Sometimes, a dream can change your life.
I found myself in China standing outside a rectangular red and gold painted building I knew to be a school, with a tall roof supported by many dougongs. Around me were about 50 other people my age, all pacing anxiously. I was anxious too; I was awaiting news of the academic fate of my daughter. There was a chill in the air with Autumn on the way. The leaves in the ancient forest surrounding the school weren’t yet changing, but they were showing the fatigue you see in leaves that have been feeding a tree all Spring and Summer, with the green looking almost lifeless, ready to give in. I watched as the mid-morning sunlight danced through the leaves onto the ground where I nervously kicked my feet back and forth on the path that led from the school to the garden. It was a place of pure beauty, with the grandeur of nature mirrored in the architecture. It was the time of year in my village when parents bring their six-year-old children to see if they will be accepted into school. It’s an open house of sorts, but one to which only the children are invited. Parents stand outside waiting while their children express their academic aspirations to sages of many disciplines. Professors are looking for children they believe have particular talent in the area they are skilled at teaching, and select only the students they believe will succeed. It becomes a highly competitive audition which shapes the rest of the child’s life. Through the doorway I can hear conversations about the beauty of art, the science of plant cultivation, the exactness and unlocked mysteries of mathematics, and the timelessness of literature. These are children that will become academic apprentices taught by some of the wisest people in all of China, and may grow up to shape the future of Chinese academics. I stand in awe of all the children already sure of what pieces of the world are most fascinating to them, and remember when I was six how horrible it felt to be rejected. I dreamed of greatness, but was not chosen for the coveted school on the hill. I couldn’t bear to think how Lan would feel if she did not get accepted. I muttered reassuringly to myself that I had done everything I could to foster her creativity and imagination, as she wanted to be an artist.
Suddenly, I hear her call my name. I turn toward the doorway to see her standing beside a tall elderly lady dressed in red silk. Lan had tears in her eyes, and the professor looked at me knowingly, as if her heart was broken for me. Children who were chosen did not return home for many years, as their life became committed completely to their studies. I was filled with excitement as I realized my daughter, MY daughter, had been chosen! At the same moment, I was in grief when I considered how long I would be without her. She ran to me, grabbed my leg in a tight hug, and cried. I knelt down beside her and cried along with her for a short time before doing my best to cheer her up and say my goodbyes. I wrapped my arms around her to give a final hug…
…And I woke up. I lay in bed crying, greatly moved by the dream I had experienced. As real as a nightmare feels when you’re at the moment just before death, that incomparable fear that spreads throughout your entire body, I felt that level of sadness when I was trying to say goodbye to my daughter. And just as you can’t quite shake the fear when you wake up from a horrible dream, I couldn’t shake the sadness. It just felt, somehow, surreal. I’d never known sadness quite like this. I lay there for what felt like an hour, tears pouring from my face. Then suddenly…
…I wake up. ACTUALLY wake up. I had only dreamed I woke up before. All the sobbing never happened – my pillow was dry. Now, instead of feeling sad, I was frustrated and annoyed. I didn’t understand why if I was going to have a dream-within-a-dream it couldn’t have been more fun, more exciting, maybe even a little funny. Why had my brain concocted a life completely alien to my own, on another continent, in another time, with an entirely new set of life experiences not tied to the life I know in the waking world? Did I really need to construct a China that only had pretty buildings, gardens, and silks? Way to go, cultured brain. And what’s with schools stealing children at such great emotional cost? What could it mean?
Then, just as suddenly as I had woken up before, the frustration and confusion drifted away like a dried rose petal in the wind. I was left with a calm and serenity that felt like the hug of a grandmother. I learned that through exercises of turmoil, our hearts learn also to feel joy. Through grief, we can find peace.
