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Me!

I Disconnect from You

(a novelette)





Steven W. Palmer





PUBLISHED BY

SARASWATI PUBLISHING

PHNOM PENH/KAMPOT, CAMBODIA





Copyright © 2018 by Steven W. Palmer



All rights reserved under the Berne Convention. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” at the email address below.



saraswati.publishing.cambodia@gmail.com



This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.











The alarm rang for days
You could tell from conversations
I was waiting by the screen
I couldn't recognise my photograph
Me, I disconnect from you

I was walking up the stairs
Something moved in silence
I could feel his mind decaying
Only inches away from me
And I disconnect from you

Please don't turn me off
I don't know what I'm doing outside
Me and the telephone that never rings
If you were me, what would you do?
Me, I disconnect from you

(copyright: Gary Anthony James Webb)



Night/Day 1



Paul woke, sweat coursing down his face and body. It took a few minutes for him to realise he was in his own bed, the sheer scale of the reality of the dream he had just left causing temporary disorientation. No dream he had experienced before this had seemed so real. It hadn’t been a nightmare, no horrors or demons or surreal events. It was the ordinariness of the dream that had so caught him unawares, that and the almost lucid feeling that he, or his subconscious, was controlling what was happening.

He reached to his bedside cabinet and grabbed his tablet from where it was charging. He was conscious of how often dream memories faded once the sleeper had awoken. Thinking for a minute, he made a series of bullet points and notes.

Duration: In the dream, a full day elapsed, or at least a full day awake. It began with waking up, then through the motions of shower and breakfast, walking to work, finishing the work day, returning home, cooking dinner, then settling in front of a fire with a book. No recollection of what the book was, however. And finally, going to bed and…dreaming?

Setting: A town, about the same size as this one but different, maybe in another country? People dressed differently. Europe? All the shop signs seemed out of focus.

People: It seemed as if I knew some of them, or that they knew me. We exchanged greetings, but I have a sense we were not speaking English but any idea of what the language was had already faded.

Traffic: Fairly light, few cars or vans on the street, but what vehicles there were seemed familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.

Me: Was it me? No recollection of seeing a reflection, though my hands seemed my own somehow. But I was working in a workshop, a woodshop, making furniture. Yet the real me has no practical skills at all. I am a writer and create with my mind, and my feeble attempt at making a bookshelf last Winter lasted as long as it took to place books on the finished product and for it all to come tumbling down.

Home: It felt like home, I remember that much. But so different from this small one bedroomed apartment. It was big, too big for just me, but no-one else was there. And I got the feeling that I had made some of the furniture in the house, there was a sense of…pride? It felt comfortable too, not an alien environment as is often presented in dreams.

***

Paul read back over his notes. Strange for sure, but bland in the ordinariness of the events. His usual dreams, depending on level of sobriety when falling asleep, ranged from the bizarre to the…well more bizarre, though the dearth of eroticism in his sleeping thoughts were a sad reflection of his sex life when awake. He had vague recollections of aliens, sinking ships, Vikings, and all manner of interactions with people. The usual nonsense, in fact, most often influenced by whatever film or TV show he had watched, what book he was reading, or even whatever was bothering him at the time.

He thought for a minute about phoning his sister, but as she was one of these people who subscribed to almost every form of quackery and pseudoscience out there – though she thankfully drew the line at flat-earth theory – he knew she would spend an hour poring through books to offer the various, and conflicting, interpretations of the dream events there would be. Dismissing that idea, he made his way to the kitchen to fill the coffee machine, wondering why something so ordinary, so bland, was causing him so much concern. While the coffee was brewing, he checked his Facebook account, noting with some glee that the last meme he had posted before bed had garnered more than 200 likes and several shares. Twitter was quiet with no notifications, but then again, he hadn’t tweeted for three days now. Ten new followers though, so not all bad.

By the time he had reached work, he had forgotten what all the fuss was about. He had two client projects to finish up today, two lots of witty marketing content to present that would hopefully dazzle the clients (and their customers). Of course, it wasn’t what he wanted to be doing, but it paid fairly well and filled the gaps between his intermittent attempts at writing a novel that would make it past an agent’s merciless first glance. The good thing about this job was that he was mainly left to his own devices. Each new project involved an initial client meeting followed by a second, more involved, briefing, where style, direction, and ideas were agreed…generally. He had a corner office away from the herd of graphic designers and junior copywriters, easy access to the bathrooms, an essential coffee machine, and his all-important hi-fi to block out any distracting background noise; currently playing Kind of Blue by Miles Davis.

So, a pretty ordinary life, and a pretty ordinary – at least in its contents – dream. Nothing to fuss about, nothing to overthink.

The day went well, both clients liking his ideas and campaign suggestions, and liking the accompanying ideas from the two graphic designers assigned to the projects. The first client was so happy that he took Paul and the designer to lunch at a swanky new restaurant nearby, one that Paul quickly realised would gain more of a reputation for pretentious presentation and surly service staff than for the actual quality of the food. The second client was so happy that he took Paul aside and offered him a full time position working for him. Paul politely declined, since working in the agency he got to work on a wide variety of projects rather than finding endless ways to make a range of cleaning products sound cool and sexy.

