November 9, 2008
The Diminishment of Dreams, Or, Hope Really Is Audacious
In a comment on my most recent entry, JGW pointed out that my statement that after Obama's victory, "I felt better than I would have if McCain had won, but I didn't feel great," was a crashing understatement.
I sort of knew this when I wrote it. I sort of intended it to be understatement. I wanted the entire entry to be flat and clipped and short on emotional complexity, which is how I had felt. But I didn't realize just HOW MUCH of an understatement that was--and the truth of the matter is, I probably still don't.
It's not that I was always confident that Obama would win. It's not that I couldn't imagine a McCain victory. In fact, back in September, when I was really down, I predicted that McCain would win and the US would end up a third-rate bankrupt dictatorship. But I couldn't--and frankly still can't--imagine the emotional emptiness and hopelessness I would have felt if Republican control of our country had continued.
By that I don't mean that I couldn't let myself, or wouldn't let myself. I mean that I COULD NOT IMAGINE IT. I've imagined some pretty horrible possible futures at different points in my life--for much of my mission, I imagined I would be damned because I rejected so much of the message I was supposed to preach, and living in the present with that future looming before me really sucked. But the volatile nature of the world makes it impossible to guess what's coming next for our country. Who but the people who had access to that memo announcing in August 2001 that Osama Bin Laden was poised to strike in the US could have imagined September 11? OK, Bush and Rice and Rumsfield et al should have known the attacks of 9/11 were coming, but as for the rest of us, all we should have known was that 9/11 would come after 9/10 and before 9/12.
I also feel that my imagination and my psyche have been damaged by the past eight years--and so have the collective imagination and psyche of the country. That's one reason Prop 8 passed now when a similar initiative failed in California a few years earlier--as a whole, we're less capable of compassion now than we were eight years ago.
I used to be quite a dreamer. By that I mean that I was very interested in the mental activity that took place while I was asleep. I had vivid, captivating dreams, and I remembered them. I kept a dream journal. I got really good at lucid dreaming--you know, that state where you know you're dreaming and are able to manipulate or influence the events of a dream. I read books on dreams. I sought interpretations of dreams that particularly intrigued or troubled me.
And then about 2002, my dreams got considerably more boring. Most of them were anxiety dreams. The ones that weren't full of anxiety were usually bedraggled and drab.
I thought this was mostly my fault, or the fault of my individual life, at least. I had a job I hated. I had stopped doing yoga because the house I lived in was too small to afford room to do it. I had moved to a small community and my social circle was very limited. I was lonely.
And yet I knew that one of my primary sources of anxiety was the impending and then the actual war. One recurring nightmare that never failed to wake me in a state of horror, my heart pounding, my mouth dry, involved drowning polar bears and shrinking ice caps. It wasn't just the suffering polar bears that scared me so. It was my own hopelessness.
I remember reading studies about the dreams of Germans during the Third Reich. A woman named Charlotte Beradt collected the dreams of Germans from 1933 to 1939, at which point she had to flee the country. But the dreams she documented were fascinating. (I should admit I haven't read her book, which has long been out of print, only accounts of it.) People had dreams of radios that would never shut off, of household appliances bugged so that every word said in private was recorded in some government office. And those were in the dreams of people who weren't especially scared of the Nazis!
The dreams of those who hated and opposed the Nazis revealed profound helplessness. One housewife dreamed that every night she would rip the swastika off a Nazi flag, only to discover in the morning that it was sewn back on, more securely than ever. One man cried in anger and shame as he realized that despite his conscious and deliberate effort to stop it, his arm was rising, inch by inch, to form the Nazi salute.
I can't find documentation of this, but I remember reading that by the end of the war, Germans reported dreams that consisted merely of gray blobs, muddy brown rectangles, dull wordless moaning.
What we went through or did under the GW Bush administration is by no means as bad as what Germany endured and perpetrated under Hitler. But it wasn't good.
Something remarkable has happened to me since the election: I've been tired--really, really, tired. As in, exhausted. As in, needing to sleep A LOT. As in, going to bed earlier and earlier every night, and still wanting to take a nap every afternoon. It's not just that I'm tired. It's that I'm sleeping deeply, and having copious, vivid, funky dreams. It's been great.
I can feel my imagination waking back up. Hope is an mental state dependent on a healthy imagination. It's hard to have that when you're subject to an institution or set of institutions that spy on you, inculcate fear of all that is different, seek to control your thoughts, punish dissent, and reject compassion.
For someone to proclaim during the Bush administration that he had hope, so much hope that he could share it with others, is to me completely audacious. I couldn't do it. But I could recognize that hope when I saw it and latch on to it. I could rejoice when it triumphed. And now, I'm beginning to find my own hope. It's small, and cautious, and weak. But I have hope for my hope. I hope it will grow, and become audacious. As it should be.
Posted by holly at November 9, 2008 1:15 PM