In your dream you can get to a place in your life where you are mostly content. Everything is good, the sky, the water, the music, the company, the smell of cooking. You are doing something you like, take pride in, have mastered, get paid a fair wage to do. You are no longer subject to childish hurt and rage. You have arrived in your mature form at last, relaxed, present and ready to enjoy the final chapters of your life.
It is not a crazy dream, although the individual iterations of the dream can be eccentric. There are a hundred ways this dream can be twisted by the workings of the world, by our own spirits, by luck, by accident, by fate. There are many factors in this irrational world that are beyond our control: the constant maddening reality that things that make perfect sense are often impossible to put into practice. This aggravating feeling pervades human affairs. Commies wonder why everyone can’t share in the world as equals without exploitation, Reactionaries wonder why there is any controversy about the justice of the superior few exploiting their superiority to own everything. People feel entitled to things and their bitterness when these things are denied can be without end.
I have a friend who wakes up tormented from time to time. There is a voice in her head carping at her, a merciless voice familiar to many of us who were raised with some kind of cruelty instead of what children need. I have another friend who recently woke up shuddering over horrors he’d seen in his sleep. We discuss these things with each other because it gives some small measure of comfort to speak of these demons out loud to someone who listens with sympathy.
It is a great blessing to have a real friend. Many people have not mastered the art of friendship. Being a good friend requires a certain amount of diligence and work. Friendship, at times, is not for the faint-hearted. Look around at the challenges we are all up against in this brief curtain call before death. I have friends who are in constant despair, looking at America in the age of the impulsive Twitter President, energetically serving himself and powerful, inhumane forces. The solution of several of my friends to life’s challenges is to work hard and run pretty much non-stop, to pause is to have time to ponder, and pondering can lead to terrible thoughts. As long as they stay productively busy they feel they are not sitting ducks to be confronted by life’s torments. Busy, active people tend to go to sleep early, worn out and snoring hard by the time the late night comics come on. I’m not really one to opine on this particular subject, almost everybody goes to sleep early compared to Nosferatus like me.
This world is a struggle. It is a miracle, full of indescribable beauty, grace, kindness, collaboration. It is also a curse, plundered by the greediest, those who have no hesitation to kill in order to control it all. There are Howard Zinn’s fugitive moments of heroic group action, and we must remember these rare, inspiring episodes. These times of unity are human beings at our greatest, standing together to confront a monster and sometimes forcing the monster to back down. It is not possible to be brave all of the time, but it is always possible to be brave. We have moments when our puny species rises to do heroic things.
I was thinking of a brief chat an old friend and I had in passing the other day. She decided to visit her therapist to get help figuring out why she is not advocating for herself, selling her best, brightest idea and having the pay day she deserves. In this dream, it is her inability to fight for and achieve recognition that is the defining failure of her life. If she fought successfully and got recognition for her talents, she would have conquered her demons and could live a happy life, unvisited by them. I imagine that is the theory, we didn’t discuss it for more than a few seconds.
I was thinking some more just now about that dream, fixing unhappiness by achieving a goal that measures one’s accomplishments against the pros, in contrast to the simpler dream of living a demon-free life day to day, independent of the judgments of the world of commerce. I often feel the gnawing of writing every day for no pay, sometimes writing things I feel could be helpful, or contribute positively to the public discussion, and regret they will never reach more than a few people. I would be happier getting paid, reaching more people, certainly. I can relate to the feeling that this would be a major life change for the better. I am, on some level, working toward that goal. I should probably see a therapist about my slower than snail-like progress. I just wonder how much it would really solve on the deepest level.
There is nothing objectively bad about my old friend’s life. She leads a good life, helps many people, has a wonderful family and a comfortable home at the service of their many friends and their extended family. Yet, because childhood pain has no expiration date, nor any adult explanation that can neutralize it, she sometimes wakes with an evil spirit casting a cold shadow across her soul.
The dream: if I accomplish this public success, my life will have meaning and I’ll be relieved of the grief of waking each day as a fungible drone, doing the meaningless yet demanding work of a million other fungible drones. That is not really the best dream, I think, though it is certainly a large part of the American dream– to be recognized as the unique, important celebrity/culture creator/brand I actually already am.
The dream is to wake up each day without ever being oppressed by life-sucking dread, I think. The demon is not conquered by looking without, there is no extrinsic cure, it seems to me. I think demons must be seen as intrinsic to our particular psyches — you have to corner them in your own soul and make them leave. They are crafty, they are mean, manipulative bastards, that’s why they’re demons. But at the same time, they are only demons. With courage and the right help, as my friend and I have both learned, demons can be put back in their place.
(Thanks to an old friend for editorial input on this post)