‘Clients loved the new ideas’, ‘feeling proud’, read his Facebook status, and within ten minutes there were already 67 likes.

He left the office at 4pm, flexi-time being another perk of the job. He stopped off at Waitrose and bought a Beef & Red Wine Casserole ready meal - reduced by £1.25 according to their FB page - a sad symptom of having been single for the last seven months, and a bottle of Rosé to make the symptom seem less sad, at least to himself.

No girlfriend, no pets, no publishing deal. When real life was as bland and uneventful as this, why couldn’t his dreams be a little more exciting?

After a shower, the ready meal went in the oven, the Rosé went in a glass, My Bloody Valentine went on the stereo, and he went to his (high-spec) gaming PC. Geekdom beckoned once more. He’d started gaming as something to fill the empty moments between girlfriends, and to fill the spaces between having something in his head to write. And so, with a few mere mouse clicks, he was once again Bayek in Assassin's Creed Origins, and once again trying to foil the nefarious machinations of the Order of the Ancients in Ancient Egypt.

40 minutes and one bad dagger wound later, the oven timer heralded that his culinary treat was ready, so he saved the game, emptied the meal onto a plate, and refilled his glass. He slumped into his recliner and switched on the TV. Accessing his Netflix account, he skipped to episode 3 of ‘Dark’ and settled down for another ordinary night, deciding against letting his social media followers know what he was watching in case someone replied with a spoiler. With another hour of German strangeness watched, it was time for bed.



Night/Day 2

Paul woke, sweat coursing down his face and body. Again? All of a sudden, ordinariness was becoming a little weird. It had been like a continuation from the previous night’s dream, an almost episodic feel to it, with all the continuity of real life. He again reached for his tablet to note down what he could remember.

Duration: Again, a full waking day, with all the banal parts included. No sense of it not being real, quite the opposite. Smells? I can never remember being able to smell in a dream before? The same routine as the day (night?) before, with some minor variations. I ate out rather than cooking, at a small bistro I seemed to be a regular at.

Setting: Got a better sense of the town in this dream. Surrounded by mountains and forests. I could taste the fresh air. Taste? I could taste how fresh that air was and I can remember the taste of the food, a lamb dish with lots of herbs and pepper. I cannot recall taste being part of a dream, particularly to the vivid levels of last night. Still can’t recall being able to read anything with any sense of focus.

People: The sense of easy familiarity with the people I met was even more pronounced this time. These are people I have known for a long time, who I have shared good and bad times with. I still haven’t grasped the language, though I am having conversations in it. I get the feeling it is Germanic or possibly Slavic, which would certainly tie in with the geography of the area. When I visited the bistro, I was greeted warmly and there was a long period of chatting that only comes with friendship or comfortable familiarity.

Traffic: Much the same as last night (day?). It seems to be a town not on a main highway, which would account for the relative sparsity of the traffic. I began to recognise some makes of car, and have definite recall of seeing Volkswagens and Audis.

Me: I had more sense of me, if that makes any sense. I still do not know my name, if I have a different name in this dream series. But I do have more awareness, somehow, of belonging here. There are memories, or dream memories at least, of growing up here, of going to school here, and some vague shadows in my head of family and loved ones. But the details remain, frustratingly, just out of reach of my consciousness when awake. I still haven’t seen me yet though, no recall of a reflection. Am I me? Or am I living/dreaming someone else’s life?

Home: In this dream it was as if things were coming into better focus, though not yet to the point of total clarity. The sense of belonging was far stronger, and I suspect that this was once my family home, though that feeling elicits sadness as it may mean my dream parents are now deceased. I can remember various photographs on the walls and on furniture, though the details remain a little blurry and I cannot see who the people are. I presume family but cannot be sure.

***

He considered for a moment whether to discuss his dreams on Facebook, but he realised that doing so would bring out all the nutters from the woodwork. In the last year alone he had culled several virtual friends because of their madness, everything from anti-vaxxers to alt-right proponents, and all sorts of pseudoscience and quackery in between. So it was just a couple of memes before leaving for work, as well as a link to an interesting article on self-publishing someone had sent him via Twitter.

The events, or non-events, of the dream stayed in his thoughts all day. He couldn’t remember a dream ever bothering him this much before. There had been one when he was a kid, a vivid dream of looking in a toy shop window and seeing a Dinky model of the Starship Enterprise, a dream that had led him to pestering his parents for months to buy it for him. But despite his parents checking every toy shop in town, there was no such model. His dad had even written a letter to Dinky and received confirmation from their head office that they did not make one. Then, three years later, Dinky had launched the model for real. Paul had been convinced that his dream had been a premonition and it had been his future self in the dream. His dad, however, was a little more down to earth about the coincidence, and suggested that it had been his letter to head office that had planted a seed of an idea at Dinky HQ.

