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Dream State

I've been having several interesting dreams recently.  Two particularly stand out, one I had a week or so ago and one I had this morning.

The first was a dream in which I killed a man.  I have only killed a man in my dreams once before (that I remember, of course), and that was in a fit of hateful rage after witnessing a Panamanian policeman kill my parents.  I had this dream when I was 14 or 15 and still living in Panamá, with the constant threat of Noriega's thugs terrorizing American civilians.

But I didn't kill this man in my dreams last week for any passionate reason.  It was a cold, calculated, passionless killing with a distinct motive.

This dream found me in Panamá again, visiting my grandmother's/aunt's house.  For some reason I found myself across the street in a neighbor's house or garage looking across at my aunt's driveway.  Our friend Gustavo drove up in my aunt's car.  I don't remember the details, but he was supposed either to leave something unsecured or to lock the gate, and I shouted across the street to him not to.  I had either seen or sensed something suspicious.  Sure enough, a man was hiding in the back of the garage.  He posed an immediate threat to Gustavo's and my family's safety.  I ran across the street and fought him.  With my size and (dream-supplemented) strength, I easily subdued him.  I beat the snot out of him.  He lay in my arms like a limp rag, lacking the strength and energy to move after the beating I gave him.  All I had to do was wait until the police came to take him away.

But then I started thinking.  I knew that he would be sent to jail, but I also knew that his crime wasn't so serious that he wouldn't be released eventually.  I knew his intentions had been hostile, and I feared that he might return someday to seek revenge and I wouldn't be around to protect my family.  So, I calmly and carefully wrapped my left arm around his chest and shoulders and cradled his head in my right arm.  Then, with one sudden wrenching motion, I snapped his neck.

I knew what I had done.  I knew that self-defense wasn't a plausible defense, not in the premeditated manner that I killed him.  And I knew that no amount of lawyering by my aunt would get me off the hook.  I wasn't about to spend the rest of my life in a prison in Panamá, so I did the only sensible thing.  I ran.

I spent the rest of the dream running from the police, but I don't remember the details.  When I woke up, the details of the dream were still fresh in my mind.  Interestingly enough, rather than be shocked by the moral implications of having murdered a man, I spent a good part of the day considering different escape routes.  I actually visualized different outcomes depending on whether I took the long and guarded route to the easier border crossing to Costa Rica and then onto San José, where I have a friend, or took the short route to the perilous crossing into Colombia, where I know nary a soul.


The second dream was a little more varied.  The first thing I can remember was driving a bus or some other tall vehicle, again in Panamá.  I'm not actually sure if it was a bus, but my perspective was different enough -- everything seemed far below me -- that driving was awkward and difficult with several near misses.  I got to the big intersection at the base of the hill where my aunt's house is, and I saw my sister and her friend Wendy (who, incidentally, lives in San Diego...dreams have no concept of time and space, do they?).  I don't remember the conversation, only that we agreed to meet at my aunt's house but would take different routes up the hill.

I started towards the house, only I was no longer in a bus.  I was riding a bike, a very nice, new, sleek road bike, and I could sense that I was extremely proud of that bike.  Then, as I took the next turn and faced the steep climb to my aunt's house, I wondered why I was riding a bike.  Certainly such a hill would be easier to climb in a motorcar.  It was a grueling ride:  my legs were pumping hard, and I could feel the burn and strain, but I made it up the hill without having to stop or dismount.  I felt a sense of accomplishment having conquered this hill on bicycle, but when I got to the top my sister and Wendy were already there, playing some sort of game in the driveway.

Then I sensed that the bus had arrived behind me.  I went just inside the bus to greet the passengers.  I noticed one of my bosses and another senior faculty member, a woman I am constantly clashing with at work.  For some reason I found myself changing my clothes and showing off some item of clothing in front of them.  Then I followed my boss to some meeting.

I couldn't understand why we couldn't just walk into the building.  It seemed we had to follow some secret path and not get caught entering.  At one point my boss had to crouch down and peer under a wall to see if it was clear to enter a certain passageway.

We got to our destination, a room filled with people where some sort of ceremony was taking place.  The room was perfectly square and packed with worshippers.  On the walls were various symbolic decorations, including one wall that had something like dried palm fronds or wheat or the such adorning it.  Someone explained to me that this was some sort of Jewish service.  The ceremony involved alternately sitting, kneeling, standing, and facing the different walls in turn.  There was a little altar area where various foods were arranged as an offering.  Then at some signal everyone approached the altar to grab a morsel.  But my boss quickly said I couldn't partake of this meal and held me back by the arm.  Apparently, though, I had already grabbed a small morsel, what seemed like a piece of broccoli encrusted in some sort of baked-on sauce or breading.  I remember thinking of the similarities to Catholic communion and about the symbolism of a congregation "breaking bread" together, and I wondered about the logistics of worshipping God without a Christ figure.

The service was over, and my boss and I left the building by the route we had come by.  When we reached the one corridor where we had to peer under a wall before we could cross, we were held up.  There seemed to be a steady stream of traffic coming in and out of that corridor; we couldn't go through without getting caught.  While we waited, someone walked into the room where we were.  The game was up.

