When I was a child I was desperately curious about the moment when I went from being awake to being asleep. I could tell it was a gradual process but I was sure there was a perfect moment right in-between the two. A brilliant secret green where the blue of sleep was neck in neck with the yellow of awake. Perhaps it was the symmetry that I was attracted to. The line down the middle of two perfectly balanced opposites seemed profound. Not the separation of the two, but where the two become each other, where my waking self and my subconscious truced, looked each other straight in the eye and tangoed. I wanted to remember that pivot between two parts of me that usually did not coexist, so every night part of my mind would stay alert watching the rest of me drift out of focus hoping to witness some great gateway or a changing of the guards ceremony where one me punched out and another punched in. This lead to a lifetime of insomnia and lucid dreaming.
Lucid dreaming is a state that many people seek because it gives them ultimate freedom to explore themselves without the constraints of reality. I find it exhausting because although I am dreaming I am also completely aware of my other self in bed and can open my eyes and see both worlds at the same time. I’m not really asleep, it’s more like my subconscious is a little more awake than usual.
When I was 6 I met a crow in a dream. I taught him to speak in exchange for him teaching me to fly. We flew around and chatted all night looking down at the country side around my house. In the morning I jumped out of my bunk bed and hit the floor harder than ever.
I remember wondering, as a child, whether I would have been me if I had been born just a moment sooner or later. Who would this other person have been? Why was I me? Was I always me? Sometimes I was sure that I had just woken up here in this body, in this life, with these memories. Tomorrow I would be someone else. When I was 25 I stopped trying to be me to see who I would become. I realized that no matter how unintentionally I lived, I would still be me. I couldn’t help it.
For as long as I can remember I’ve thought that my favorite part of life was my ability and freedom to change my mind. But it’s not true. My favorite part of life is and always has been liminality. I heard the word in a movie when I was 27 and looked it up: a state between states. I almost cried because no one had told me that this was a thing there was a word for. Everything I loved: airplane rides, caterpillars in cocoons, the horizon, the beach, dusk, the moments after I stopped being one person but before I start being someone else. The freedom found in the ambiguity of identity was exciting. The liminal moments in life, like opening an acceptance/rejection letter, cause thrilling anticipation. The sheer not knowing is as close to true nothingness as I have experienced. Even though nothing cannot exist I collect nothings. Like darkness which is the absence of light, or cold which is the absence of heat. Hunger, peace, loneliness, freedom and silence.
When I experience deja vue it is not just that I feel like I have done this before. It is usually a completely banal experience, nothing worth noticing, but I feel like I have done it a thousand times, and the last time it happened I was felling deja vue of another time just like this that I felt deja vue. It’s the sensation of an infinity mirror through time. A tunnel into forever. Once as a child I noticed that the moment was completely unimportant and that I would forget it as soon as it was over. I imagined a me 20 years from then not being able to recall it, having no reason to. I felt that that moment didn’t exist because it would disappear. Somehow, 20 years later I do remember. The thought caused me to remember it. Perhaps I don’t really remember the first time, perhaps I just remember remembering remembering it.
Until I was 21 I believed that penguins were as tall as humans, some over 6 feet until I saw a documentary where a scientist walked up to one to help it out of a hole he had fallen into. The bird came only up to her knee, I was shocked. Epophany, a kin to epiphany, is a massive realization that what you once believed is not true. I realized that I could not trust anything that I thought I knew and was suddenly aware of the plasticity of my mind and knowledge.
I can become lucid while dreaming by noticing that parts of my mind are not working normally. Usually this happens when I try to read something, but the text characters flip around and don’t make sense. When I am fast asleep and fully aware that I am dreaming I never fly. Instead I play a terrible game. I know that everything in my dream world comes from what I already know. Nothing truly new or unknown to me can happen here. So I walk up to someone and ask them a question that I do not know the answer to. It could be as easy as saying “What is your name?” The prompt creates a feedback loop, but the harder I try to find something profound, the more I find the profane. The dream character is always eager to answer with a tidal wave of terrifyingly dark, grotesque stream of consciousness that I can never listen to for more than a few seconds. It always wakes me up shocked that such unfamiliar filth could come from inside me.
Once I didn’t sleep for 14 nights in a row except for 4 hours on the 7th night. It was confusing. Sleep deprivation makes me see lights moving across my vision, like car head lights passing me through closed eye lids. I began to wonder if I was unconscious on the side of a road. I would hear sounds like grocery cart wheels squeaking and liken them to my friends and family whistling to me through a coma in a hospital room trying to wake me up. My mind was rejecting reality, possibly because I recognized that it wasn’t working properly. At the time I worked as a bar tender and I lived in a loft meant to be a music studio. My neighbor was a drummer who practiced from 11 – 5 every day. His band would come over in the evenings to practice from 6 – 11. There were holes in the walls between my loft and his, so I got to know all their songs really well, and all their gossip. Although I had never met them I felt like I knew them. One night during my bout of insomnia they played a show at my bar. They looked exactly as I imagined they would which proved to me, since I had never seen them before, that I was finally asleep listening to them play through the wall in the loft. I cursed myself for dreaming of being at work and sang along. After work I went home to bed. It turned out I had been awake and they actually had looked just as I imagined while they played at my work.
The only time I’ve experienced false awakenings was equally confusing. I woke up got out of bed, was woken up and lead through a door that was not really there, woke up again for real so confused I had difficulty believing that I was awake.
When I wake up and do not recognize where I am, I’ve noticed that I also cannot tell when I am. I do not know how old I am or what is going on in my life. At first when I noticed this I would automatically look around, focus my eyes on the walls of the room, searching for something I recognized. I’d remember yesterday, or the things I had planned for today, and suddenly I was me, here. I enjoyed the moments spent in the freedom of hypnopompia, the transitional state between sleep and awake, my dream mind observing the real solid world. The state was naturally blank and open to suggestion, ready to attach to any kind of reality. I vowed to never fall asleep in an unsafe place. This meant that I was free to resist my mind’s instinctive compulsion to orient myself on waking. I could prolong this state of being nobody, nowhere, outside of time. It didn’t make me not exist, it revealed a pure me free of the influences of life.