He knew he should be dismissing these dreams altogether, or at least doing something sensible like monitoring his diet or going to sleep earlier or…well, something. But instead, he headed to the office at his normal time, made his coffee the normal way, put the music on he normally listened to while working, checked his social media accounts every hour or so as normal, and had two fairly normal meetings with his designers to expand on the ideas agreed upon the previous day. All in all, a totally normal day.

He stayed on at work a little later than usual, putting the finishing touches to the first stage of one of the client projects, then mailing it off for them to approve. Bored of ready meals and the scintillating company of an empty flat, he stopped off at a little Italian café near the office which someone had been praising on Facebook, and even, throwing caution to the wind, indulged in a dessert and liqueur to finish.

When he got home, he remembered to give the eatery 5 stars on Facebook and Trip Advisor with some glowing comments, then skipped television for the evening, choosing instead to take Hemingway’s Islands in the Stream to bed, hoping that some immersion in fiction may change the course of his dreams that night. With ‘Damn, Hemingway could really write’ as his final status of the day, he slipped into what he hoped would be a less troubling sleep.

Night/Day 3

Paul woke, sweat coursing down his face and body. No Cuban bays or chasing U-boats for him, instead a return to this otherworldly town which seemed to be determined to haunt him every night. Once again, he noted down what details he could remember on his tablet.

Duration: A full day had elapsed again. It was almost as if the day in my other home began the moment I fell asleep in my real home. There was no sense of any part of the day being missed out, but instead a whole 14 hours or so of…doing. I certainly cannot remember ever having a dream where I went for a shit before, that was for sure, but it had been there, in all its pungent glory, along with eating, drinking, working, everything you would normally do. Nothing seemed rushed, and nothing seemed drawn out either. A minute felt like a minute and an hour felt like an hour.

Setting: The vividness of little details seemed to become stronger each day, the fresh air, the food, the sense of belonging there. Today (last night?) I went for a walk at lunchtime, reaching the town limits within ten minutes or so – though frustratingly that sign with the town name on it remains blurred and out of any real focus. I found myself on the edge of a dense forest, situated on slopes that went steeply up the side of a fair-sized mountain. I walked into the forest for a while, losing myself in the calm shade of the trees, sitting with my back against a mighty…oak?...and just enjoying a serenity I did not know existed.

People: Again, the feeling of knowing, of belonging, of being, seems to increase with each day/night that passes. People stop and talk to me, not out of any sense of politeness but out of a friendship built on years of interaction. Today/last night, I met, if met is the right word for something in a dream, my co-workers. I had wondered, albeit briefly, whether I worked alone, but the workshop was too big for just me, and I had the feeling that certain parts, certain tools, were used by others and not by me. Today they returned, apparently from delivering some orders to a town or city a day’s drive away. The greetings were the same level of friendliness as the conversation I had earlier, and I sensed that we three were a social group outside the confines of this workplace. I feel warmth between us, something almost alien in my real work environment where we all shut ourselves away in offices and sections. There are people in my office, people who have worked beside me for several years, whose names I do not know, yet we nod and smile each day as if the oldest of friends. That extends to social media, where we have all friended each other because of this shared workspace, and interact more in that virtual circus than we do in real life. That thought leads to another realization; I have not seen one person in this dream world sitting staring at a smart phone. It is not a world lacking in such technology, I have a laptop in my house and have seen people talk on the phone. No, it more seems to be a world where we/they have not reached that level of detachment from reality and still value the tangibility of actual interpersonal relationships. The people in this dream town have yet to disconnect.

Traffic: This seems to be the least important of my observations. I had originally included it as I had hoped it would give me some clue as to the location, but now I find myself concentrating more on the human aspects. I do not remember anything special about cars or traffic in this last episode.

Me: If this makes any sense, I feel more me in the dream than I do awake. There is a certain…contentment, a happiness in everything I do, even when alone at home. Contrast that feeling with my waking life, where work is humdrum, where eating is a mostly necessary chore, and where most of my entertainment seems little more than something to fill the gaps in the day. And returning to my earlier thoughts re social media, I realise just how much time my real self spends poring over social media accounts. How reliant any sense of worth has come to depend on those various tones which signal a reply, a message, a retweet. When did we as a species come to base our self-esteem on how many ‘likes’ a throwaway comment receives?

Home: Belonging. I keep writing – and thinking – that word. But no other word sums up the feeling I take away from these dreams. Arriving at my dream home feels like putting on the most comfortable pair of shoes you have ever owned. Today/last night, clarity and focus were both there. I can recall wandering the house and taking great delight in being able to see the various photographs properly, even if I am not yet entirely sure who all the subjects are. Some I can guess. There are family group pictures, obviously a couple of decades old, where I think I recognise myself (it is me but subtly different, and I still have not seen a reflection), so must therefore presume the two adults are my parents. But these pictures contain three children. Are these my siblings? Childhood friends? Though if the latter, then why would they be in so many pictures? There are older pictures too, possibly grandparents or aunts and uncles. I wonder if, should these dream episodes continue, will I remember who they are? Can I remember who they are? How does memory work in a dream state when you are a construct of your own sleeping subconscious?

