WonderlandMonday, March 29, 2010
|Alex at St. Ed's, Austin, Texas 1960
Aging bodies react differently to being in a horizontal position and pressures are brought to bear. I wake up three or four times during the night and I must visit the gentleman's room only to find out that the pressures were premature. But there are pleasures to be had here.
Nobody will ever convince me that death and sleep are the same. I will go as far as accepting Epicurus’ views that there is no feeling in death. And if there is no feeling there is no pain. If there is no pain there is nothing to fear. But not being able to wake up again (death), while not painful brings no pleasure.
The pleasure of sleep is threefold. Falling asleep can be wonderful. Waking up can be pleasant, too if one is not facing a stressful day. It is that in-between period, between sleep and wakefulness that seems to be the most interesting.
That in-between period involves dreaming. This idea was reinforced in my mind today by my taking my granddaughters to see Alice in Wonderland (the 3-D version). I dream almost every day and I can assert that I probably dream every day and that I am not aware sometimes because the dream slips away into some subconscious, a place populated by single socks and the source of clouds that marr empty and clear blue skies.
I will not go to Greenelandian extremes. Graham Greene for most of his life had a pad and pencil on his bedside table. He made it a habit to record his dreams. For me it is enough that I have post-it notes for marking good pages in the books I read and a Canadian Oxford Dictionary for reference.
The new evening bathroom arrangements give me the pleasure of being able to think, “I am awake. I was happily asleep and as soon as I finish I will go back to bed and sleep again. Should I wake up, one more time, the pleasure will be repeated.
At one time I suffered from severe bouts of insomnia. Those are gone as well as those migraines that haunted my waking days. I have never taken snuff. I understand that sneezing is as much of a pleasure as scratching an itch. I can assert that being able to fall asleep without a problem, knowing that I have a pretty good chance of waking up, is pleasant. I don’t miss the long oblivion of my nights of youth.
The current situation means that my dreams are now of two varieties. I have short dreams (fully complete but brief) or I have dreams that continue between periods of wakeful rest.
It is standing over the toilet that I attempt to write in my mind that dream before it fades. Greene was right.
My dreams are either bizarre (these are the ones I rarely remember) or they are fantastically realistic to the point that when I wake up I sometimes feel like that poor man in the hospital (in that Julio Cortázar story, La Noche Boca Arriba, The Night Face Up) who is getting over a motorbike accident. He has constant dreams of being taken up to the top of a pyramid to have his heart torn out by an Aztec priest. He always manages to wake up just before. But not the last time when he realizes that the motorbike and the hospital are the dream and the tearing out of his heart is the frightening and imminent reality.
One of those realistic dreams is the one where I often fly in a pool of air. I gently wave my arms and I am able to stay in place without sinking. I tell myself, “I fly.” Another dream has me playing solo alto saxophone to a large audience. At best I was an efficient player in my high school band. But here I wow them and the dream is so real that I am almost sure that I did play once, without reading a note. That day has faded and all that remains is the dream as proof that it might have happened. It is a sort of Alice in Wonderland.
But the one dream that has persisted for years is the one where I return to my St. Ed’s High School in Austin, Texas as either an older boy or a mature man. I explain to the undergraduates (I am usually there with an assorted variety of my former classmates) that my education and experience were so good that I have decided to extend it by returning to school.
Sometimes in this dream I knock on the door of the inner sanctum where our teachers, Brothers of the Holy Cross, lived. It was verboten to enter. But in my dream I am allowed in and I am greeted with warmth.
Part of this dream did become real last year in June. I returned to my school for an all classes reunion (1920-1967). When I arrived at the Austin airport and was met by my classmate John Arnold I was told that we and his wife were invited for dinner that evening with Brother Edwin at the inner sanctum of St Joseph’s hall. As Brother Edwin said grace and we were surrounded by the elderly faces of the other Brothers of the Holy Cross, I wanted to pinch myself just like Alice to see if I was in my dream.