August 30, 2006

In which our heroine learns of the dangers of too much mental stimulation at night.

Had a visit from the Delightful former Housemate yesterday, which prevented either of us from doing substantive work on our exams and provided an excuse to, among other things, go out and eat every kind of hedonistic, high-calorie, fat-laded vegan food to which I am addicted. So I should be very refreshed today.

However, I was up far too late last night â far past the point when the DfH was completely unconscious in my living room â reading Michel Tournierâs Vendredi, ou les limbes du Pacifique. It seemed like a safe bet to go to bed with a book which I murkily remembered from college as a mildly-interesting and somewhat incomprehensible Rousseauian rewriting of the Robinson Crusoe story. Unfortunately for my hope of sleeping, now that Iâve broken down and acquired an English translation, the story is just as bizarre as Iâd remembered, but much more fascinating. After his first attempt at boatmaking fails, thereâs a long period which Crusoe spends wallowing around in a hog-filled swamp, which emanates narcotic fumes from the stuff decaying in it, eating floating scum and then rolling around in his own shit. He finally realizes heâs completely losing any residue he might keep of socialization and civilization, and that heâs going totally crazy, so to defend against the temptation of this descent into chaos, he becomes the Governor (as well as sole resident) of his island and imposes incredibly strict timekeeping, religious, agricultural, and penal systems. Then follows a phase where he gives the island a womanâs name and discovers a little pink valley filled with hills and crevices of really soft grass, which he spends a lot of time fucking, and he impregnates the island with a lot of mandrake plants until the island cheats on him with Friday, which Crusoe only finds out about after the appearance of mandrakes with striped flowers, which his semen has never produced. I finally passed out with about 40 pages left to go â can it get any weirder? â and consequently was not altogether rested this morning.

After the DfH left for his day of meetings, with promises to continue our id party with dinner later on, I neglected to drink my coffee and take a shower and instead crawled back into bed and fell asleep, whereupon I had the most singularly awful dream which seems to mark a certain milestone on my descent into pre-exam madness. Other peoplesâ dreams are boring as all hell to read unless you're my Darling Baby Sister, who this dream revolved around, so it's in the extended entry here.

In the dream, I was terribly excited to have another visit from my Darling Baby Sister. We did stuff, then headed out for dinner and an evening. Among the people we ran into were some of her friends from, I think, high school, who happened to be part of some street theater/bacchanal that was shortly to take place outside the restaurant where we were eating. All of which sounds fun, but I was starting to feel really...wrong. I couldnât figure out why, but I was losing the ability to interact with people or talk in a linear fashion, I was feeling really disaffected and far away, and this was all on a physiological rather than emotional level, and because I couldnât control it or figure out what was causing it I was getting really irritated. I separated from the group for awhile and even considered leaving my sister to her friends for the evening so I could regroup for the next day. I had taken out my phone and was trying to decide whether to call one of my easiest-to-hang-out-with-when-youâre-fucked-up friends (Jon? Ceds?) to grab a drink with me and help see me home, when all hell broke loose.

It was a very vague and hard-to-describe hell, but it seemed to be some combination of factors external and internal to me. There was some kind of enormous melee. It seemed as though a riot of huge proportions had broken out in the street. People were injured, and screaming, and scattered, and there were a lot of cops and a lot of noise and chaos. But sometimes it just seemed to be a lot of people swirling and reeling around, the kind of street activity and police presence one would associate with a parade or street festival. Sometimes I felt like I was in the middle of a highly concentrated war zone, and other times I was pretty sure Iâd been roofied. I could not find my sister at all, and that was when, because I had no stable gauge of whether there was a big problem going on around me or not, I started to freak the fuck out. I tried to call her, but my fingers werenât working, and it took several tries before I realized that I was deleting contacts out of my address book and I had to put the phone away before I fucked something up.

People were sort of dispersing, but it was hard to tell whether it was in a running-away-from-a-disaster kind of disorder, or in a thatâs-over-letâs-do-something-else sort of disorder. I walked around and around looking for my sister, and I tried to stay within the same couple of streets, but finally I looked up and I was near a college â not my college â in a totally unfamiliar area. No one I asked knew what the college or the town was called.

I completely panicked, and as soon as I started running, I realized I was being chased, but I couldnât figure out by whom. I ducked onto the first bus I found, got off, ran some more. I fell asleep and woke up somewhere and things around me started to look clearer. I got back home, where I was living once again with my Delightful former Housemate. I was profoundly relieved that things were back as they should be, except: my sister hadnât shown back up or called, and I couldnât get ahold of her. It was like sheâd just disappeared, and I was really concerned that sheâd been hurt in whatever had happened the night before. I called the police and the hospital; nothing. A day went by. My search got more panicked and less rational. There was a wall in our bathroom that was boarded up: a large hole had been made in the process of some kind of repairs, and it led down into the old foundations of the apartment building and a honeycomb of unused spaces. The boarded-up wall completely freaked me out, and I didnât even like to use the bathroom late at night. On day 2 of my sister being missing, I pried the boards off the wall with my bare hands, sobbing, and I climbed through the hole to see if sheâd gotten stuck back there somehow. I didnât have a flashlight, but I could see a bit by the light coming in through the cracks of the old walls and foundations until the sun set and it got dark, and then I was walking and crawling around in the dark, crying so hard I was choking, feeling my way around with my bloody, splintery fingers in the dirt and rubble and spiders, trying to see if my sister was there. She wasnât.

