18 November 2014

(The title is from the trucker radio in City of Angles. SIDEB for sidebar, where you can have semi-private or off-topic conversations.)

Two days ago today, I had a dream.

It was mundane, simple, just a casual dream except for this one quality. I was driving along, going just a bit above the tolerance. Reckless, I know. I remember thinking that in the dream. I remember seeing a cop car in the back mirror, feeling scared. I remember seeing red in my forward vision while still watching the cop car in the mirror, switching focus, it’s a red light, slowing down, left lane, cop car in the right lane, next to me, not even done slowing done when it turns back to green and we go our separate ways. Cops turn right, I move on straight ahead. I remember feeling relief.

I don’t remember where I was going, what the road was, where I had come from, what time it was. It was day, sure, and there were probably clouds in the sky, because I don’t remember any shadows, either. Also, at the next intersection, I looked out the window, saw a blur, and woke up. It was a dream. It was a vivid dream.

Today as I was thinking of this prose I was driving. I was coming up to an intersection, going right, and there was a cop car in front of me, going left. And I remembered that scene, and I remembered being a bit scared, and I thought it was funny that everything was reversed. And I didn’t realise it had been a dream, that that scene I’d remembered, those feelings that had been conjured… they were from a dream. It didn’t happen. This realisation was what made me think of and write this.

It’s not the first time this has happened. In fact, it’s a pretty frequent occurrence in my life. See, I’ve always dreamed differently. Up until a few years ago, in 2009 to be precise, I didn’t know it. I thought everyone had dreams like I had. Lucid dreams where I knew I was dreaming. Controllable dreams where I could control any or even all aspect of the dream. Vivid dreams which could be so realist as to be indistinguishable from reality. Or any combination of the above.

That dream I told, above, is pretty innocuous. It’s a common scene. Nothing wrong with remembering it, even if I don’t realise immediately, or at all, that it didn’t happen. That I caught it at all is pretty rare, actually. Dreamed memories that banal usually just come and go undetected, until I remember having remembered them sometime later when I’m feeling introspective and realise then.

But there’s more scary. More bothersome.

Before 2009, I didn’t know about the term ‘lucid dream’. I didn’t know only a small percentage of the population had them, and an even smaller portion had them regularly or often enough that they could play with them. To me, it was normal. I’ve been dreaming ‘normally’, or lucid, or vivid, or in control, or any two, or all three, I’ve been dreaming like that since forever. My earliest memory of a dream was at the age of four, and I estimate it to have scored about 4 on the lucid scale, and 8 on the vivid one. No idea about the control.

Since 2009, I have experimented with my dreaming, and introspected about its influence on my life. I didn’t immediately realise the problem with my vivid dreams. In 2011, first year of university, one of the reasons I failed it, a reason I never voiced before, is that I spent the entire year dreaming. I was away from home, away from obligations, and classes seemed easy enough at the start, so I started sleeping in. I fucked my sleep cycle so bad during that year that it never recovered. I stayed awake for huge lengths of time, trying to find out the limits. There’s a saying that you die if you stay awake for more than 100 hours. On at least two occasions, I stayed awake for between 120 and 170 hours, I kinda lost track at those points. I’m still alive.

About every four weeks, I had lucid dreams. Sometimes just one, but often every night for a week. And then I dreamed non-lucid for three, or stayed awake, or something. I had really weird abstract dreams, I had dreams that spanned minutes, hours, days, weeks, years, decades. The longest in-dream time I ever experienced, without it being just a time-skip, was four hundred years. The shortest time was five seconds, going in slow-mo towards a car crash, but also really fast, and dreaming the perception of everybody on and around the scene. It’s one of the things my brain does sometimes: on good days, when I’m really tired, just before going to sleep, I can occasionally play every single instrument in a symphonic orchestra at the same time. It’s beautiful, and I control it, or at least I have that illusion of control, I’ve never been able to determine which was which.