***

Paul remained distracted all day. He barely glanced at his Facebook feed over breakfast, thoughts remaining in this other place, this other life. On the subway to work, his phone remained in his pocket and he sat gazing into space, then realised that space was filled with people, every one of whom were staring at a phone screen. There was no interaction, no eye contact, merely a forced connection with a global social media network. Every passenger was plugged into a matrix every bit as frightening as that portrayed in the science fiction films. Technology had made the world so much smaller, yet seemed to have exacted a price that was perhaps too high. Did people really believe that their use of emojis, their likes or shares, made any real difference to the starving child in Yemen, or the displaced refugee in Myanmar?

He was beginning to look at his world with different eyes, eyes that had not opened in so many years.

Eat, Update Status, Sleep, Update Status, Work, Update Status, Repeat.

Repeat day after day after day after…a never ending cycle of disconnection from people while seemingly connecting to so many.

At work, he found himself staring at his monitor, the document in front of him remaining the same as when he had opened it, inspiration non-existent. Why were these dreams having such an effect on him? Was it merely a wake-up call from his subconscious trying to save him from the humdrum existence of various social media platforms? He had opened Facebook, but, as he read, he realised just how utterly trite most of the content was. Baby pics, political diatribes, inane memes, and the horror of what seemed like a never-ending cascade of cat and dog photographs. Yet at the same time, he found there was something horribly fascinating about it all. Was this how a heroin addict felt? Could they see the quagmire into which they were sinking yet almost welcomed its embrace?

He could see that there were benefits, a way of easily keeping in touch with distant friends and family, and there were also things of interest that he may not have come across had a connection not posted it. But there was so much chaff that it was sometimes impossible to see the wheat that deserved harvesting.

He closed the window and stared again at the document. Suddenly, the idea of just how clean your bathroom could really be was very unimportant in the bigger scheme of things. Deadline was still two weeks away so he didn’t feel any pressure to force himself into working. This was where flexi-time came into its own, a chance to leave the office when he had absolutely no desire to be there.

He left the office and walked, just walked the streets for almost two hours. As he made his way through the town, he observed the people around him, and just how little human to human contact and conversation there was. People looked at their phones while walking, people sat in pairs or groups at cafes, every one of them staring at a screen instead of sharing companionship. He suddenly remembered the cult film, ‘They Live’, and how John Nada discovered the world was being run by an alien group. There was an eerie parallel in how Paul looked at the world now, a population controlled through social media and with their minds sated by an endless procession of vacuous TV reality and talent shows.

Obey, consume, reproduce, and conform.

The more he thought about it, the more he became convinced that these dreams were his subconscious revolting against mass disconnection. He’d not even glanced at his social media accounts since the cursory look while having breakfast, yet he knew the seductive allure of multiple notifications were a button push away. Could he resist the sirens’ call? Could he even go further and close his various accounts? The very idea was attractive and repulsive at the same time. There was a need, a hunger, lying semi-dormant just below these new realisations he was having. This was addiction, a dependency as real as those with substance issues. But he would resist the need for as long as he could.

Tired and hungry, he stopped off at a burger joint, but being surrounded by so many people glued to their electronic devices did little for his appetite. Leaving half his meal untouched, he hailed a taxi to take him home, not wanting to face the matrix zombies who would surround him on the subway.

When he got home, he made a snack and tried to relax by watching some TV, but he felt his thoughts being drawn to the dream town throughout, and headed to bed earlier than usual, keen to see whether the embracing warmth of his alternate life was waiting for him.



Night/Day 4

Paul woke, sweat coursing down his face and body. His first waking thought was that he didn’t want to be awake, he wanted to be back in his utopian dream town. His second waking thought was to again record everything he could remember.

Duration: The full day experience yet again. I can definitely sense that I awoke in dream town the moment I fell asleep here. That in itself is strange as I am sure dreams do not normally begin the moment you fall asleep. And again, that feeling of having experiences every waking moment of a full day.

Setting: This other home feels more like home each time I visit it. I walk places with a familiar knowledge of where they are, no hesitation, no thoughts to find my bearings, I just go. This lunchtime walk seems to be a common activity, today I walked in the opposite direction, taking my lunch with me and finding a pleasant spot overlooking a river, where I sat and read (no recall of the book for now) while I ate. After work I went to a bar or tavern with my two co-workers. The bar definitely had a European feel and I am almost convinced we are somewhere in Eastern Europe or the Balkans.

