16 May, 2024

For If Dreams Die

Exactly when did I give up on dreams? I used to wake up on any given morning and be able to recall multiple dreams from the night before. Sleep was an adventure when I was a kid. I expect that's true for many of us. Then, at some point, we get busy. School or work take precedence in our lives. Priorities shift and we become practical, responsible beings emboldened by great purpose and propelled by tremendous efficiency, allowing no time for our minds to idle. We leave dreams behind, replacing them with aspirations — not the same thing at all.

A lot of kids and a few adults are capable of exercising conscious will in dreams. They fly, interact with the people being dreamed up, and generally control what happens in their dreams — a phenomenon called lucid dreaming. By no means have I researched the ability; although, years ago I did try to cultivate it by keeping a dream journal and practicing a recommended technique for enabling lucid dreaming.

The mnemonic involved asking myself "Is this a dream?" anytime I walked through a doorway. (Once you make that a habit, it's supposed to be easier to ask the question in an actual dream. The realization that you're dreaming is supposed to be all you need to start dreaming with intention.) Doing that got tedious, but the journaling was worse. I'd hoped to improve my sleep. Sitting awake for long minutes in the middle of the night, scribbling half-legible notes of my latest dream, had the opposite effect. I lost a good deal of sleep and I never experienced a lucid dream. All I have to show for those efforts is a blog post about some of the crazier dreams I wrote down. Is this a dream? How many times in life do we ask ourselves if we're dreaming? We're often suspicious of extreme states. When shit goes off the rails, we often doubt (or hope for cause to doubt) what our senses tell us. The same applies when amazing things are happening. We question equally the reality of the good and the bad. As you already figured out, I gave up the journal. I also gave up the hope of controlling my dreams. Really, I gave up putting stock in dreams at all. What was the point of paying them any mind? Shakespeare knew about dreams, those of a midsummer night and otherwise, "begot of nothing but vain fantasy." The Bard recognized their ephemerality, their illusoriness. He cautioned against trusting them. The Buddha did too. Carl Jung, of course, disagreed. Sigmund Freud split the difference with his psychotherapeutic approach in the late 1800s, but cultures and traditions that put a high value on dreams endure to this day. I guess I'm too much of an empiricist to take the view that dreams are either comprehensible windows into the subconscious or doors to other realms of existence. I never thought my dreams were trying to tell me something. Dreams don't exert a will of their own. They might feel alien, but even Freud acknowledged that they're very much our own weird, sometimes deranged children. Even when I took an interest in oneironautics, the practice of lucid dreaming, I wasn't seeking consciousness expansion or a mystical cross-dimensional gateway. I just thought it'd be cool to steer my dreams in a different direction than they usually went on their own. So far I've only been referring to dream-dreams. At some point in my life, however, I put not only nighttime dreams behind me, I also loosened the shackles of waking fantasy. Daydreams are so often pointless musings that get in the way of what needs to be done — and I say "needs" only in the sense that it impacts the self, not that groceries need to be picked up or you need to get an appendectomy. There's also the need of the spirit to grow, which I argue it can't very well do when you're busy pining after some shiny token of recognition, striving for wealth, or conniving to win authority. In what I always found to be an ugly little couplet, some poet I no longer remember, wrote that if you let go of your dreams, life becomes "a broken-winged bird that cannot fly." I call bullshit. A life with purpose is good, but how might we rate the quality of a life governed by preoccupation? Will anyone claim distraction (or monomaniacal fixation) as their ideal? Doubtful. If the point is flexibility rather than uncompromising obsession, we have to be willing to take what comes, to be willing to adapt and not fixate on our unfulfilled wants every time life takes an unexpected turn. I've said over and over that I'm happier not hanging my hat on hope than clinging to what might never be. I keep coming back to this topic, in conversation and in writing. I also wrote this blog post about hope when my case went back to the courts, which takes a peek at my feelings on the subject. Everybody needs a hobby.
Discovering contentedness despite seemingly arduous circumstances didn't come easily, and I do the world a disservice by not being able to articulate exactly how I did it — but I have, and even though I feel as if my dreams die a little more each day, life seems to get better and better as they do. I feel connected with the here and now, and I don't even need to ask if I'm dreaming. Why doesn't English have a word for the practice of lucid waking?

29 April, 2024

Rainy Tokyo Walkthrough Blues

Rain falls on the screen-lit streets of Tokyo. Cars pass the flashing storefronts. Billboard trucks, illuminated from within, trundle by. Lanterns cast their glow over scooters parked in alleys. People, sheltering under mostly transparent umbrellas, ignore each other except as noticing them is necessary to dodge and weave around other pedestrians. I watch the video and wonder where everyone could be going.

