So, as I start typing this, it’s 5AM in the morning. I’m typically not awake this early — particularly not in the wee morning hours of a holiday. I don’t even typically remember my dreams. But I’m awake right now because about half an hour ago I awoke very suddenly, jolted by the realism, vividness, and intensity of the dream.
I’ll be up front, and consider this a content warning: My dream ends with a bunch of pissed off guards violently dragging my good friend into a room and shooting him in the head.
I debated whether to write this all down — and for a couple of reasons. (1) I’m at the tail end of a somewhat emotional place right now. I was sincerely frightened for my friend up until the moment he was shot and I awoke. And there’s just something about the ultra-sincerity and subsequent vulnerability of sharing and interpreting a dream that to me feels just a bit, like, obscene? Maybe a little bit embarrassing? After I awakened, it was very clear to me what my dream meant. My dream was in no way subtle. (2) For a little bit, I debated whether to write this down because of reasons related to political correctness. My dream starts with me waking up in what can most accurately be described as a prison. Obviously I have no real understanding of what it’s like to be in prison, and I don’t claim to. Ultimately, though, I don’t feel I can apologize for what my subconscious dreams up as a metaphor to describe some of the anxieties I’ve been having lately. So with those two caveats out of the way…
Within the confines of my dream, I wake up in what can most accurately be described as a prison. It’s all concrete — everywhere. De-saturated gray, and unusually bright, as if there are blinding light sources coming in from everywhere. But it’s confusing because there are no windows. There are no light sources. Anywhere. I’m in this huge, windowless, bright, concrete building with guards walking the halls everywhere. These guards’ uniforms are all desaturated gray as well. The only thing on these guards — and certainly the only thing in this dystopian building that isn’t dull in color are the guns that each of the guards have holstered on their sides. These guns are each a thick, bold, deep black. They glimmer in the source-less bright lights of this building. (Who knew that my subconscious was such a fan of Chekhovian dramatic irony?)
Eventually a guard tells me to follow him, and he leads me into a large, gray, concrete, rectangular hall. There are maybe two dozen guards here — these ones with assault rifles — lining each of the four walls. There is a huge semi-transparent, semi-obscured plastic panel maybe 20 yards above one of the walls, behind which I can make out maybe a dozen more guards observing us.
“Us.” In the center of this hall, many of my closest friends and I — activists and organizers of the Sacramento Left — are sitting on gray metal benches. At first, none of my friends and I are speaking to one another, but there is a heaviness in the air, and without speaking we all quickly, implicitly understand why we’re here. The guards and whoever put us here do not like us. They do not want us to believe the things we believe, and they do not want us to do the things we are doing. (Look, what did I tell you? I told you at the very top of whatever this piece of writing is that this stuff wasn’t going to be subtle. I’m a little embarrassed too.) The other thing my friends and I all understand implicitly is that we all have to get out of here… and so the stage of the drama is set.
A lot of time passes. Much of this time is spent by my friends and I just talking with one another. Some of these conversations are positive, reminiscing about good times. When we reminisce too happily, though — for example, maybe we all laugh a little too loudly — the guards get mad at us, and we quiet down. Other conversations, we quietly conspire. The guards don’t like this either, and so they break us up if too many of us get too quiet for too long. Every now and then a guard will hold a class about how to behave in society, letting us know what being a “good citizen” looks like. Resentment among my friends builds, and builds, and builds. None of my friends ever speak to one another about this resentment, but we all understand it. The resentment builds to what feels like a breaking point. That we are all forced to be in this concrete prison — and pushed around by these nameless guards — feels deeply, profoundly morally unjust.
Right before this resentment hits an absolute breaking point, a chubby elderly guard walks into the hall. This guard looks substantially, qualitatively different from the rest of the guards. For one, he’s chubby. The rest of the guards are uniformly thin — and young. Yet this chubby, elderly guard has lots of vivid color in his cheeks — bright pinks, bright reds. The most jarring thing is that he’s smiling. He’s happy. He does something unprecedented; he sits at one of the tables with us. He engages us in conversation.
“Look guys, I know this all feels unfair. I get it,” he says, resting his gun down on the table. “I want to let you know that I understand where you’re coming from, and I want to hear you all out.”
I walk over to the short edge of the table where this elderly guard is sitting, and I pretend to be sympathetic… I pretend to stammer and be in deep thought, letting my friends get into position. I feel the tenseness in the air. Again, none of my friends and I have spoken about what we’re about to do, but we all understand what we must do. The elderly guard looks at me with soft, sympathetic eyes. I can tell he genuinely wants to hear what I have to say.
Suddenly, I violently kick at the table. The elderly guard is taken aback, disoriented.
“What the, what?” the guard stammers. Then his eyes go wide, gasping. “Where the f*ck is my gun?”
The guards lining the halls raise their assault rifles. The elderly guard is scanning the room.
Suddenly, one of my friends — the most non-violent, non-confrontational person you’ll ever meet — raises the elderly guard’s gun at the elderly guard. “Take this, asshole” — and shoots. The elderly guard falls.
Just as suddenly, one of the guards from the sides shoots my friend’s arm. My friend drops the gun, and guards swarm him.