People: Whereas my real life is often solitary, here in my dream life things are very different. I have friends, real friends rather than virtual connections, and we actually spend time together. The trip to the bar with my co-workers is the perfect example. The camaraderie, the belonging, feels so real that it is almost tangible. There was no forced nature to our interactions, no desire to escape the company of those you share your working day with. Conversation flowed easily, we joked together, we laughed together. I get a feeling that these friendships go back to a time before work, perhaps unsurprising given it is a small town, and it is likely we went to school together. This is shared experience, there is no boss or hierarchy in our relationship. I now know, or now remember, their names. The taller one (I have to differentiate by height as we seem to be the same age, reinforcing the feeling that we went to school together) is called Anton, and the shorter – than both of us – one is called Franc. This sort of confirms my thoughts of us being in a Slavic country, but does not offer enough uniqueness for me to identify a specific country.

Traffic: This has become unimportant to me. I am focusing far more on the sense of home, the sense of this being a reality.

Me: I continue to feel more at home as the dream me than the waking me. Yet my own name and face still seem to evade me. Despite lots of conversation with Franc and Anton, parts of their speech appear to be mumbled, the very parts where I presume they speak my name. Similarly, any points in the dream where there should be an opportunity to see my reflection, getting ready, shop windows, and the like, seem to be just out of focus. Why my subconscious would keep these details from me while flooding me with so much other data is a mystery. There’s a word which has, in the way of such words, been on the tip of my tongue for the last couple of days, hyperreal. To use the simple dictionary definition, hyperreal means, marked by extraordinary vividness. I could go deeper and start discussing the concepts of simulation and the simulacrum as put forward in Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard, but the main thing I remember from reading, or trying to read, that book was a sense of confusion. My curiosity is piqued, however, and I quickly revert to Professor Google to see if there is a simple version of what Baudrillard said.

Baudrillard argues that a simulacrum is not a copy of the real, but becomes truth in its own right, aka the hyperreal. He created four steps of reproduction: (1) basic reflection of reality, (2) perversion of reality; (3) pretence of reality (where there is no model); and (4) simulacrum, which "bears no relation to any reality whatsoever."

I can see some sense in this. My dreams are a simulacrum, and it does seem to have become its own truth for sure. Is it a perversion of reality? It depends on how you define ‘perversion’. If you accept this humdrum world of social media addiction as ‘normality’, then this dream simulacrum where people still interact and have real connections is then some form of perversion. But I struggle with Baudrillard’s fourth stage. My dreams are some form of reality, even if it only exists in isolated corners of the globe. I read further but the discussions again get to the state of confusion – at least for me - and I return to my notes.

Home: That feeling of comfort continues to assert itself. In this episode I notice more personal details, some pictures of me with a beautiful woman of around my age, though I have no idea of her name or indeed the relationship we have. When I look in the bathroom, there is a second toothbrush and several feminine products such as moisturiser and make-up. Am I in a relationship? Or is it a recently ended one where the sad echoes of a lost love have yet to be fully exorcised? Given my luck in real world romances, I lean towards the latter, though given the utopian flavours of this hyperreal adventure, maybe it could be the latter.



***

The distraction from this latest episode was so great that Paul decided to call in sick. He knew if there was anything urgent, his boss would email him and he could deal with it from home.

He made a cursory breakfast and sat, unsure of what to do, in front of the television, flicking between the various channels of banal mediocrity that seemed to placate the masses. Television and social media, between them managing to dumb down the masses. This crap was the very reason he normally only switched on his set for football or to watch something via Netflix or download. Maybe it was the rosy view brought by passing years and a sprinkling of nostalgia, but he was sure television was better when he was younger, and that was with far fewer channels than the infinite number of excruciating choices there seemed to be now.

He switched off the TV and went to his computer. He had previously resisted the idea of doing any sort of research on the dreams he was having, mainly because he was worried that most of the material would stray into the realms of fantasy and nonsense, but surely there had to be some credible research into dreams and the subconscious?

The first site he clicked on confirmed what he had already thought.

We sleep in cycles. We first experience REM 70 to 90 minutes after falling asleep, and we go through a number of sleep cycles throughout the night, with REM cycles increasing in length as the night goes on. People are best able to remember their dreams when awakened from REM (as opposed to naturally shifting to other parts of the sleep cycle). If you awake unnaturally (through an alarm, for example), and the dream you just had feels unusually vivid to you, it may be because you were still in a REM stage when you woke up.”

Dreams normally occurred during the later stages of sleep when you were in your REM state. Was his belief that he went straight into dreams just his imagination and part of the whole façade his subconscious had constructed? It certainly did not feel like there was a 70-90-minute period before the dream began. He kept reading, factors which could cause vivid dreams was next, maybe some explanation lay here?

Sleep deprivation. Nope, that had never been an issue, well, except for his late teens and early twenties, and that was more due to his indulgence in psychedelics and stimulants than a physical or psychological issue.

Low blood sugar. No again. He’d only had a full medical a few weeks previously and there had been no issues at all.

Alcohol or other substances. He drank fairly moderately, rarely used prescribed or over the counter medications, and, other than the odd spliff on weekends, his recreational drug use was all behind him.

