Self-Image

February 6, 2011

For the last three years I had been growing my hair out. By a week ago it was maybe a foot long, kept tied back in a ponytail. Then last Saturday I got a haircut.

Almost immediately, my head felt lighter, and I felt naked. But that went away soon. It took longer to adjust to seeing myself. For several days it was jarring to see myself in the mirror–who is that person with short hair? Ah, right, it’s me. Even when I got used to mirrors, though, my shadow confused me, I think because it was just as different as my reflection but having less detail and so with a less obvious explanation.

This has all gotten me thinking about how one visualizes oneself in one’s memory. One doesn’t see oneself from a third-person perspective in real life, but many memories, I have found, are in fact from a third-person perspective (just another indication that memory is extraordinarily unreliable), and the person appearing in the place of the main character, so to speak, doesn’t always look as one did when one was the age one was in the memory. Often one sees oneself in one’s current appearance, even if one’s physical appearance has changed radically.

For example, I know that, when I had long hair, my memories from back when I had short hair would show me having long hair, despite that being impossible. Or, when viewing a memory from recent years but in which I considered myself to have done something immature or childish, I would often (unconsciously) fill in the me with short hair, rather than the me that actually was at that point in time.

At this point I wonder two things. 1) How long will it take me to adjust my “default” self-image to be short-haired me, rather than long-haired? The instinct is to say “a long time,” but I suspect that somehow it won’t be that long–it takes the human brain a surprisingly short time to form new habits. 2) Once I have done so, will I now have three self-images, younger-short-hair, long-hair, and older-short-hair, and choose one for each memory based on some more complex criteria than simply “immature” and “mature”? Will it perhaps be “childish,” “adolescent,” and “adult”?

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I Was There In My Dreams

May 24, 2009

I had a very strange and vivid dream a few nights ago. It went something like this:

It is raining and dark outside. The world is coming to an end, and only I can save it. But I decide doing so would be too hard, so I don’t. Instead, I somehow break into someone’s car, steal the CD player lying on the floor of their car, and begin walking around – I’m apparently at a university of some sort, though not the one I attend. I’m looking for CDs to listen to, because I need to find the right music to listen to – maybe this was how I was supposed to save the world in the first place, I don’t quite recall.

But the first CD I find is filled with really bad music (which I listen to anyway – the rest of the dream has a truly horrible soundtrack), and after that, every time I pick up what looks like a CD (these things are lying around everywhere – on tables, in chairs, on bookshelves, etc), it turns out to be a DVD. I know I saw a DVD of season 3 of the Simpsons, and a few movies I can’t remember. I keep frantically walking around trying to find something good to listen to, but couldn’t. Then I woke up.

Where am I going with this? Well, partially, just to relate the story of this strange dream I had. But also, to point out how much more… exciting, in certain ways, this dream was than reality. And how much more exciting every dream, really every story worth telling, is than reality.

We tell stories about things we have no experience in – how many of us have ever actually had to save the world (none), or lead an army into battle (almost none), or even been in war at all (some, but not anywhere near a majority)? Most people have had romantic entanglements of some kind, but how many have been as intense as those of Romeo and Juliet – they both commit suicide rather than live without the other – or Othello, who kills his wife out of jealousy then commits suicide when he realizes he was tricked? (None.) In a sense, literature isn’t about life at all. It’s about what life could be – about a potential that few of us will ever realize.

I don’t think this makes it worthless. Nor do I think it means we ought to move to a literature that is about everyday life, excluding anything extraordinary. Partially, because doing so means moving to a literature that is boring. But also because doing so means saying that the world as it is, and our life as it is, is all that there can be. There is no potential for anything better.

The title of this post is a reference to a song by TYR called Dreams. It’s about what this post is about – how mythology isn’t about life, but it’s about what we dream about, what is possible but not actual.


Ten-Day!

November 2, 2008

I just got back from my Fall Break and traveling around Europe, known colloquially among the students as “10-day” (we get a Friday and all of the next week off, so 6 school days off plus two weekends is 10 days).

I have a lot of random stories from it, naturally, and I’ll give a brief run-through of what we did here. The names of the people I was traveling with will be changed, mainly because it’s more fun this way.

Thursday, 23/10 – I began my journey Thursday after classes, taking a night train to Zurich along with “Beleg” and “Gwindor”. We met a Catholic doctor from India on the train who told us random stuff about his home country, then went to bed.

Friday 24/10 – We got to Zurich and wandered around the city. There were a bunch of churches, and we decided to walk into some of them, but disappointingly (and I suppose we should have expected this) most of them were Protestant instead of Roman Catholic. We didn’t actually do much else. We went out to eat, had some beer, then went to our hotel (we mistakenly booked one near the airport, which is far away from the train station and everything else; ah well) and were in bed by 10PM.