My dream shifts towards an omniscient point of view as I watch the guards violently drag my friend into another room. My heart is pounding. The guards sit my friend on a bright brown wooden chair. My friend knows what’s coming to him. He’s silent in defiance, unafraid. One of the guards raises a gun to my friend’s head. I’m tearing inside. Pop… and I wake up.
I’m not going to bother with the obvious interpretations of my dream. Like I said, my subconscious was not being subtle.
What I will share, though, is that for the past month or so, two things in particular have been weighing on me.
(1) In a few months, I will turn 29 years old, and in reflecting upon this I’ve been somewhat mindful of how my attitude towards myself, my actions, and the world has shifted through the years. When I was 19, it felt like time was endless, and I had endless potential to decide whatever I wanted to do. Nothing I did felt like it had that deep, sturdy sort of weight and meaning. When I was 24, I went through a period where I wasn’t quite sure if there was such a thing as meaning. I guess you could describe this as “depression,” and I guess maybe I was depressed, but it’s the sort of particular depression that people in their younger to mid-twenties have about navigating life — the uncertainty, the un-knowledge of it All, mixed in with (at least in my case) arrogance and being completely out of touch with my emotions. Now in my late twenties, I am certain that existential meaning exists. This certainty is not something I can rationally explain. Insofar as I’m aware, there is no rational explanation — and even if there was, I wouldn’t care for it. That my actions have consequences, and that these consequences have weight and meaning, and that more broadly people have the responsibility to bring themselves up and bring others up and make this world a better place — these are certainties I have way beyond rationality. Ultimately it is a faith. It is a belief. And so too in my late-twenties have I begun to be able to really imagine my mortality. Having a decade of adult experiences under my belt, I feel that I can begin to start to quantify my life and begin to project what my life may look like, in as much as anyone is able to start to quantify and project their lives. I’m trying my best neither to live in fantasy nor to live in nihilism, but to live every day trying to do my best and grow just a little for its own sake (although I often fail), and then to live in reality to see how what I’m doing now may contribute to who I may become a week, a month, a year, a decade from now, etc.
(2) Particularly in the last month, I feel it is fair to say that I have been hustling my ass off between my organizing job and building my media company. This over-work has often led me to be unhappy. And while I don’t believe in or subscribe to hustle culture, I do believe I have the responsibility to try my best to actualize who I can become, and in this pursuit I sometimes have to make the active, conscious choice to choose meaning over happiness, and that this choice — and the larger meta-frame of growth — must often include periods of stretching myself.
Here’s an interpretation of my dream that’s less obvious, forget the politics: at least in the very short period of the last month, I feel I have been rubbing up against the limits of my potential. I fear it is not enough, and maybe the very nature of existence is the prison; the limits of my potential are the guards, and deep down I may believe I am not enough for the nature of things/the world.
When I was 19, I hated a sort of… I don’t know the best way to put it, maybe “neoliberal state of being”? It’s this mindset of over-concentration on “becoming the best person you can be.” It’s an overemphasis on your career as a mode of changing the world. It’s this constant worrying of how the world sees you — caring more about your branding than the actual works which you produce for the world.
As I type this, I am very aware that 19 year old me would hate me. He would think I was a complete and utter sellout.
While I do think I care about the actual works which I produce for the world more than my branding, I’ve also grown increasingly aware that if no one sees what I’m doing, or if no one thinks that what I’m doing is good, then my bad branding hurts my potential to do more good, actual works. In the last month in particular, I’ve put lots of conscious thought into how I can use social media to amplify and advertise the stuff I’ve been doing.
Not to mention, I am literally a small business owner helping people advertise and brand their own works — 19 year old me might have needed a trash can for his vomit. Jolie Media is astoundingly not profitable — my expenses far, far, far outweigh the revenue I’ve generated. But if I’m being honest with myself, Jolie Media is a compromise with my soul. It’s a way for me to incorporate art into my busy life — while also building political relationships and doing more work beyond the organizing I do for my organizing job.
…look, I worry this is going to come off as a copout of a conclusion. But I’m reflecting as I type this that I have to become more at peace with the nature of things.
It occurs to me that if I feel that I am rubbing up against the limits of my potential, then my decision whether or not to be at peace with my actions in the world — and the actions of others, more broadly — is a judgment upon the nature of existence. The question becomes, will I accept the nature of things? Will I accept — look, just forgive me for this language, these are for me the best metaphors I can use for these sort of things — God’s creation? Or will I reject God’s creation? And to me the only thing that won’t damn my existence is to try my best to accept the things beyond my control.
…well, I’m already getting way too transparently vulnerable, so let’s go all the way deep down into my insanity: I’ve been reflecting a lot about Nietzsche’s concepts of “the eternal recurrence” and “amor fati.”
The idea, as I understand it, is that if you were to live your life over and over and over into eternity, the choice one could make is to choose to love every second of that existence. To love life. To celebrate life. “Amor” — to love — “fati” — life.
I am fearful about my potential in this life, and although I am not there yet, as I type this I am realizing that I am wanting to want to fully, sincerely, totally love life. I will continue on in my journey and continue my best to grow.