I’m not from around here. In fact, this is my first time in this neighborhood. But I can tell a good neighborhood from a bad one, and this has the look of a good one. Rows of small, neatly kept houses; flowers in pots; a shrine to the Virgin Mary nearby. A historic firehouse with a painted bench in front. And importantly, all the cars look intact, so I won’t worry about leaving mine here and walking a few blocks through the dark.
It isn’t a dream—this is still waking life I’m writing about—but there is something dreamlike about it, about the whole night. All unfamiliar places are a little dreamlike—which is odd when so many of the places in my dreams seem indefinably familiar. But that’s a riddle I haven’t yet worked out.
It’s been a long and unusually boring day of work, but I feel energized anyway. Disjointed phrases still echo in my thoughts. The 1 to 4 family’s enhanced homeowner’s rescinded super lien jacket should be deposited into the seller’s septic system in compliance with Title V; article 209A of the mailbox rule says that a closing foreclosure must be disclosed within 10 business days in order to secure visitation rights for your three-legged dog. Which isn’t to say, per se, that legal education isn’t a serious matter. I just write things down for the people who are getting one, and then I don’t have to think about what I’ve written ever again. What a luxury! It almost makes up for the pay.
It begins to drizzle lightly as I turn the corner onto another quiet street of inconspicuous homes and businesses. A little ways on, I find the bar I’m looking for, and a few minutes later, I’m seated at a table with a glass of cider and a book.
The room isn’t large, but there’s enough space to where it doesn’t feel crowded. It’s plain to the point of austerity—clearly a deliberate aesthetic choice—and so it is the people who draw one’s attention, who provide the ornamentation. A human environment. Their sophisticated and down-to-earth air marks them out as locals of a city that prides itself on its unpretentiousness. They mostly seem to be groups of friends, talking, laughing, having a great time.
I’m having a great time, too. It’s impossible not to take in the atmosphere, to be a part of it, even though I’m reading rather than socializing. (And the book is Schopenhauer, no less. Could you have underscored your separateness more emphatically?) It’s not that I prefer reading to talking with people, but that I prefer studying in places where people are happy. It’s what makes this so much nicer than a classroom or library. It’s one reason I came here instead of going home.
And it’s fascinating stuff I’m reading. It’s about optics, about the way the world is constructed through the senses and by the mind, how the raw material we receive could never take shape without its cooperation; how the lines of vision reach out like hands to touch the surfaces of things.
During the couple hours I’m there, the room becomes fuller, the tide of voices grows. It is a Friday night, I recall. And since I have a ways to go, it’s time to go back.
I walk back to my car, but instead of driving off right away, I take my phone out to check the ongoing conversations on Telegram. All the people I’m closest to are far away, but with technology it doesn’t seem so far. These past few weeks I’ve been too busy to keep up with them, but I resolve to get up to date as soon as I can. I’ve missed them. I read a quotation that’s been posted: “No effort is required to define or even attain happiness, but enormous concentration is needed to abandon everything else.” Quentin Crisp.
It resonates. Today was a good day, and it didn’t require anything extraordinary to make it good. Happiness really doesn’t require much.
I put my phone away and turn the key in the ignition. The engine shudders a few times, but doesn’t catch. I turn it again. Still nothing.
The third time I succeed in starting the car, but the engine light is on, and it’s not handling as it should. Every time I stop, there’s a moment where I’m afraid it won’t start again. And from time to time I hear the shuddering, but it keeps going. Unfortunately, It’s a long way back.
It’s a relief to finally pull into my street. But there’s still a problem: the driveway. It’s a long, narrow, hilly path running through a forest, and while I’m fairly sure I can get my car down it, getting it back out again is another question. The obvious solution: leave the car at the end and walk the rest of the way. I take my flashlight out of my purse, click it on—but the battery is dead. It looks like I’ll be taking another walk through the dark tonight.
It is very dark. The street from earlier tonight was nothing compared to this. It’s so dark the road is like a chalky smear on a curtain in front of my eyes, so dark that I can only trust that I’m moving forward and not in some other direction, so dark time and space bend out of shape. It’s a little unearthly. I recall what I was reading about optics not so long ago. World, I think to myself, did I ask you for a practical demonstration?