Mental health issues. Some may say the jury was out on this one, but he certainly didn’t think there were any issues in this area. He’d experienced mild depression when his mum had died, but that was just a natural part of the grieving process, and he hadn’t used anything to overcome it, just let nature take its course.

Pregnancy. Well unless there was something really weird going on, this was a non-starter.

So those were the common factors behind vivid dreaming, and none of them figured in his life. He had no real anxiety or stress in his life, just a feeling of resigned boredom.

He clicked on the next site. Ah, his old friend Baudrillard.

" We used to live in the imaginary world of the mirror, of the divided self and of the stage, of otherness and alienation. Today we live in the imaginary world of the screen, of the interface and the reduplication of contiguity and networks. All our machines are screens. We too have become screens, and the interactivity of men has become the interactivity of screens." - Jean Baudrillard, Xerox & Infinity.

Yes! Baudrillard nailed it there. Maybe he should persevere more with what he’d written. Baudrillard seemed to know and recognise that disconnection that was pervading every aspect of life today.

Perhaps more interestingly we might look at our dreams for clues to our own cycles of consumption. A kind of Marxian Dreamwork that exposes the places in our life we have turned into objects and been turned into objects, where we are the repressed workers and where we repress the worker. For Baudrillard, himself once a Marxist theorist, the world has moved past both Capitalism and Marxism into a Fractal economy where all meanings and options have fully extended & played themselves out and now just circulate the pieces around by means of a code that no one controls. The use we make of the dream relates to capitalism as much as the exchange value might. In this sense, the symbolic goes beyond the uses we can make of the dream, and any dreamwork that favors the dream over the function we make of it needs to gather this sense to continue. Still, we need to begin somewhere.”

He could see the sense in this. His dreams were an inverse image of what his life had become, they were portraying an idealistic way of life that would make him much happier. His subconscious was sending signals that his consumption, his way of life, his dependence on disconnection through faux connections, were all leading him nowhere. His relationships with Anton and Franc, and likely with others in his alternate life, were how real life should be, not this polite pretence with no true interaction or depth to the relationship. He wasn’t quite sure about the references to capitalism and Marxism, but overall these theories were definitely striking a chord.

He felt a little better after reading the rest of the page, more…connected to his own life again now that he knew the issues. It certainly made more sense that his vivid dreams were more of a metaphysical issue than something supernatural or out of a science fiction magazine. The big question now was how could he remedy the things that were wrong in his life?

He’d lost touch with most of his real friends after moving here for work, and, as was painfully obvious from the events of the last few days, he’d never managed to make any new ones beyond the cursory relationships in work and through some of the gaming sites. He had been thinking of addressing that very gap in his life when he had met Louise. The initial stages of their romance had been intense, and within six weeks they were living together. Louise had been another ‘immigrant’, leaving her family several hundred miles away to take up a position at the local hospital. The difference was, Louise seemed to have made real friends through her work, maybe it was a nurse thing, but she’d gone out with her workmates once a week. He’d tagged along a couple of times, but just didn’t seem to fit in. His announcement that he didn’t enjoy those nights out had probably been the point where their relationship started to deteriorate, or maybe it had been the long hours spent gaming on his PC.

It was strange that someone who made their living by communicating messages – albeit corporate consumer messages – to the general public found it so difficult to communicate on a one-to–one level. He was about to grab his tablet to make a ‘to do’ list when he realised that his reliance on electronic devices and social media was part of the problem. Opening his desk drawer, he retrieved an old pad and rather dusty looking pen that hadn’t seen the light of day in many months. What could he do to improve his social life and actually interact with real people?

1. Invite some of his workmates out for drinks.

This was an obvious idea, and there were a few around his own age. As long as they didn’t discuss work it could be ok.

2. Find some local gamers who played the same games as him.

Terrible idea. Gamers were, by their very nature, both solitary and competitive. Any meeting would descend into a shouting match of who was better at what. While gaming was one ‘virtual’ thing he planned on keeping, it was also something that didn’t translate well into real life.

3. Speed Dating.

He’d toyed with this idea a couple of months back when he had seen an advert…well…on Facebook of course, but he struggled to strike up a conversation with the opposite sex over the course of an hour, never mind a regulated 2 or 3 minutes. Maybe put the romance side of reality on the back burner till he’d solved some of the other issues.

4. Reconnect with old friends from back home.

Okay, he’d probably have to utilise social media in order to get away from social media, but there had been some real friends back home, people he really connected with, people very much like Anton and France. He’d grown up with Graham and Matt, for example, and in the latter stages of high school and those first tentative forays into attempted adulthood, they had been almost inseparable. Yet it had been almost a year since he spoke to either of them. The only contact they had maintained had, of course, been via Facebook, the odd like, the occasional witty or pithy comment. But no real conversation. Home, or former home, was only 2 and a half hours by train, yet he’d only been there twice in the last 9 months. Time to remedy that.



5. …

Was that it? He couldn’t think of an another idea? Well, he couldn’t think of another viable idea. But at least 2 of the ones he had noted down could possibly work.

