Friday, January 1, 2016

Eating pencils. (dreams)

This image is in the Public Domain. Acquired via Wikimedia Commons.

I've had a couple more repeating dreams about circuses and arcades. I don't think I've posted about these  repeating dream themes I was having during 2014 and 2015 since I have twice as many drafts of posts as actual ones. But now, I have a new repeating theme: pencils.

In the only undrafted, repeating arcade dream I can remember, I walked into an indoor school carnival. It was a small and subdued event. What few signs were there to separate the fair or the carnival from the usual business in  the college building's lobby were done on faded printed paper which had been laminated. The laminated signs looked like they'd been set out in the sun and reused- probably dozens of times judging by the wear on the corners and the moisture that had seeped under the plastic, causing the printer ink to bleed, blotch and fade a little here and there.

The low-pile carpet was a faded cerulean blue. It had small orange triangles impressed on the deep blue which gave the design a little more vigor. It looked exactly like an old movie theater's carpet. The light coming through the side windows was diffuse and just slightly cooler than I would expect from natural light. I wondered why that might be.

Probably because the windows are dirty.

Actually, as I took a closer look around, the entire room looked a little bit dirty, which seemed unusual for the college. Los Angeles is an extremely dirty and poorly maintained city, and the parts which aren't tend to house clean, bitter and dishonest people who have been through the ringer. But my college usually isn't so stereotypically Southern Californian, or at least I hadn't thought so until now.

I was just passing by this part of the building to get elsewhere, but I didn't have much to do in terms of an immediate appointment. I decided to take a look at the games the carnival had set up on some tables to the left. I thought I'd meander over to the  alcove with a bunch of other, larger games in it after I was done.

The games on the table near the building's entrance and windows seemed to require that I spend money on tickets. They were gambling games. That fact made me a bit paranoid about being taken advantage of, but I allowed myself to be lulled into feeling okay about playing the gambling games since I would have a chance at winning something of monetary value back. In the furthest recesses of my mind, I realized there might be some charitable end to these gambling games, but it didn't factor much into my decision to indulge.

Still, my cynicism for these kinds of games never left me since my first time at Chuck E. Cheese's. My classmates usually had siblings and so they would go to Chuck E. Cheese more frequently in order to be babysat (or so I believed)! When I had an occasion to go to Chuck E. Cheese (I could redeem my report card for free tokens), of course I asked my dad for money to buy tickets at the prize redemption store when I ran out of tokens. Tokens were used to play games that gave tickets depending on how well you played. And of course, I didn't win enough tickets to buy what I wanted.

"You don't want to waste your allowance on a game that only lasts a couple of seconds, Naja," he would say.

"But I could win something. I could get something that lasts, like that!" I pointed to an absurd, snarling,  fluorescent green finger puppet made out of jelly.

"You could buy ten of those with the same amount of money it would take to win one here. You just have to wait for us to go to the store later."

Unassailable logic. But my little kid self was dying. Still, it was an argument well-learned, and a dichotomy of feeling that was duly noted.

So two decades later at this school carnival, I wasn't going to spend any more than $3 on a game that lasted seconds and might get me a cheap prize: some sort of flavored cigar. I didn't smoke, but the cigars on display were unusual and caught my interest.

I paid for my tickets, and the cashier handed me a tiny, bluish, cardstock form to fill out. I took a clean, new pencil from a bucket the cashier held out to me. I was surprised they were giving these pencils away.

I guess this will subsidize my costs a little more...

I wrote in my numbers on the raffle ticket.

The cashier looked at the numbers and compared them to something behind his counter. "Sorry," he said.

I kept the pencil and began to eat it. It didn't taste good at all, but it was part of my compensation and it was much better than eating nothing. I wasn't sure about whether or not I should care if anyone was watching me slowly chew and swallow a wooden, #2 pencil. I didn't see anyone else doing it. Then again, I didn't see why I was wasting my time caring what other people thought or said or did. They were probably going to be jerks to me no matter what I did or said or thought or felt, and that was that. No point in appealing to them.

I had finished eating the pencil when I got to the games. The arcade games against the wall took tokens or quarters. They didn't interest me much. I was on a budget. But there was a simple physics demonstration that we could play for free!

There were a couple of red buoys in a circular tank of about 2 meters, floating on top of a series of clear, lightly chlorinated waves, which had that faint blue quality to them that any swimming pool does. The water rocked back and forth.

The directions were hanging off the side of the tank. I read the directions for how to play the game, but they didn't make sense to me. I just knew that I was witnessing something simple, fundamental and magical. Ever-aware that there were dozens of people constantly passing by and that one of them might want to try the game before I had a chance to take in everything that was going on, I pressed a button which aligned the boats.

Whrrrrrr! The buoys fought the current and squirted water at each other as though they were fighting. Then then arranged themselves in a circular pattern. Then they went back to floating. I played with the water a little. Then I looked at the "educational" explanatory card. This card was also attached to the game using Scotch tape, and it was a little bit wet and bleeding too. I had a hard time understanding the explanation for what was happening when we started the game up. It had something to do with magnetism.

