04 May, 2009

Theater of Sleep

I remember only being adrift in a roiling sea of mercury, under a sky like fresh-from-the-earth oil. My craft — a raft? a rowboat? a dinghy? — was thrown along atop listless blobby waves. My eyes strained to the edges of sight, desperate for any trace of solidity. Maybe it lasted a few seconds, maybe a minute or two. It could have been an hour.

This haunting scene remained with me throughout the day, the way a song might have, affecting me anew as I sat at my desk at work, walked to the library that afternoon, and as I folded laundry before bed. My dreams have become, for better or for worse, nightly furloughs from the purgatory of prison existence. They typically make impressions that last. Like this one did.

Somewhere, probably in a book on neurobiology, I read that we cannot smell or taste in dreams, but that sensations of touch are common. This means it is either memory's notorious unreliability or a case of mind-over-matter that I once experienced a series of recurring dreams of such vividness and resonance that I actually started to wonder about the legitimacy of theories about reality's subjectivity. My waking life paled in comparison to the striking experiences of sleep, under which I lived out an intricate set of wanderings in exotic locales — along the banks of the wide, murky Amazon, atop dusty elephants in deepest India — and was surrounded at all times by a traveling troupe of outcast untouchables who loved me with a fervor and devotion unparalleled. We sang and danced along together, on our sojourn to nowhere, never speaking but reveling in one an another's presence. I loved them all right back.

Every night, we languished in the heat of our surroundings, breathed the pungent breezes, and tasted the sticky heaviness of the air. Every morning was a return to unreality, the world paling in comparison to the lurid Technicolor of my wild places. The difference was that of the sweetness and delicate softness of the petals of a flower, contrasted against a shoddy painting of one. I grew concerned for my sanity as the dream world grew increasingly real-seeming, the real one more gauzy and eclipsed.

Over a year's gone by since. It continues to feel like a lived experience. Still I am able to consciously conjure the scenes of my verdant wildernesses, their smells of soil and distant fires. I recall these things with a level of precise recollection as keen as I have for places I have actually been, and there is no way for me to explain fully how this is. Lacking logical explanation, I've not spoken much about it. Friends who know me well enough understand why.

One quasi-spiritual, pseudo-transmigration aside, my dreams generally remain rooted in the realm of the banal. An oft-recurring theme has me walking the aisles of a market, selecting produce and eggs and such. Considering my affection for food and the process of shopping for it, this should hardly be surprising. I also adore the freedom of an open road, which renders equally obvious my repeated nighttime experience of driving a car down an inspiring stretch of interstate. Oftentimes I get to enjoy a fantastic evening in the company of friends. All of this without leaving my bed.

If dreams are a window to the unconscious mind, not merely a hodgepodge of fragments that are, as many neuroscientists believe, the byproduct of the brain's sorting and reorganizing itself, mine would reveal a deep attachment to mundane things — those whose absence is felt more as a persistent ache, like the broken bone of a limb too heavily relied on, than the stabbing agony of a stolen life considered in full.