You see, not long before this night, Matthew’s grandmother passed away. My grandmothers both passed away in the same week when I was 17, and my grandfathers both before I was born. My grandmothers played a great role in shaping who I am today (you can read a little about them here). When I moved to Minnesota six years ago, both of Matthew’s grandmothers, and truly his entire family, welcomed me. Although it’s never easy to be 1,300 miles from my own family, I’ve been surrounded by people I love and who love me. Very early on, Matthew’s grandmothers became my grandmothers too. The loss was a great painful burden to me, much more than I first realized. But the calm I felt after this dream felt exactly the way I felt when I got a hug from Memaw, and I knew everything was going to be ok. It is no longer time to lament. Rather, it is time to live, keeping those who have gone close in the heart. Though the anguish will always be present, soothing memories will always be with me.
If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be?
It’s a question I love to ask people – discussing it can give you a glimpse of insight into how people think about life. It’s interesting to see how people would push the envelope of human abilities if given the chance.
My own answer to this question is flight. People often consider turning things to gold with just a touch, becoming invisible, or teleporting. For me, an innate ability to fly would be incredibly fulfilling. I must admit that I’m influenced in this perception by my dreams.
I’ve had very many dreams in which I was able to fly. While I am dreaming, it does not occur to me that this ability is not natural, but just seems a normal extension of my abilities. Looking back on the dreams when I’m awake, I look quite silly to myself. No, I don’t flap my arms like wings, but rather run with my knees kicking really high, as if I’m riding an imaginary bike (come to think of it, it looks a bit like ET flying across the moon). The faster I spin my knees and feet around, the higher I rise. It always feels incredible and exhilarating, and when I’m (quite literally) on top of the world, everything seems absolutely perfect.
So, why do I think this would be the best superpower to have? For me, it’s about the experience more than about the ability. Sure, it would be nice to be able to teleport wherever I wished, but once I got used to it, it wouldn’t feel any different than walking through a door. It would just become a matter of fact. Invisibility seems like it would get lonely after a while. Flying, however, would always be an experience that would never be quite the same. You can fly over new landscapes, through ever-changing weather, and you can share it with other people (assuming you found some friends who could fly). Think of it as a road trip not bound by roads. That’s what I would enjoy most.
So – what would your superpower be?
If you’re keeping score, mark last night as another night with a dream you’d have thought was induced by tizanidine, if I was still taking it.
I was in the UK, staying with Jethro and Emily. I’m not sure if it was a house or a flat, but I’m sure it was quite old. It was a quaint and comfortable place with 2 dogs and several cats (No, Emily, I did not just call you a cat lady). I was cold, so I attempted to raise the temperature on the thermostat. This was a device installed on the wall so that the top was about eye level and about the size of a pillow. While it had visible signs of wear that would date it to be at least 30-40 years old, it had a digital display and buttons retrofitted into it. Three buttons, in fact: Up (+), Down (-), and Mode (M). When I approached it, it displayed “62.5°F” (Yes, Fahrenheit). I pressed the Up button, and it incremented by .5°F until it reached 64.0°F, where it then jumped to 98.5°F. I pressed the Down button, but saw it jumped right back down into the 60s.
Emily and Jethro both sat on the sofa laughing. Emily suggested I try the Mode button. I did so, and it turned off. Another press, and the lights dimmed. Another press, and music started playing – the soundtrack from Kinky Boots, a movie (based on a true story about a shoemaker from Northampton) I highly recommend if you haven’t seen it. Another press, the lights returned. Another press, and the temperature flashed, indicating I was back in temperature control mode. Pressing Up and Down however yielded the same results. Finally, through fits of uncontrollable laughter at my lack of understanding of English technology, she cackled “Just add nutmeg! Don’t you know only a cat can fine-tune the temperature the way you want it from inside?”
I inspected the device further, and there was a micro grater above the controls, and on the side of the device was a cutout, showing a hollow interior with a carpeted bottom. Inside on the front were several lights and buttons with no labels; I had no clue what they were for. It reminded me of the Wizard’s secret control room behind the curtain on The Wizard of Oz. Emily repeated that I should add nutmeg, and handed me a whole seed. I grated it using the micro grater, and a black cat came running and jumped through the opening on the side. The cat made some huffing noises, then purred and jumped around.
“Tell it what you want,” Emily said. So I said, “Sixty-nine and a half degrees, please.” Several beeps later, the display read exactly as I had requested, and the cat jumped back down to the floor and made a figure eight between my legs, spreading brown dust on my jeans.