Though he was trying to avoid social media, he was going to have to make a foray back onto it to contact Graham and Matt. Their numbers had been lost in the swirl of phone upgrades that seemed to happen every few months. One had to have the latest model after all.

Briefly logging back on, he tried to ignore the multiple notifications, friend requests, and messages that seemed to have accumulated in the space of 24 hours. He opened Messenger, started a group chat, and added Graham and Matt.

Hey guys, been too long since we talked. How are things? I managed to lose both your numbers when I last changed phones, can you send me them please? Do you have any free weekends coming up? I thought it was time that we got together again, a curry, a few beers, ok, a lot of beers, and catch up on what’s been happening. Let me know when suits.”

Satisfied, he logged off before the temptation became too much.



Night/Day 5

Paul woke, sweat coursing down his face and body. He’d thought, now that he had pinpointed the reasons behind the dreams and started a strategy to change his life, that they may have ended. But no, last night had taken hyperreality to an all new level. So much so that being awake felt less real than what he had been experiencing. He grabbed the pad and pen he had brought through to his room last night and quickly scribbled down what he could remember.

Duration: Nothing had changed, a complete waking cycle from morning to night.

Setting: I’m finding it hard to differentiate between my two ‘homes’. This one in my dream surpasses any feeling of belonging I have had here. In fact, it feels more like home than my family home with my parents. There is a greater sense of continuity in my dream home, though there is that background tinge of sadness as I know my parents in dream world have passed away. My lunchtime walk was to the same spot as yesterday (the previous night) but this time I remember the book I was reading. It was Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams, which may be strangely ironic, but which is also quite weird, as I have never read anything by Freud. Yet I have strong recall of much of what I read (of course, I will need to check this later). Is this another message from my subconscious? And will I need to read the book in this life to understand the message. This brings another thought, if I have read this book in my alternate life but not in this one, how can the passages I remember be real ones from the book?

People: It is perhaps here more than in anything else that the vividness was so pronounced this time. The daytime part of my dream was much as the previous episode, with all my interactions feeling natural and unforced. But it was in the evening where things took an unexpected yet not unwelcome turn. As I approached my house I noticed there were lights on, but given this town seems to be a place where crime is rare, I assumed I had likely left some lights on this morning. But as soon as I opened the door, I could smell Obara cooking. Wait, Obara? The name leapt unbidden from my mind to the page, yet the conscious me has no idea what it is. I quickly switch on my phone – I now turn it off before I sleep – and look the word up on Google.

Obara (stew) is a Slovene national dish. It is a stew served as an independent meal, which is cooked from various kinds of meat and internal organs.

Slovenia? Is this the location of my dream town, my hyperreal life? But it is somewhere I have never been, not even to any of the neighbouring countries. I don’t, as far as I know, have any friends or co-workers with origins in that area. Another quick search confirms that Anton and Franc are both common Slovene names. I had thought the setting could be in that area of the world and this seems to be further evidence. Maybe I watched a documentary or a travel show and my subconscious has filed some information away.

So, as soon as I had opened the door, the most delightful aromas of this Slovenian stew had assailed my senses. I walked into the kitchen and she was standing by the stove. Not she, Marija. The name known before I knew who she was. It was like suddenly being infused with information when before there had been none. This was my partner, my lover, my best friend. It was like opening my eyes after having been forever blind. As I write this, I know it’s from a dream but the feelings are so strong that I sit in the real world yearning for someone who only exists in my dream world.

She turns, smiling, and puts down the spoon she was using to stir the stew and comes running over to hug me. ‘My darling, I have missed you so much.’ I hold her close, smell her hair, itself bringing back a hundred memories. ‘Ljubljana was so much fun, but it would have been more fun if you had been with me. Katja and Natasa send their love and promise to visit us soon. Now go, Dušan, go have a shower. Dinner will be ready in 20 minutes.’

I am Dušan. Finally, I know my own name, spoken by this creature of dreams who is part of my heart. And as I know the name, I know the meaning too, for it is an old name coming from the Slovene word for ‘soul’. Another message from my mind? A soul named soul seems almost too obvious, yet also completely appropriate.

I am lost, lost in a connection that does not truly exist, yet which is greater than anything I have ever known. I think about my strategies to change how my life is here in reality and I mourn for something I never really had.

Traffic: Nothing to say again.

Me: I had thought that by trying to find myself in the waking world, these subconscious messages in my dreams would lessen or even disappear altogether. Instead I find myself in love, or in love with an idea. I am not sure how or why feelings can translate from my hyperreal world to this one, but that is what they seemed to have done in this case. When I entered my other house in the dream, everything just felt so…right, like I truly had come home. Everything about this strange Slovenian dream world has been almost perfect, an idealistic vision of how I want my life, and me, to be, though I still have no idea where the setting has come from.