These walkthroughs are apparently popular on YouTube, where my boss downloads them for us to play on one of the in-house TV channels that my coworkers and I program and maintain. We've shown forest walkthroughs, downtown walkthroughs, lakeside walkthroughs, desert walkthroughs, park walkthroughs, beach walkthroughs.... Whether one exists I can't be sure, but about the only kind we haven't shown is a space walkthrough.

Seoul, South Korea, on a quiet snowy evening, was one of our most popular. It's been requested by several different people to replay since we first broadcast it last year on Relax. Relax is the channel where we show all of this type of content. (All of our channels have an X in their names, a tradition I claim to have started but the groundwork for which can technically be said to have been lain before I ever came to work at XSTREAM.) Some of the other things that play twenty-four hours a day on Relax include landscape flyovers, trippy fractal patterns, outer space photography, steaming cups of tea, nature footage, closeups of burning incense, and vacant jazz coffeehouses. We try to keep things varied. Walkthrough videos are probably a lot more popular where I live — in prison — than in society at large. At least out there you (theoretically) have the option to visit another place whenever you choose to do so. My options are more limited. Glimpses of the outside world, such as those offered by walkthrough videos, can be as refreshing as they can be melancholy. As I observe the people on Tokyo's wet streets, I also observe myself and consider the nature of my watching. Am I watching because Tokyo has been on my bucket list forever? Am I watching because of all the pretty colors? Am I watching because I miss the unique type of human contact that only takes place in a crowded metropolis? No matter what the specific reason, I recognize my watching as a symptom of WITBO — wishing it to be otherwise. Rainy Tokyo Walkthrough caught my eye because I'm dissatisfied with my current situation. I wish for something other than what is. I wish here and now to be there and then. Can you blame me? Part of Buddhist practice involves cultivating contentment and equanimity. For all my personal and spiritual development, for all the comments people make about my so-called enlightened state, I doubt I'm anywhere near Nirvana. I watch videos of nighttime in a Japanese city and dream of the sound my shoes would make splashing along its crowded crosswalks. I fantasize about the food offered in its intimate little restaurants. I ogle its huge billboard advertisements. I'm a prisoner of not only the state but of the masochistic workings of my own human mind.
The best thing to do is turn off the TV and turn inward, to sit awhile with the ember that is my humanity, let it smolder, let its smoke sting my eyes, let it slowly, at a pace impossible for me to measure or even conceive, exhaust itself.

10 April, 2024

Thriving

I do a lot: President of the Speak Easy Gavel Club; head of the prison media center (aka XSTREAM); host of Real Talk, a televised forum about issues affecting imprisoned people; showrunner for several regular TV series; producer of a daily news broadcast; events coordinator for monthly speaking engagements, graduation ceremonies, and concerts; liaison for the ERDCC book club; and more.

Day to day, I fill several roles that demand a high level of performance brought to life's little stage. There's showmanship in what I do, but I'm really using the word "performance" here to mean "engagement" — attentive dedication to a task.

I make time to breathe. I do stretches in the morning, before leaping down from the upper bunk, because I know the day won't afford time to do them later. Moving forward, I keep a natural pace. I try not to rush. Sometimes I even dawdle. But my time is limited and other people's needs are frequently great, so discernment is required. You have to recognize the difference between a necessary pause and a waste of time. Amid the passing of hours, I weigh every moment, then lean as close as physically and psychologically possible in the direction that keeps me most balanced. The key is not to tip over. People think I do a good job of staying on an even keel. There was a time when ANNOYED was my default mode when interfacing with the world, so its fascinating to me that I'm now regarded as a chill dude. "I never see you look annoyed," an acquaintance said to me last week. A lot of the time I'm just too busy to be irritated. When you operate on a higher plane because some driving purpose compels you forward, there's no incentive to get lost in the weeds, obsessing about tetchy details. You literally can't be bothered with little shit when all your concerns relate to matters of sizeable significance.
I started this post to kind of talk through the awe that I sometimes feel at how busy I am. Sometimes I ask myself if I'm a workaholic. As long as I can continue to answer "no" to that question, I figure I'm good. It's just that I get to fulfill so many useful purposes through my job, to be creative, to exercise some agency during my life of confinement, and to make money on top of it all. May I be forgiven if I like these things too much.