August 2013 Archives

The Canon of My Interior Life

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I've always found it interesting to observe the canon of supernatural fiction. Each work has certain rules: do the vampires burst into flames in daylight or just shimmer a little? Can zombies be vanquished by cutting off their heads, or must you locate the original zombie to restore them all to humanity? The minutiae of these rules often carry the seeds of resolution in horror films and novels, so I pay close attention to the details.

I have always had vivid, elaborate, and often lucid dreams. They are so jam-packed with symbolism and recurring motifs that I'm quite certain my subconscious mind is just entertaining itself by goofing with me at night. Earlier this summer, I made reference in one of my dreams to the usual rules, and I realized that there actually is an established canon of physics, symbolism, and surreality at work in my dream world.

The Canon of My Interior Life: An Introduction

  1. I can fly, quite gracefully.

    I'm sure flying in dreams is quite common, but in my dreams, it's a regular method of transport. Get into an awkward conversation at parties? "Excuse me, I'll be back in just a moment," then take a tour of the cirrus and cumulus for a while. I didn't realize how frequently I flew in my dreams until I had one where I was having trouble. I turned to a cousin and said, "It must be to do with the low humidity and temperature of the air right now - I can usually just lift right off." I explained, in a lucid way that made me wake up laughing, "It's not like I have wings or magic powers, but I do have to move my arms a little to start. I connected the water in my body with the moisture in the air, and we became continuous."

  2. I am in a very healthy and pleasant relationship with Jason Segel.

    (Yeah, you thought flying was as self-indulgent as the wish-fulfiment got, didn't you?) It doesn't hurt that he's basically everything I'd want in a man in real life, but in my dream life, he's beyond perfect. We don't live together, but we visit each other somewhat regularly. It's a running joke with us that I always forget he is a famous movie and television star because I met him as a musician and writer. When we are out together, I get confused about why people recognize him and he gets adorably frustrated, saying, "Seriously, there are like eight seasons of How I Met Your Mother on Netflix, why don't you watch just one?" He won't ever watch his work with me, but he'll always play his music. In real life, I have actually been catching up on his acting because I got tired of feeling guilty in dream life. Also because he's ridiculously cute and quite talented.

  3. Time travel is totally normal, but with conditions.

    The deal is, at any point you can travel backward and forward and spend time with people you miss or haven't met yet, but you aren't allowed to let them know you're from the past or future. If they're dead, you aren't allowed to allude to their death or let them know how or when it happens. I have lengthy dream conversations with deceased relatives, but it's always a bit upsetting to wake up and realize it was a dream. Sometimes the dream turns lucid partway through, and I wake up crying. Those are a bummer.

  4. Every apartment or home I live in has a secret expanding area that turns into an art studio.

    Sometimes they go so far as opening into a balcony and garden space too. I know the symbolism that when you dream of your home you are dreaming of yourself, and I see how patently obvious it is to dream of an art studio hiding undiscovered inside oneself, but it's the process of discovery that makes these studios so interesting. Like how do you find that inner sanctuary of creativity? Once it was by evicting an ex-boyfriend and a bunch of toxic friends who were squatting in a spare floor of a house, another time it was by facing my fears and walking outside in the dark to find a barn.

  5. People shift in saturation from black and white to pure color.

    One of my shorthands for lucid dreaming is when it happens in black and white. Time-travelers start out black and white, then gradually take on color, Pleasantville-style. Sometimes I'll taunt them and say, "Alright gray-face, why am I dreaming about you?" The more intimately I get to know someone, the more they become a certain color of light or frequency of sound. These colors are consistent with the colors I associate with people in my waking life.

  6. I am able to escape into paintings.

    Far and away, the most exciting dreams I have are what I call Painting Dreams. I've had them as long as I can remember: at random points as I'm drifting off to sleep or have just lost interest in the conversation I'm having in my dream, I start making a painting. But it's not as a person with hands or a body - I just see a visual field and start moving colors around, adjusting texture and impasto, layering, noodling around with shading, and so on. I imagine it's just a slight awareness of my visual cortex processing through all the day's stimuli, but damn, I make great stuff in my dreams. It's become an in-joke within my dreams that I've drifted off, and I say jokingly, "Sorry, I was off in a painting." I occasionally try to recreate something I literally dreamt up in real life, and every major departure I've taken in painting has started as a Painting Dream.

  7. I am actually a pretty talented musician.

    In real life, I play a little bit of piano, sing self-consciously, can play a few chords on the guitar, and am half-assedly learning banjo, ukulele, and the charango. In dream life, music comes effortlessly to me. I am particularly accomplished on the cello and sitar, and actually I think that's how Jason and I originally met. Mindy Kaling posted on Twitter recently, "That fleeting moment when I pick up a guitar where I'm like "is it possible I'll just kind of know how to play this really well?" I am so good at music in my dreams that I write and remix songs as a way to make extra money to pay off student loans. Because I not only know how to play dozens of instruments, but I'm also something of a sound engineer. By comparison, doesn't flying seem sort of modest?

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