Then, I woke up. With “Yes Sir I Can Boogie” from Kinky Boots stuck in my head. 0_o
Now, I’ll admit, I don’t actually have any idea if thermostats are similar at all in the UK to those here in the States, but I’ll look that up later. I am pretty sure, however, they probably aren’t as big as this was, aren’t powered by cats, and don’t require nutmeg. Also - Celsius.
I also know that after waking up thinking about nutmeg, I can’t get the idea of baking a quiche out of my head, and I have plenty of eggs. So, as soon as this is published, I’m off to cook!
It never ceases to make me laugh when I awake from a dream and am able to deconstruct why pieces of it were in my mind. I recently flew to North Carolina to see my family for a few days near Christmas. On our way to get some pit-smoked barbecue from my favorite place, we passed a place very familiar to me that was entirely different. A building that used to house a second location of my favorite seafood restaurant and a skating rink named imaginatively ”Footloose” had become a Mexican restaurant and a newly-named skating rink “Wayne’s World.” Come on, now. You have to give the Albemarlians credit for being imaginative. It’s not like this new name was *also* a movie, right? I went to the skating rink once, and my sister broke her ankle within a few minutes. That was my full life experience of skating. Here’s the building: http://bit.ly/yZb91Z. I forgot to mention – there’s a healthcare something something in the middle of the two. I digress.
What did this building become in my dream? The restaurant portion was replaced by a sushi place. Still a restaurant, but I distinctly knew in my dream that I was in Minneapolis, even though this building looked almost exactly like the building in Albemarle, down to the street and setting. The skating rink? That became, of course, a theater. As I walked in (with Matthew and his mom) I noticed a poster for the show: The Kids in the Hall – On Tour! I took off my overcoat slowly and peered at Matthew. In my dream, I hadn’t heard of The Kids in the Hall, but Matthew assured me it was one of his mom’s favorites and that I would absolutely love it. It turned out that only David Foley made it to the show, and he showed up too drunk to be funny; we ended up leaving halfway through the show. At that point in my dream, I woke up.
It was then I realized how many things my brain was piecing together. I had just gotten a Boxee Box (LOVE, by the way – if you’re thinking about getting one, do it! http://bit.ly/wWEEsa). One of the shows I saw available right before bed was The Kids in the Hall. I had also just spent a very hectic week between North Carolina and Minnesota, with lots of traveling and visiting friends and family. My mind totally mixed up which things go where, and planted that building in Minnesota. I did seem to remember, however, that we had recently gone to see A Christmas Carol at the Guthrie together, which turned out much more delightful than this show did in my dream.
Every detail I considered from my dream had been somehow on my mind in the past week. It kind of made me wonder – If I can pinpoint where all the details of my dream came from, is it possible a completely different life experience could be had with all the same details, just jumbled around in a different order? Which also made me think of all the hypotheses swirling around regarding our understanding of the cosmos. Perhaps the dream I had really happened in another universe (queue the Twilight Zone music)? Perhaps I’ve been watching too much PBS lately. Whatever the case, it’s certainly fun to discover my life on shuffle, in my dreams!
Last night may have been the first time I’ve had a dream where I experienced it, in first-person perspective, as someone else. I didn’t notice during the dream, because I wasn’t myself. But waking up realizing you just dreamed of an experience that happened as another person is quite surreal. For a few hours (or a few minutes, using Inception math) I was Amelia Pond, born in Scotland, raised in Leadworth, swallowed by the crack in her wall. The girl who waited.
I was walking down the hallway in my house thinking what an excellent job I’d done with my hair today as I saw my reflection in a mirror. Stopping to admire myself for a moment, I caught a glimpse of something strange in the background. I immediately recognized it as alien. It looked as if it were made from a photographic slide with thin heavy paper extending from it making a body and legs. It walked awkwardly, reminding me of a crab. The slide was animated, and there was a face on it. The picture flickered and rolled a little, as if it were a very old CRT, but it was thin like an LCD. It produced its own light. I dashed into a room and peeked around the door frame, trying to stay out of its view, as I didn’t think it had seen me yet. I wasn’t even sure if it could see, but as it wasn’t walking into walls, I assumed it had some kind of sense about it.