Our captors were youngish or middle-aged women in professional office attire.  They reacted as if what we had done was wrong but as if it wasn't the first time they had caught my escort in this game of his.  As we were being escorted out of the building, I overheard one of the women say something about this being "patently racist."  This comment puzzled the hell out of me, and I shouted out in protest, "That's ridiculous!"  When we reached the exit, I wondered why we hadn't come out this way, as it seemed so simple and straight forward.  I turned around to ask about this, but my boss wasn't my guide anymore; in his place was a black man with a round face and a big grin.  I'm not sure when the transformation took place.

I was told I was free to go, so I left.  I ran down a street in what was obviously a Spanish-influenced town, perhaps something in the provinces that wasn't very modernized.  As I ran towards my aunt's house (nevermind that this wasn't Panamá City, my aunt's house was up the hill past the end of the street -- again, time and place have no grounding in a dream world), it started to rain.  I remember being grateful that this was a tropical rain with big, warm drops.  But the drops were stinging my face as I ran.  As I puzzled over why the drops would sting my face so, I woke up.

I woke up, grabbed some cereal for breakfast, and went back to my room to eat it.  I put the cereal on my night table and snuggled under the covers.  I wasn't really sleepy, but it was a cold, rainy morning, and I was more eager to slip back into my dreamworld than I was hungry.

I did eventually breakfast, shower, dress, and drive to work.  I probably shouldn't have.  I was in a dreamy, introspective state, and I didn't want to interface with the real world.  I was unplugged -- not a great state to be driving in -- and I wanted to stay unplugged.  The last thing I wanted was to show up at work, with the artificial glare of fluorescent lighting, and have to talk to people.  Yet I couldn't really choose to be antisocial; I don't dislike the people I work with, and they wouldn't understand why I didn't want to talk with them.  I just wanted to be with myself, without intrusions into my own world.

Oh, how I wish I had some sort of thought-activated notation device!  I thought about so many different things on the way to work today, but I just knew that when I finally had no choice but to plug into the real world I would lose my train of thought.  I'm upset about this, because the dreams weren't really as important as the thoughts they invoked once I awoke.  Besides, thoughts lose something in translation from the instinctual language of the subconscious to a verbalized, learned language.

One strain of thought that concerned me was the implication of racism.  In the dream I had assumed that the comment, which seemed quite out of context to me, was directed at someone else.  Yet when I awoke and remembered that my guide had been transformed from my elderly white boss to a caricature of the young black minstrel, I realized that the comment must have been directed at me.

I also wondered about some of the assumptions my subconscious had made about Jewish worship.  Working without any firm knowledge of Jewish ritual, my mind invented something that was a cross between something quasi-paganish and Catholicism.  One could almost say that my mind, as thoroughly indoctrinated in Catholicism as it is, was casting aspersions on other faiths, something my conscious self would find intolerable.

During the course of my introspection, I reached the conclusion that I don't really know myself.  We're all familiar with the old dictum, "Know thyself."  Yet I don't.  Certainly, there are several layers to self-knowledge, and I probably know myself better than anyone else, but I don't really know myself in any deep and meaningful way.

The quest for self-knowledge has been the underlying theme of much of literature, so I imagine there's nothing inherently unusual about my self-discovery.  I lack the literary skills or the patience, though, to explore this question through the written word.  I want answers now.

I'm afraid that some of the things I might learn about myself might not be so pleasant.  I'm afraid that I might find out that I am racist or otherwise bigotted, which just seems so antithetical to who I am.  I'm afraid I might find out that I really am the foul, immoral, un-God-fearing, uncaring demon that I sometimes imagine myself.  But even if it means finding out all these things, I want to know and understand myself.  It's okay if I find out if I'm racist, as long as I know who I really am.  It's okay if I find out that I'm capable of cold-blooded murder, as long as I know who I am.  For knowledge is empowering, and if I know my true self, then I can take steps to change what I don't like about myself.  If I don't, then these things, if they do exist, simply fester and grow at the deepest levels of my subconscious, unmolested by my higher aspirations.

The homily at Mass last night talked about finding one's purpose or meaning in life.  I have no clue what my purpose in life is.

I've been struggling with the decision whether to pursue music as a full-time career or to make a career in web technologies, all the while stuck in a go-nowhere job because of the security it offers.  The former would require a plunge that I'm not convinced I'm ready to make.  It would require sacrificing significant aspects of my current lifestyle and submersing myself entirely in the discipline.  I am afraid of what failure would mean, but I am also afraid of how success might change music for me.  Yet the latter, as enjoyable as I find designing and programming for the web, seems too safe and not as exciting or fulfilling.  And there's the very distinct possibility that my real purpose in life, if there even is such a thing, leads me down a different path.

After church last night I met a woman who had just finished her Masters in Voice at Boston Conservatory.  Even though she is 49 and has no pretensions of making a career out of her singing, she said that pursuing her Masters was the best decision she'd ever made in her life.  I am always asking the Lord to send me a signal, something to help me make a decision.  It seems he is always sending me clues like this one (there were several in December I haven't blogged about yet) telling me I should pursue music, yet I don't seem to get or follow these signs (much like Jim Carrey's character in the beginning of Bruce Almighty, which I saw on Friday night).

I'm sure the homily last night influenced my dreams this morning.  The bike ride up the hill, the strange religious ceremony, the secret path, the sprint away from captivity through pelting rain -- all of these can be metaphors for trying to discover my true self, for questioning convention and seeking my purpose in life.  I just have to work my way through the symbolism and figure out what I'm trying to tell myself.

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