When I cross the river, it’s startling to hear it sounding so hard and clear through the obscurity— so much like it always does. A little farther, and I begin to see the pinpricks of light marking out the final stretch. I’m home.
It seems as if I’m the only one here. I get food and water for cats, I do miscellaneous chores. They could easily wait until morning, but I’m in one of those moods that gets things done. I’ve had to be unusually alert for the last couple hours, and it’s going to be hard falling asleep tonight. But when I do, I know, it’s quite possible that I’ll have some interesting dreams.
I‘m at a harbor, looking out to sea while I wait for a ship to arrive. It’s a modern, open structure, partly enclosed in panes of blue glass. A canal separates me from a glass-enclosed waiting area on a small island, and an escalator is running somewhere behind me inside another glassy building. There are also piers further out.
A woman I know will be on the ship: I am here to pick her up. Where will it disembark, I wonder? It departed from one of the piers, but last time I was here, it entered the canal and disembarked close to the exit, close to where I am now. Last time, I had also come to meet the woman. She had been zonked out on painkillers then. What will the meeting be like this time? I listen to some people nearby as they talk. They, too, are waiting for someone to arrive.
I wake up. But before long….
I am in a room, talking with a woman who is sitting in a chair. The ship from the previous dream is still on my mind. She has just said something about it, something having to do with e=mc2. I puzzle over it, talking aloud. C is the speed of light. Could it have to do with the time between seeing the ship and its arrival? But then I stop. I have just realized—the woman I’m talking to is me. Matter is energy. I am you. The ship has arrived. And suddenly, the ingenious back-tracing, reasoning and interpretation seems flimsy and insubstantial now that I’m talking with someone who knows.
We walk. Looking back, I can’t be sure whether I knew I was dreaming or not, but she seems to have complete insight into the situation, and complete control over it. We have a conversation, which completely faded from memory after awakening but before recording. It is odd how, even though she is definitely relying on me for support, she also seems to be pulling me along so fast it’s hard to keep up….
Traditionally, you’re supposed to die after seeing a Doppelgänger. But if that were the case, I ought to have been dead long ago and many times over—seen them in dreams, I should add, although I do have people regularly approach me thinking I’m someone they’ve seen me somewhere else, which can be disconcerting.
Yes, many times—and even more if I count instances that aren’t mirror-images. Aristotle once wrote that “a friend is another self”—and when I see an old friend in a dream who isn’t currently part of my life, they’re almost certain playing the role of an alter ego. “What? You’re making your friends stand in for pieces of you when you dream? How self-absorbed.” Maybe, but most of us are self-absorbed in our sleep. It sort of goes with the territory. And there are many worse things you can do in dreams than make friends with yourself.
And since there’s a good chance that you’re at least half of the problem in your relationships, self-observations made in an introverted state may actually be a good way to improve situations that would normally be classed as external conflicts.
“In any case, it’s nonsense and superstition, even if you aren’t taking it as some kind of omen.” If I were to attempt a definition of superstition, I would call it “the dependence on cause-effect relationships one has no understanding of.” I think it is a good definition. It captures the blindness and ignorance that critics of superstition want to implicate when they condemn it, and at the same time it makes it clear that it is not a phenomenon exclusive to religion or to supernatural speculation. It’s something that tends to creep up on us in any decisive realm of life where reasoning lets us down—perhaps because of our own limitations, perhaps because it was out of its depth in a more profound sense. You can be superstitious and correct, but you can’t be superstitious and open.
As I’ve said, I’ve been dealing with Doppelgängers for a while now. It was one particular instance of this early on in my explorations of dreams that suddenly made many possibilities real to me that had only been empty words before. There is a part of you that watches and remembers, even if you don’t know it; the self isn’t as simple as most of us assume. That I was now sure of, but everything else was a hypothesis to be investigated rather than a Truth.
I was excited rather than fearful, and more for the theoretical insight it offered me than any deep personal significance. I wonder now whether there wasn’t an error that took root at the same time, but it wasn’t one that experiments could confirm or deny.
“Perhaps that the self is something that can be divided without inviting negative consequences?” Well, basically. But the trouble is more that it can be, and that I never fully considered what that meant on a personal level. Perhaps it is divisible—but is that desirable?
But who am I talking to, anyway?