And…the sex. Of course, I’ve had my fair share of erotic dreams in my life, but there was always a solid sense of them being dreams. Whereas when we made love last night, it was like nothing I had experienced previously, awake or asleep. Everything went beyond vivid, beyond sensual, beyond my wildest dreams. Though it was my wildest dream ever so I am unsure if I can say that. I remember every detail, every touch, every kiss. I want this again.

Home: What can I say that I haven’t already said? Where my previous dream had seen this house…this home be everything I wanted, the addition of Marija to that home has taken perfection further than I thought imaginable. It’s almost like when doing a jigsaw puzzle as a child. Gradually a picture begins to take shape, but the real satisfaction comes in those final few minutes as the last few pieces fall into place. Marija was the final piece of that jigsaw, a jigsaw that, ironically, I am trying to get rid of. Once these dreams have ended, for I know they will end, how substantial is a memory of something that never really existed? How can anything in my waking life every compare to what I have lived and experienced these last few days.

***

It was Saturday, a day when Paul would normally head into town to do some shopping, maybe grab something for brunch or lunch, and even sometimes have a few beers before heading home. He’d split the rest of the day up between a marathon gaming session then some movies and a takeaway with some wine or more beers. Never anything constructive, but that was how weekends had been since the relationship ended.

Today he felt lacklustre and generally ambivalent to life. He moved from bed to sofa, gazing at whatever it was on the television with no interest or concentration. Was he going mad? He realised there was a certain irony in being highly skilled at communicating messages to the general public while being pretty much of a loner in real life. But he could not remember his subconscious having ever sent such powerful messages before. And if his subconscious was trying to tell him that he needed a new direction, a new way of life, then why was the dream world so removed from his own, not only in how he lived his life, but the location so far from where he actually lived?

What the dreams had done was make him look closely, not only at his own life but at how society was evolving into something less than it was before. Or should that be devolving? Humans had the greatest tool for gaining knowledge that had ever existed, yet the internet seemed more full of nonsense and inanity than anything else. His daily newsfeed would contain multiple examples, from the ludicrous notion of the earth being flat to the satire which could be fake news and the fake news which could be real. It was becoming harder to differentiate as to what was real anymore and Paul could not see that situation improving.

Communication seemed to have gone back to the days of Ancient Egypt, with emojis taking the place of hieroglyphics. He even remembered reading an article that several novels had been published in text speak. wz DIS truly whr d wrld wz hedin? Even thinking that sentence in text speak made his head hurt. The species was losing its way on a global scale, descending into something that they may never recover from. If humans became extinct, what would any alien civilisation think if they came to earth and the only relics to be found were from the social media era?

He knew it was time to make more than the slight life changes he had considered. A rural location sounded appealing and he imagined that a smaller local population could actually increase the chances of real socialisation and communication than in an urban setting where finding like minds was a never ending chore. In those rural areas, people came together out of necessity and had to depend on each other, especially if the area was prone to extreme weather.

Even with these ideas in his head, he somehow knew he would never achieve that utopian level of happiness he had enjoyed in his dreams. He also knew that the dreams would end and that he would lose Marija and everything else he had found. One day he had been hoping for them to end, the next he was hoping they never would. But it was a forlorn hope, and knowing this filled him with despair.

Throughout the day, nothing could hold his interest for long. He quickly lost interest in gaming, became bored with films or programmes after ten minutes or so, and had no inclination to head into town. The one positive was that he remained away from Facebook, refusing to be dragged back into a morasses of self-affirmation through a thumbs-up sign or a reply. Evening arrived and he ordered a pizza, but it tasted as bland as the rest of the day had been. He sought solace in a forgotten bottle of whisky from Xmas, allowing inebriation to envelop him in its warm embrace, and finally falling into a drunken stupor on the sofa.



Night/Day 6

Dušan woke, sweat coursing down his face and body. It took a few minutes for him to realise he was in his own bed, the sheer scale of the reality of the dream he had just left causing temporary disorientation. No dream he had experienced before this had seemed so real. It hadn’t been a nightmare, no horrors or demons or surreal events. It was the ordinariness of the dream that had so caught him unawares, that and the almost lucid feeling that he, or his subconscious, was controlling what was happening.

He looked to his side and there was the familiar and comforting sight of Marija, still sleeping with arms draped round a pillow as always. What a strange dream. It had been ordinary, in fact bland in its ordinariness. But it had also been frightening. Such loneliness, such disconnection from the world around his dream persona.

He gave thanks that his life had some meaning, that he had friends and a loving partner. Smiling, he cuddled into Marija and went back to sleep. This time, he didn’t dream.







昔者莊周夢為胡蝶,栩栩然胡蝶也,自喻適志與。不知周也。

Once, Zhuang Zhou dreamed he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering about, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know that he was Zhuang Zhou.



俄然覺,則蘧蘧然周也。不知周之夢為胡蝶與,胡蝶之夢為周與。周與胡蝶,則必有分矣。此之謂物化。

Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuang Zhou. But he didn't know if he was Zhuang Zhou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming that he was Zhuang Zhou. Between Zhuang Zhou and the butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.



— Zhuangzi, chapter 2



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