Dream Brain

So I have this recurring dream. I've just finished building a helicopter out of a ceiling fan and I get to test it out. It doesn't work perfectly, and I have to push a little extra to keep it off the ground, but I spend half an hour learning how to operate it and figuring out the quirks. I'm in a place that I love and surrounded by people I love (real or imagined) and we are very excited to test the thing out.

It feels really great. It's one of the greatest feelings I ever experience. Waking up from it is always a massive disappointment.

I made this comic a couple years ago, the first time I had the dream. I was probably less happy than I tend to be these days, and I definitely had a lot more unfinished projects going on. My old roommate woke me up knocking on the window because he got locked out, and the whole fantasy came crashing down.

I remember being pretty sad for the rest of the day. Anything I did felt like a step down. The funny thing about this was that I had a really spectacular day. I got to ride the bus for free because the meter was broken, I made a sweet costume, and I spent the night opening a new rock opera with people I really love, but I was still pretty bummed out about it all day.

That's what always confuses me about this dream. It's almost exactly like my real life, yet returning to my real life is always such a disappointment. I don't build flying machines, but I build instruments and special effects and costumes and make videos, and if did make something that flew I would probably feel the same way about it.

The other day I had the dream again. As I sat in bed organizing my thoughts afterwards, I tried to hold on to the feeling I'd had in the dream. I needed to believe that I could experience it in real life as well. I relaxed and tried to let the dream remind me of a thing, something I had done that I could do again. Through the mists of my waking mind, an answer came to me.

IKEA.

That thing was IKEA. Not IKEA furniture, or the idea of swedish design. Not the catalog, not the meatballs, and definitely not the pine bedframe and shelving unit in my room. Just the feeling of being in an IKEA. Their stores are an external, physical representation of what your mind does when you are in them. Your mind in an IKEA works the same way it does in a dream.

If you are looking at, say, a desk, part of that process is imagining it in a room, being used. At IKEA, that desk is actually placed in a room with other furniture, as is every other desk and bed and towel. Not only do they make the furniture for you, they actually imagine for you. It is an atmosphere of pure creation.

You walk in with a certain set of possibilities (budget, space, needs) and for a certain magic window of time, all of those possibilities are actually true.

It's not just that you could have any home out of those possibilities. While you are shopping, you have every possible home. As soon as you think of an idea, it becomes your reality, and you don't have to actually do anything beyond having the idea. One idea doesn't exclude others, but if you do lose interest in something, it is immediately out of your life again. 

This is probably the difference between dream life and real life. In real life, every thing that you make comes at a cost, and is created according to your specific skills. Furniture requires resources to make or buy. Music has to be played, and you can only play an instrument as well as you have learned to. Friendships have to be built. Choosing another career requires a new education. In real life, you make choices and every choice that you make requires turning down hundreds of other possible choices. I can't sit around musing these things unless my heart is beating and I've eaten recently.

I'm not just talking about tough choices, either. I'm not just saying life is hard because you run out of money and stuff. I have about as few responsibilities as a person can have, but things still work the same way. If I go to the movies with my sweetheart, we can watch Guardians of the Galaxy or Dear White People or Gone Girl, but we can't watch all of them. We are still making a choice, and that two hours of our lives will be forever defined.

Dreams don't really feel this way. You never have to make decisions in your dreams (I am not a lucid dreamer), things just sort of happen. I think the disappointment of waking up from a dream is the process of re-learning how real life works. No matter how cool my life is, waking up means remembering that I am on a set course, that some things won't change, that I only have one body, that I still have the same unfinished projects in my studio and that my portfolio is only as big as I have made it so far.

I get the same feeling when I leave IKEA. Even if I like the thing I bought, it is now mine. I have made a choice and ruled out the endless, freeform set of possibilities I had inside the store. I will have to place it inside my home and arrange things in a way I like. From now on my decor will be as nice as I am able to make it, and as clean and organized as I can keep it, and my bed will be this specific bed forever unless I take specific action to change it. I get the same feeling when I leave the art supply store or Home Depot or even the grocery store. I've gone from the realm of ideas to the realm of things.

This all got pretty bleak, so I kept thinking. It turns out there is another way I get that feeling of pure creation, and it's a much healthier one. Sometimes, when I've started an editing job or a painting or a piece of writing and I've fought and fought and done work on it even when it felt bad, things turn around. Pieces start clicking and finding their place. I can have an idea and put work into it and it will become a thing. This is the feeling I felt in the dream.

In a way, this is the real magic we get to use. We can make plans, have ideas, and use our knowledge to transform  the world around us. If you tie a knot, you have turned a rope into a loop, or two ropes into one. You can put something in front of a door and turn a solid wall into a tunnel. You can move a pen around a certain way and make a message that people will still understand after you die. We do this stuff all the time, but it's so easy to forget that we are casting magic spells when we do it. 

It's still probably going to suck to wake up after this dream. I am always going to be disappointed to remember how many choices I have to make, and how limited my potential is. If I can accept that, though, I can get on to the business of building the life I want, and that is totally worthwhile.