Shit, I should know that... I felt very concerned about my lack of recall from the last semester and left the games thinking about the fact.

I moved past that initial building until I started moving through the school, build exactly like my elementary school had been. The ceilings were low. The lighting was much too yellow. The fluorescent lights seemed to be putting off incandescent light. They flickered and buzzed. The projects on display seemed much, much too simple- like I've done them all before.

The cafeteria is filled with junior high kids. I enjoy watching them. Many are eating or socializing, but most are playing basketball. I don't want to interact with them.They seem much, much too young for me to want to interact casually at this point. I'd feel too obligated to take the high road all the time. I couldn't just be myself and explore what I want to explore and say what I want to say. Too often, I'd believe I have to withhold what I think about their paths so they can make their own mistakes. It's an odd feeling since so many can easily outperform me academically. I realized in that moment that it doesn't change the enormous impact of personal experience over time. I feel distant. The distance certainly does bring out the differences in them. It's easy to see what their backgrounds are and how their parents have influenced them. It's surprising to recognize their emotions in my own past at the same age.

I can smell the watery chocolate milk inside of little cardboard cartons. I can see the skid marks of thousands of rubber soles tracked on the gymnasium floor. I leave the cafeteria and exit the school, unsure of how to get started on all the work I have to do, eventually.

When I think about interpreting this dream now, overall it seems to be a straightforward design that allows me to explore many of the same feelings I've so often during my return to college as an older student in a system that doesn't have many non-traditional students. But there's a monkey thrown into the middle of things (happy Chinese New Year). I can recall the floor pattern as being very similar to the pattern of the carpeting on my municipality's bus seats. The games seem like the objects in a room I volunteered in for a scientist at my college who I grew to distrust. And... I'm eating a pencil (I can still taste it, and it's god-awful) and gambling for flavored cigars when I don't smoke.

I think I'm eating the pencil and playing for cigars because I've been thinking a lot about a kind of stinginess I've been harboring in my emotional system in terms of forgiveness. I'm typically fairly sparing in the number of "passes" I will dole out to people when they ignore or violate my values. I guess I allow myself this sort of self-righteous complacency in the way I look at some people because I have begun to feel as though I have to be that way- even though I, of course, don't have to be any way I don't want to be.

I think I've been feeling as though my values and experiences will just vanish or be destroyed if I don't hold people and keep accounts. Speaking rationally though, of course I can understand that I will feel better overall if I am more generous with people and forgiving of perceived faults and slights. It will liberate me to be more generous with myself too. In the present day, there's no objective base from which morals can be measured, so it hardly makes sense to take personal values too seriously or apply them too universally. There's always the chance that even with the answers that seem right today, those same answers could be proven wrong on another day in the future.

The cashier took my money, which symbolizes a piece of my time or life-force, for a return that I wouldn't have found satisfying no matter what. This symbolizes giving over precious moments of my life to something rather dissatisfying: having my own increasingly bitter biases proven right. I suppose that would help me to plan things more conservatively, but I'd also be missing out on opportunities for connecting with people in a more meaningful way.

That's also how I feel my adventures in theatre have been over the past several years. Even if I did follow that as a career path, I've come to believe, based in part on this emotional stinginess I've been talking about, that it's a wholly self-centered pursuit that has a high potential to turn people into artificial sociopaths. I never figured out how to make it work for me, and even if I had, it would also have been a very unsatisfying prize, given my lifestyle preferences. I found it interesting enough to try, and I paid too much in terms of my time and energy for something that was one shade away from turning myself and almost everyone I went into the program with into "monsters." I'm not a smoker, and my initial fear when I smell someone smoking near me is that my body will either become cancerous or will take up into the addiction as well. Although that's a highly exaggerated dramatization of what being around someone who smokes feels like for me (I've been around smokers for a very large portion of my life), that is one aspect of what the cigars for prizes mean in the context of the dream. I don't think that this particular mix of feelings is something that I could allow myself to  acknowledge on a conscious plane.

When I'm eating the pencil, I feel like I have to do it because I had lost some of my own and needed to reclaim something nutritious back into myself, even if it was completely dissatisfying. I've been feeling that way a lot about a lot of people who have offended me in recent years. It hardly seems worth it to eat the pencil, and the dream is trying to remind me of the fact. For one thing, there's a productive use for pencils (negative experiences) and I don't seem to feel as though I am using them productively. There's free magic elsewhere that is much more worthwhile to me anyway. No strings attached- no nagging doubts except my own memory, which is a fair string to attach. I think this is telling me that I feel much more contented in my new, science degree program, even if it is strangely difficult to absorb and retain the information. (In the dream, I couldn't understand the signs on the free magnetism games.)

What's also interesting is how the dream is pointing out my limitations (in the dream, I am on a budget). As I get older and start to lose a bit of my energy, I realize that it's increasingly impossible to think that I have the time and energy to run around trying anything and everything. There is a cost. I don't have whatever it takes to play all the games and attempt to get all the prizes before the carnival ends or before I have to get down to work.

But there is a definite silver lining to the limitations and budgets and differences between people.