Saturday 25/10 – We took an early morning train to Cologne, where we went to our hostel, dropped off our stuff, and walked down the Rhine till we reached the cathedral (which was Gothic – a refreshing change from the omnipresent Baroque Roman churches). The cathedral is amazing, though unfortunately it’s very touristy and they don’t do a good job of preserving a sacred atmosphere. We went to vigil mass there that night though, and that was awesome. German hymns with organ music sound amazing. Then we went to sleep.

Sunday 26/10 – Beleg and Gwindor both took a train to Freiburg at 11AM, but I stayed in Cologne for the day. (I was to meet up with Beleg on Tuesday in Vienna, and with Gwindor again on Friday in Munich.) Basically, I wandered around the city for eight hours, until 7PM when my train left for Munich. I got there at midnight and slept in the McDonald’s. Fun. Why was I going by myself to Munich, you ask? To meet up with Nienor and Morwen. Morwen was catching a plane Monday morning in Munich (alliteration!), and I was then to begin traveling with Nienor, meeting up with Beleg again Tuesday morning in Vienna. And yes, this plan was unnecessarily complicated.

Monday 27/10 – And so, after a terrible night’s sleep in the McDonald’s in the Munich train station, I met Nienor and Morwen, went to the airport with them, then went back to the train station with Nienor. We decided to go to Salzburg (which is between Munich and Vienna, so it’s on the way) for the afternoon. There we ran into Celegorm, Caranthir, and Curufin (which was completely unexpected), went up to the big fortress on the hill, then split off from the three guys because they had already been to the Mozart Wohnhaus and told us we ought to go. Then we had dinner, caught a train to Vienna, and spent an hour trying to find our hostel even though it should have taken twenty minutes. Then bed.

Tuesday 28/10 – After we met back up with Beleg at the train station, we just wandered around Vienna, saw the cathedral, and decided to go to a concert that night by the Vienna Residence Orchestra. We picked up our bikes (more on this later) at around 4PM, rode them back to the hostel, and went to the concert at 8PM. The concert was amazing – the concertmaster had a Stradivarius, actually, and it was held in a small room (probably only about two hundred seats) so we could hear it really well with no microphones or anything. Apparently they have these concerts every night – probably they get decent attendance, since every tourist who comes to Vienna will be thinking of Mozart and saying to himself, “I should listen to some music while here!”. Then back to the same hostel for bed.

Wednesday 29/10 – So, I may have left you confused when I mentioned “bikes” and said nothing more… essentially, about a week before we left Nienor decided it would be cool to spend two days biking along a trail that goes down the Danube river. So we rented bikes on Tuesday and on Wednesday morning caught a train to Melk, which is about 120km up the river from Vienna, and began to bike back. The actual biking began around noon. Among other adventures, Nienor caused a three-car accident on the highway (she was standing at a cross-walk about to cross, but wasn’t actually walking forward, and the cars got confused, one slammed on its brakes, and the two behind it didn’t stop in time – actually a cop witnessed the whole thing and then yelled at Nienor in German and asked for her passport and place of residence), and, just as the sun was setting (at about 5PM), got lost trying to get to the next town and had to drag our bikes up a steep hill to the highway, bike along it for a while in the dark, then go 20km along the river in complete darkness except for our bike lights (one of which was broken). We then got to the tiny town of Altenworth (which is so small it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page) and stayed in a random bed and breakfast (and ordered pizza for dinner, since there were absolutely no restaurants in town and the stores were all closed – at 7PM). This was definitely the most interesting day of the trip.

Thursday 30/10 – This day of biking was much more peaceful. We basically just got up, left at 9PM, and were there by 2PM. (It was about 60km of biking each day, but the second day was much more even ground so it wasn’t as long – even considering we got lost for went the wrong way for half an hour.) We returned the bikes to the rental place, rode the ferris wheel, and bummed around Munich until 8PM, at which point we tried to catch a train to Munich. Except that this train didn’t exist, the one at midnight required a reservation, and so we ended up booking a random hostel at 1AM and getting up to catch another train at 6AM. So, we spent about 20 euros for 4.5 hours of sleep.

Friday 31/10 – We caught the train to Munich, got to the city, and immediately began running into other classmates (there’s a tradition of everyone meeting up in Munich at the end of 10-day, so this was not unexpected). We did a free walking tour of the city, then had dinner, went back to our hostel, and prepared to go to the Hofbrauhaus (a famous beer garden). At the hostel we met up with various other UD-ers, including Gwindor, Celegorm, Caranthir, and Curufin. (I won’t bother naming everyone we saw at this point because there’d be about 50 of them.) There we had some drinks, went back to the hostel, and slept.

