in a department store, surrounded by little girls dressed as princesses. The image of denizens of the second and lower circles of hell clambering over the wall in to limbo filled my mind. I was sure that they looked at me and knew that I didn’t belong, that I’d only made it because I’d been able to run and jump. The stench of damnation clung to me. Or so I thought. Some years later I was working as a firefighter. Why heaven needs firefighters is beyond me. But I was late to a call and arrived at the station as the trucks left. My sister and brother-in-law were there, though. My sister looked at me and said, “You look like shit. Have you been sleeping?” I knew why she was asking. I found a mirror and looked at my reflection, shocked to discover that I was pale and gaunt. My hair was mussed and red rings outlined my eyes. Finally I admitted that I didn’t belong in heaven. Suddenly I was on the path to hell. Some nameless guide arrived. I suppose it was Virgil. Who knows? My guide started asking me why I belonged in hell. I started listing all the girls I’d never tried anything with. I said, of all things, that I’d kidnapped them. This makes zero sense until you realize that I’d spent more time imagining a life with these girls than actually trying to find out if they wanted to participate in mine and let me in to theirs. With every admission hell receded before me. Then it stopped. My guide asked why and with difficulty I conjured a single name, one from my deep past. The one person I actually think I may be capable of hating. I was placed in hell’s waiting room and told to hang on. It was a mass of plastic tables, telephones, and chairs with either a missing wall or a floor-to-ceiling window on one side, beyond which the fires of hell emitted smoke and a giant steam crane hung ominously against the sooty sky for reasons I’m sure are only apparent to my subconscious. Eventually she arrived and took her place in a plastic chair across the corner of the table from me. She said nothing to me and I said nothing to her. Eventually the phone rang and she picked it up. “Yeah, I’m here,” she said, “He’s here, too. Yeah, I know why.” Then she hung up the phone. I asked for her help. She stood up and started walking away. I chased her back out on to the path, grabbed her arm, said, “Please, I need this.” She turned back, looked at me, then the sky started to get bright. I had one last moment to realize that something was different about her. She stood before me in a yellow tank top and black track pants with a backpack slung over her back. The face was hers, but the body was one she would never own no matter how hard she worked. Since it’s important to the dream, let’s just say she’d always had body image issues and leave the rest of the back story to the past. I found myself in a medieval village (I’m going with Swiss, based on the houses, for the record) on a bright, sunny afternoon. The sky was a vibrant blue, the grass an impossibly bright green. Flowers were everywhere, filling the world with orange and purple and yellow and red. I started laughing. People came out of their homes, all smiles and laughter, and greeted me as I ran through town. I hopped on top of a hedge and surveyed all I could see. Then my alarm went off. So that is a glimpse in to my brain. I love the creativity of my subconscious. And I know that big a and Fiat Lex will appreciate it, even if no one else does…


Fiat Lex said...

w00t dream log!

For me, architectural structures usually represent long-term personality components--the assembled systems of assumption and belief that "house" day-to-day consciousness. The fact that it appears abandoned and dilapidated might mean either that it's part of yourself on which you haven't done much work lately, or that it's part of yourself which your unconscious mind feels isn't serving you very well. Light levels and light sources are also significant. A very well-lit place tends to be one where the conscious mind has a lot of access; a dim or dark one is difficult to access consciously while awake. In this case the type of lighting is also meaningful--I don't know your specific emotional associations with fluorescent lights, but I would suspect they tie in to actions chosen from feelings of duty and ncessity and cold reason.

What you and your dream-people were doing there, and the way you perceived that activity, gives you a clue as to what part of yourself it is. Group social activities meant to provide happiness, kind of thing. Dream-people, that is, persons not expressly resembling other individuals, I take to represent the aspects of self which generally make use of said structures. So a populated set of buildings is a facet of the personality which is currently in regular use.

Your dream-person companion for this first part, the only one who was individually identified, is another representative of the nature of the place. He represents the part of you that would rather stick it out in an increasingly unusable set of structures than risk ending up in the flat, gray place that awaits those who lack the emotional/spiritual strength to properly escape. The fact that your "camping supplies" consisted of high-tech toys is another clue that you're in the "sources of fun" part of your personality. I know you love gadgets and take a certain, not unjustified amount of pride in making sure your stuff is the best and coolest you can afford. The rest of the dream-people have mostly left at this point, meaning a lot of the emotional resources that once powered this area are no longer available. So the things you have left to work with are thus more individual types of enjoyment.

Then you crossed the gap. You did make it across, but you did it in a way that you perceived not to be legitimate--through momentum and strain, rather than the power of faith alone. You felt you'd somehow cheated.

Firefighter is an interesting image. Again, I don't know what emotional associations you have with firefighters. But I think it's kinda cool that your "being in heaven" identity is a person who solves problems and makes sure others don't get hurt. You see yourself in service of a dangerous kind, protecting others from danger. A fire station is also a piece of architecture, a self-part--however in this case it's a self-part that you did not eel you had the right to possess or to use.

Part 2 coming up. Damn 4,096 character limit.

