When I was in high school I used to have this recurring dream.
(Is there anything less interesting than other people’s dreams? Alas, we soldier on…)
In my dream I am always sitting in the backseat of a car, something halfway between a cab and a limo. I am sitting faced forward and looking at the rear head rest of the driver’s side seat.
It is quiet. The car is humming along. There is a small rocking back and forth. It is night and very dark and headlights bob ahead in the distance.
I am sleepy. Heavy. And this is the moment I notice the person to my right.
We are close and it is warm and cocoon-like in our nearness. The backs of our hands are close enough to feel the hairs brush past each other.
And then with suspension and a breath catching softness, that person and I decide to hold hands – my right in their left. Soft and warm and simple. We do not look. We simply touch and ride and shake in the gentle back and forth of the darkness.
And that’s when I wake up.
When I usually tell this story, I put a postscript on it. I say the person was different every time. I say that there was nothing overtly sexual in what was happening. I say I can feel the feeling of holding their hand like I can hold an object right this moment. I know it with a palpable familiarity.
These are true things.
There were a startlingly various number of people that held my hand in the back of that car. Alan Lewis who played Jesus in Godspell my freshman year. Octavio Lara who had a thin mustache and worked at a Starbucks near to me. Isabel Lazo who’s family owned an awesome Mexican restaurant in downtown Chicago. Sara Swain, my 8th grade best friend. Tom whose last name I don’t remember who played Smee in my community theater’s production of Peter Pan and called me “Wendy, Dahhlling.”
I also used to say that the person sitting next to me was always someone I was in conflict with. I always explained this dream as a subconscious effort to resolve some sort of internal dispute. It was my way of working out something that was bugging me about that person. It was my lizard brain’s way of getting over a grudge.
That’s the part that’s not totally the truth.
I think that I add this last bit when explaining the dream because of this: it felt so real. It was so intensely emotional an experience. It seemed like there had to be some higher reason for it. What happened after I held hands with someone in that car at night was that I felt like I was in love with them.
I don’t mean in a 16 year old crush-y kind of way. I mean this intense red enveloping ensnaring feeling of love for another human being. And though there were people like Alan that I was definitely feeling sexual about (oh beautiful Jesus/Alan and his curly curly hair) this feeling was something a bit unlike anything I had words for. I would wake up and feel this sensation from the tips of my toes right through those fingers that had falsely felt that other person.
It seemed that I had become one with this random set of semi-strangers. I loved them. I felt like I knew them. It seemed as if we had shared something deep and tender.
But of course, “we” had shared nothing. I had felt moved by this wave of emotion, but that wave only existed in me. It was intense and consuming, but it wasn’t something that the person and I had in common. So it was a little awkward to meet up with these folks in real life, feeling so intensely about them and wanting to re-connect to that magical feeling of one-ness. Almost a little like the feeling of getting a bit drunk with a friend and proclaiming an eternal bond and love. In the moment it’s so palpable and that next day it’s all a bit of a fog. A cheap trick of the wine.
I think I put that PS on the dream because the feeling was so real and meant so much to me, that I needed to explain it somehow.
We do this with our works, don’t we? We do this when we see things that move us. They make us feel so much that we believe we must make sense of them. We must understand what in them is doing that. We have to make sense of why we’ve made them and how they work on us. We must explain to others what we’ve done.
I want to make a case for removing that PS in our art practice. I want to make a case for just enjoying the hand holding, regardless of what it might mean.
I could invent a reason that I’d have to resolve something with Tom or Sara, but that was put on after, it wasn’t really part of the dream. The real message wasn’t some deeper intellectual machination. It was the beautiful and encompassing feeling. It was the fact that I, as this young person, for the first time felt opened up to being filled so full. The feeling was the point. It was the totality of what was happening. And by pretending that it was about something else – a hidden desire to resolve interpersonal conflict that doesn’t really exist – it makes the thing that it really is a bit less mysterious and lovely.
Sometimes our work is just that, two people holding hands in the back of a car in your dreams. It’s not there to explain or “do” anything else. It is meaningful because it allows us the opportunity to open up to feelings we’ve never known in our actual lives. Perhaps they’re feelings we couldn’t know outside of this place. And I think there’s a pressure often to want the work to be more than that. I think that especially as Americans we want to know that we’ve gotten to the bottom of the thing, achieved whatever goal is there to retrieve. And feeling for the sake of itself is a tough sell.
Sometimes a color or a sound or a movement doesn’t have to be unpacked. It is simply something that springs from us. And when it springs, let us be brave enough to simply share it, to let another inhabit it so that they might know it too. Let us dare not to explain or dissect. It may be messy. It may make no sense. But it is of us, and from us, and to try and fit it into a box may squeeze out of it what was wonderful.
The problem with my PS to that story is that it leaves no room for you.
Without the add on there is a chance that I could tell this story and through its sheer force you too might imagine yourself in that car with a person you barely know and for a moment imagine that liquidy, heated, big fat and filled up feeling coursing through you.
But the PS pulls it away. It puts it behind glass and makes it a specimen of my brain that is a product of interpersonal influences A, B and C.
It means that the feeling I had has to have a reason. It means that when I tell it, there’s no chance for you to fill in the how and whys of that feeling in yourself. There’s no space to be in that car and see what that feeling might be in your own body.
As if that isn’t enough.
As if the ability of a creator to give another person the chance to sink into a love or a sadness or a change in breath isn’t a tiny miracle in itself.