Saturday 1/11 – This being All Saints’ Day, we had to go to mass, and decided to go to the 10AM mass at the cathedral (again, Gothic, though redone after WWII – WWII basically screwed over all of Munich, actually). Once again, German hymns and organ music are amazing together. We had lunch, climbed the tower of St. Peter’s (another church in Munich – the city has an absurd number of churches, it felt like almost as many as in Rome), and bummed around the city until 6PM, when we went to a vigil mass (the next day being Sunday) at St. Peter’s (unfortunately, Baroque). Again, German hymns + organ music = awesome. Then back to the Hofbrauhaus, where we saw more UDers, had more to drink, and got in an argument with drunk Germans who supported Obama (I was better at German than they were at English, which was gratifying). Now, that night, most of us had planned to stay up all night, but what we had not considered was, after drinking 2-4 liters of beer, you’re not really in the mood to be awake… so almost everyone actually decided to get a hostel after all. But Beleg, Celegorm, and I decided we didn’t want to pay for it and slept in the train station (and we were more sober than most of them anyway, so it wasn’t necessary for us to be somewhere safe). So I’ve actually slept in the Munich train station on two non-consecutive nights.

Sunday 2/11 – This was basically a travel day. We woke up (well, we had been in and out of sleep all night – McDonald’s is not the best place to get a good night’s sleep), went upstairs, found everyone who was catching the same train (which was good, since a lot of them had been quite inebriated the night before
and we weren’t sure they would make it to the train, but they did – the people I know did, anyway). The train ride was from 9AM to 7PM, and I slept (having gotten little sleep the night before) and read Merchant of Venice. Then we were back in Rome.

So, that’s the story of my 10-day. I’m sure it was somewhat boring (it’s just a sequence of events, after all, no real story arch), and it doesn’t quite get across the feeling of what it was like to be there, but it does tell you what I was doing for the last 10 days and why I haven’t been posting. So, I consider my storytelling duties satisfied.

Oh, and one last thing; I managed to memorize the Hail Mary in German while listening to them say the Rosary before mass three times.

Gegrüßet seist du, Maria, voll der Gnade, der Herr ist mit dir. Du bist gebenedeit unter den Frauen, und gebenedeit ist die Frucht deines Leibes, Jesus.

Heilige Maria, Mutter Gottes, bitte für uns Sünder jetzt und in der Stunde
unseres Todes.
Amen


Dream Narrative

October 10, 2007

Calvin

I had a quite strange dream last night.

I was Calvin, from Calvin and Hobbes. I was with Hobbes, of course, and was playing (what else?) Calvinball. For those who don’t know, Calvinball is… well,

Other kids’ games are all such a bore!
They’ve gotta have rules and they gotta keep score!
Calvinball is better by far!
It’s never the same! It’s always bizarre!
You don’t need a team or a referee!
You know that it’s great, ’cause it’s named after me!

— Calvin

Anyway, we were playing indoors for whatever reason. (You know how those things are in dreams.) Suddenly Hobbes went over to the window and told me to come look at something. There were a bunch of blue jays outside (not that I know what a blue jay looks like – I just knew that’s what kind of bird they were). Hobbes said they were playing calvinball, and playing it better than we were.

Suddenly, they started bringing stuff to us. It seemed to have something to do with the game. When we inspected their gifts, however, they turned out to be body parts of birds –  heads, talons, wings. They weren’t bleeding, or messy at all, but they were clearly from actual birds.

The dream then ended. (Or, rather, shifted to a completely different setting such that I’m even sure it was the same dream. This second one was less interesting; it had to do with physics class or something…) For some reason I remembered it.

Why am I relating this narrative? Because of this blog post from Heaven Tree, which I happened to read a few days ago (I have absolutely no connection to the author, but it looks like an interesting blog so I might start reading it regularly). The above dream narrative sounds full of mystical significance, at least to me. But it doesn’t really mean anything; it resulted, most likely, from my brain randomly piecing together stuff that had been floating around in my head the previous day. And, detail-less as it is, I’m not even sure if the details there are are correct. Was I really Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes? I think so, but I’m also pretty sure the dream was in three dimensions. I have no idea what Hobbes looks like in three dimensions. So how could I have been Calvin, and my companion Hobbes?

And what the hell does it mean for blue jays to be playing calvinball better than Calvin? It sounds like something out of T. H. White –  remember the wild geese, and how man supposedly wouldn’t fight wars if he learned how to fly?

But even if it makes no sense, it still seems full of mystical significance. What this indicates, perhaps, is that this sort of artistic mysticism is really just randomness, and its mystic appearance comes from the human impulse to find order and meaning in things that are really random. If that’s the case, then, does that mean that things of this nature are worthless? Was this dream worthless?

I don’t think it was, because meaningful or not, it still seems like a rather beautiful image. Meaningless, but haunting, I would say.  Perhaps that is the nature of most art – randomness that we attempt to find meaning in, and sometimes succeed, but even if we fail it doesn’t matter. All I know right now is, I’m not going to be able to forget the image of blue jays bringing body parts as gifts while playing calvinball for a long time.


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