The creature got just past the doorway and I grabbed it, folding it onto itself. I was surprised how neatly this happened, forming a perfect rectangle with the slide in the middle. I had expected it to fight or be difficult to do, but it seemed a natural state for it, like a beetle putting its wings back in place. A feeling of relief rushed over me. I wasn’t sure this thing was dangerous, but after the adventures I’ve had with the Doctor, I wasn’t going to chance it, and I put the creature in my pocket.
As always though, I was curious, so I stepped outside to see if there were more around. I didn’t see anything, so I decided to check my neighbor’s house. Walking in, there was delightful music and singing. “Phew!” I thought – they’re safe! I walk toward their living room, and see my neighbors dancing as I look around the corner, dressed in red and purple aerobic spandex. I noticed that their faces were older than I remembered, and decided I needed to visit my neighbors more often. Then I noticed they looked older still, and that if I paid attention, their clothes were changing, and there was a bit of syncopation to their dancing, almost as if they were lit by a strobe. In front of each of them sat a “slide crab,” as I’d decided to call it, and I could see an almost aural connection between each person and the creature. Suddenly, one of them turned around and saw me. I could feel it lock its gaze on me, and began walking slowly toward me. Luckily these creatures did walk much slower than me, so I was able to out-run it. My neighbor’s house had a bit of a circle in the floor plan, and I was able to view the living room through another door after crawling quickly into the closet-sized laundry room with vented doors.
As I sat on the washer watching them dance, I realized that in their timeline, everything seemed normal. But in my timeline, years were passing quickly. The syncopation and changes were because they were doing the same thing every day in their timeline, but it wasn’t quite the same each day. In my timeline, I was seeing a few seconds corresponding to each day. I watched them getting older, but they seemed happier than I’d ever seen them before as they just kept dancing and singing the same song over, and over, and over, and over.
With a jolt, I realized I had just watched the performance 4 times. Somehow I had slipped into their timeline, but gotten back out of it. It was joyous – the kind of joy people describe with an out of body experience, or reuniting with a long-lost loved one. The kind of happiness that feels tangible. I pull the creature I’ve kept out of my pocket. Each time I slip into the accelerated timeline, it glows with its own ambient light, its brightness directly correlated to the strength of my joy.
“Vworp, vworp! Vworp, vworp!” I hear the TARDIS coming and and snap back to where I should be. The blue light shines through the vents as it becomes visible, and then the Doctor steps out. I fling open the door and tell him he has to destroy the creatures! He asks if I’m OK, and I run and embrace him. He points his sonic screwdriver at a “slide crab” and it folds up like mine, but it also puts an extra layer on the outside. He picks it up and knocks on it – it seems to be contained in white plastic.
“Self-defense mechanism. The soul crab’s biggest weakness is that if it’s scared enough, it goes dormant for centuries,” the Doctor explained.
“What about mine?”
He pointed the sonic screwdriver at the one in my hand, and the protective layer appears. He does the same to those controlling my neighbors, and a couple more he found crawling around outside the front door.
“You called these things “soul crabs.” What do they do?”
“They steal your soul, Amy. The best part of your soul – your happiness. They speed things up and drain every bit of possible happiness for the rest of your lifetime, then fly away. They leave you a shell with no possibility of happiness. It’s worse than death. The face you see one carry is the face of their last victim. The good thing is, if they don’t complete it, it’s like someone pressed ‘abort’ and the victim is fully restored. Your neighbors and you are just fine.”
With that, we walked back to the TARDIS, bidding my neighbors goodbye, and close the door.
As the door closed, I woke up. I’ll never know what the next adventure was in the TARDIS, but I was so glad to be whisked away after that experience. After waking up, I felt like I had legitimately gone through the full fear, joy, relief, and other emotions Amy had during this “episode.” I was in awe of how safe and secure I felt as soon as I heard the TARDIS. My dream may be no Steven Moffat, but experiencing the story first-hand was better than watching an episode can ever be. And for those of you wondering, the Doctor had the face of Matt Smith.