Fiat Lex said...

You skipped the part of the story where you were fulfilling that role successfully. Instead you jumped right to the "logical conclusion" of being somewhere you didn't belong; failing at your new role. A dream-person in the form of your sister delivering the news to you, that you looked like you "hadn't been sleeping" (trying too hard? overcompensating for self-perceived shortcomings? harried by guilt?) is actually a good thing. It's not some group of heavenly denizens going "you there! you don't belong! avaunt!" Instead it's somebody who's close to you, who cares about you, and whom you trust to give you the straight story, saying, "hey, what you're doing is hurting you." Also significant it that whatever the heaven place represents, you consider your sister to be one of the people who is qualified to represent it.

When you saw yourself in the mirror you weren't monstrous or demonic. You were friggin' exhausted. Personally I don't see myself in a mirror in a dream very often--the most exciting one was the one where I saw my face and it actually looked like my face. Good times.

Who knows about the guide? Thing about guides and other good-guys is they don't usually come with identifiers. 'S one of the reasons that even though I personally still think there's an invisible side to nature, I don't necessarily think the Christian version of how it's supposed to work is necessarily the right one. So I'm a damn hippie. And it was probably just your conscience or some such.

I'm curious about your phrasing here: and hell receded before me. Do you mean that as you walked and talked, hell was actually sliding further and further away? Like the landscape itself was contradicting your fears about where you really belonged?

Hell's waiting room is a fascinating location to me. Communication devices, furniture for face-to-face meetings, a view into the bottom--hell, I ain't inside your head so I can't tell you which of your faculties it represents or is involved with. But wherever it is, that is one "location" it behooves you to know how to find. Your guide got to the point where you admitted the reason you believed you belonged in hell was her; so she came to the room (presumably from hell, at least the one in your mind) so the two of you could hash it out.

Oh, and the steam crane I'm pretty sure was there to symbolically connect the "hell" at the end of the dream to the "decaying industrial park" at the beginning. Hell is a place not so much of death, but of hideously self-aware terror and stagnation and decay. It's absolute terror AND absolute boredom, both at the same time. As Philip K Dick put it, "When you go insane, nothing ever happens to you again."

The phone conversation I can't help you with, except to say, it points to the idea that the her-person wasn't there of her own volition.

When she was walking away "on the path", was she walking back the way you'd arrived, away from hell? Or was she going the other way, toward hell? It's less significant than it would have been if the dream had ended differently, but still good to know.

The ending seems pretty straightforward to me, and may I say, congratulations. Confronted with the representation of a person with whom you have painful, soul-crippling history, you did the following things: Named your treatment of her as a source of your guilt and feelings of unworthiness. Asked for her help. And finally, looked at her and saw her the way she desperately wanted to be seen.

In dream language, that's kind of more potent than an "I forgive you." Dreams are the one place where faith can reshape our surroundings to match our desires. (Or fears. But in this case that's not what happened!) So you had the desire to see her as beautiful rather than ugly, as something other than a source of guilt and pain. And that desire transformed not only your image of her, but your sense of what kind of mental landscape you are fit to inhabit. A quaint, happy alpine village, I think, suits you way better than a firehouse.


Geds said...

See, I knew you'd like that...

And while I find your interpretation of the mental symbolism fascinating as always, I have a different view of things.

First, it's fascinating that I was apparently hanging out with a former high school youth leader when the lights went out and that his plan was to try to tough it out in the regular world and not actually go to heaven. I also find it interesting that I took an iPhone that didn't work. I make no secret of the fact that I despise Apple products and will not purchase them. I kind of take the whole thing as a commentary on my current views of Christianity...

And I didn't skip the part where I was successfully filling my role as a firefighter. The transition was as abrupt as I put in to post.

As to the female from the past, if you think it was "Her," you'd be wrong. I had no idea what the person in question was doing in my dream. She's been out of my life for nine years except for the occasional attempt on her end to contact me. I suppose on some level I feel bad for not responding, but she's a manipulative, needy bitch who doesn't actually care about me so much as the possibility that I'll respond to her. That's why I didn't offer any explanations as to why I thought of her or any specific things I said I needed from her. I had no idea what purpose her existence in the dream was.

However, that's also why I put in the explanation of how she was different than real life and why she was hanging out in hell (yes, that's where she'd come from and where she was going back to). It was the symbolism. My subconscious picked one particular quality that I remembered her hating about herself, then turned her in to its approximation of (since there was an audience of one here) what she wanted to be.

Yet she was in Hell because she was continually trying to be what she already was. Therefore the message was about me, not her. That's probably why my subconscious specifically rooted up someone I can't stand. It's how Dante handled the Inferno, too, but without the political agenda.

Michael Mock said...

Heh. And here I thought my wandering-through-an-abandoned-building, trying-to-find-decent-equipment-to-fight-off-the-zombies dream was a bit odd. Though I have to say, who makes an axe with a blade that comes out and then angles off at a forty-five degree angle? It worked really well in the dream, but my first thought on waking was that it was the stupidest weapon I'd ever seen.