When I was, I think, from what I pieced together from memories and discussions and fragments, about 7, in the summer holidays, probably july or august, I had a particular experience. I was on holiday on an island, nothing fancy, just a small island in the south or west from france, with a few apartment rises and a quay with those big metal things boats put their ropes on. I befriended a girl and we’d run around on the quays and at one point we fished from the quay, without a rod or anything, just a fishing line and some bait. Worms. I remember looking at the girl putting a worm on a hook and throwing it in, feeling a bit disgusted and fascinated at the same time. I remember having dinner with the girl and her parents. I remember trivial things like the storey of their apartment and washing my hands before eating. I don’t remember the girl’s name. Something starting with an M, and an A, and an O, maybe Margo but that’s just a name from my brain right now, it’s not from the memory of that experience. I remember staying on the island and playing with that girl for a week or so.

When I was 7, I was quite shy and my head was often in the clouds. To those who knew me then, that is probably a significant understatement. I thought my parents knew I’d gone on holiday, I mean, it was logical, I was 7, they had to have been there with me or sent me there with someone or something. Maybe we’d sailed there? Maybe the girl’s parents were friends with my parents? But it didn’t matter to my 7 year old mind. I just assumed they knew, and because I assumed they’d been there, or that we’d at least driven back home together, I didn’t even think of asking or saying anything about it. The next week I was probably back to going at a friend’s house for a sleepover and playing and spouting enough obviously-straight-out-of-my-imagination babble that anything about fishing with a girl on an island was lost in the mingle.

I asked several years later. Almost a decade. It was one of these, “Do you remember…” but mom didn’t remember. I gave more and more details but no. Mom didn’t remember anything like that happening. She told me of places I did go, when I was 6 or 7 or 8, places I went to, places we went to, people they were friends with that had children I met… none of it matched. So I was very confused, but I chalked it up to random weirdness and didn’t think more of it for another few years. It was before 2009, before I learned about the term ‘lucid dream’.

In 2012 that memory of those holidays, and the confused exchange later on, resurfaced and I understood. I understood that I sometimes had vivid dreams that were so vivid they were, to my brain, real. When I remembered them later on, if I didn’t also remember the memories came from a dream, I would assume they were real. In the fourteen years since I had that experience, I had remembered it countless times, without realising it was a dream. That the girl, the holiday, the place, the quay, the fishing, the emotions I felt, all of these things affected me… they had an impact on part of my life… and they never existed.

Ever since that first realisation, I have been on alert, looking hard at memories that pop up and trying to make sure that I know where they come from. Dream or reality. Real or not. Happened or didn’t. I have also been looking through my pre-2012 memories and doing the same thing. I catch a few. Whenever I know for sure that one memory is from a dream, I tag it so. I bring up the memory and make sure the world FAKE is watermarked everywhere on it. Because then when it pops up in my consciousness stream, so does the tag, and I know not to trust it.

It doesn’t mean I disown memories, try to forget them. Dreams are nice. But the damage of thinking that something happened when it didn’t, ever, is too potentially great. I’ve been lucky so far, and I’m on the lookout now, but countless fake memories slip through the cracks. One last vivid dream for this prose: I once dreamed of doing various everyday things, including reading a series of tweets by saf. And because I didn’t catch that, because it was such a small part in the whole, I didn’t remark anything unusual going on when I remembered them later on and integrated the information they provided to my model, my profile, my persona of saf. Several months later, she said something that contradicted that piece of information in a fundamental way. And I was shocked, and I introspected, and I found that dream and realised what happened. But imagine if it wasn’t reading tweets.

Imagine dreaming that you got some clue that indicated your significant other was cheating on you. And you went ahead and didn’t realise it and integrated it and one day you’re snappish and irritated at something or other and you feel vindictive and you say things you can’t take back and you accuse and your love life comes apart in five minutes because of something that never actually happened. Imagine finding out afterwards. (That scenario can’t actually happen to me because of other reasons I’m not going to explain right now, but that was just a simple-to-understand example of the magnitude of how things can go wrong because of this.)

So I try to be careful. And most of the time it seems to be fine. Some things go through the cracks, I’ve never and probably will never be able to find out just what, just how much, but I live on.

My name is Félix Saparelli, and I’m a vivid dreamer.