After a full day of this, I followed the trail of mud that my tears had made, and I crawled back out the hole into my bathroom. My Delightful former Housemate came over and put his hand on my shoulder and I sat there with my head in my hands, certain that Iâd looked everywhere I could think of to look and that I, at least, wasnât going to be able to find her. Then the phone rang. It was my sister.

Sheâd just managed to find her way back to her house in circumstances remarkably similar to those in which Iâd gotten back to mine. She was trying to describe to me what had happened that evening, but it seemed like it was as unclear to her as it had been to me, and the TV was on really loud and I was having trouble hearing her through the phone. I kept trying to find the off button on the remote while listening to a garbled and indistinct account of her impressions of chaos and her difficulties in figuring out how the fuck to get back home. It started to become clear that we had had the exact same evening, and we started trying to piece together what had happened that day before we both lost track of reality.

What we came up with was that we had made an enormous batch of oatmeal cookies and made ourselves sick eating all of them with vanilla soy cream. We were rolling around my living room feeling like we were going to throw up, and we hit on the idea of taking a walk to go get some smoothies, which apparently we had thought were going to have some digestive benefit. But after the smoothies was when both of us had started feeling really, uncontrollably, weird. And then my sister said these magic words that made everything start falling into place:

âDude,â she said, âI think we shouldnât have gotten the lotus boost in those smoothies.â

In Book 9 of the Odyssey, they run into a group of people who just hang out and eat lotus all day because of its narcotic effects. In the Odysseyâs version, as I recall, the effect of the lotus was to make the eater sort of stupefied, happy and apathetic, and that was the actual danger of hanging out in that place too long: the crew would never want to leave, and Odysseus would never get home (so much for the nostos!). At first I guess the lotus smoothie did the same thing to me: I was totally disaffected. But then as that started to really get to me and I was really afraid, not so much of not being able to get home, but of not ever being able to find my sister again, it started turning into a sort of Tournierâs-Crusoe-style descent into solitary irrationality and despair.

In the dream, as my sister and I were talking through all of this and piecing the logic together, I was sitting in the warm, bright living room of my apartment, gripping the phone to my ear and staring through the dark hole under the building that Iâd spent a day groping around in looking for her. Then I realized my face was icy cold, and I woke up. Iâd been crying so hard in my sleep that my pillow was soaked through and freezing, and it was noon and I hadnât showered or done any reading, or anything civilized or productive at all.

Part of the moral of the story is no more bedtime reading for me. I was up at all hours reading Poe the night before and couldnât sleep, and now this. If I can get through my exams without going crazy, Iâll be really impressed.

On another note, there are some really cute online guides to the Odyssey, including this choose-your-own-adventure one: here. I wish I'd known about it when my students were reading that.

Posted by katie at August 30, 2006 02:06 PM

Holy uthacalthing. Just reading about that dream stressed me out.

Posted by: Jacob at August 30, 2006 04:07 PM

but reading about that book made me check the library for a little 'friday' of my own.

Posted by: michele at August 31, 2006 09:08 AM

Dudes, the book is awesome and worth the mindfuck. I highly recommend making sure you get the one that's translated either just as "Friday" or as "Friday, or the Limbs of the Pacific," not the one that would be translated as something like "Friday, or the Savage Life." According to a Swiss guy I know, they read that one in junior high and it's tiny, so I think it's abridged and lacks island-fucking.

The dream was awful. Jacob, did you go crazy and have protein-inspired nightmares before your exams? Or should I maybe reexamine my choice of material?

Posted by: katie at August 31, 2006 11:44 AM

Jesus Christ! Dude! No terrifying nightmares of loss and confusion involving me!

Actually, what's interesting is that your dream sounds notably similar to a portion of an Ursula K. LeGuin book called The Lathe of Heaven. Reality gets altered in real-time such that people who are caught up in the changes can watch it happening, and it's described very much like your swirling chaos that may be one scene and may be entirely another. In the process, people disappear and can't be found because in the new reality they have never existed.

It's a very good book, but can I recommend that you wait a little while after this dream before attempting to read it? And then maybe not right before bed.

Also, you and I do not have a good record with lotus products.

Posted by: Dianna at August 31, 2006 02:43 PM

Oh, and, okay, another thing about The Lathe of Heaven: there is one person and only one person who understands how it is that reality is changed, and it is around him that it is crumbling while he wanders around knowing what's happening but still being powerless to stop it from changing.

Solitary irrationality and despair indeed.

Posted by: Dianna at August 31, 2006 02:46 PM

That book sounds awesomely terrifying, but thank god I'm not allowed to read it until after my exams.

Do you also remember an episode of Star Trek:TNG in which one character, I think the doctor, started getting really freaked out because people were disappearing from the ship and never having existed, and it turned out that she was in her own bubble of reality and pretty soon she was the only person who existed and the bubble was closing in on her? But then it actually turned out that everyone else was OK and she was the only one trapped in that alternate reality and they had to save her before she stopped existing? Why does shit like this give me the willies so very acutely?

Dude, I was thinking about those goddamned lotus buns all day after that dream. Bleh. Maybe I have a lotus allergy.

Posted by: katie at September 1, 2006 12:57 PM

The coffee at Yali's tastes faintly the way pot smells.

I just had to let someone know...

Posted by: Delightful Former Housemate at September 9, 2006 03:05 PM