For a long time, I have had dreams where I realized that I was dreaming. I didn’t try to invoke this state of mind — it just happened spontaneously. I’ve conducted a very non-scientific survey and found that most people I know have never had this experience.

Recently I borrowed a book from the library, Exploring the World Lucid Dreaming by Stephen LaBerge & Howard Rheingold. This book was written in 1990, but a quick look around the internet shows that the lucid dreaming field has not changed significantly since this book was written. Other than you can now go on LaBerge dreaming workshops in Hawaii which sounds just about as hippy-dippy as you can get.

LaBerge is a pioneer in the field of lucid dreaming, as he not only devised ways to prove he was aware that he was dreaming in a laboratory setting, but also came up with proven methods to induce lucid dreams in just about anyone. Despite the kooky new-agey feel to a lot of his ideas, many are evidence based. I decided to be open-minded at try some of these methods.

LaBerge feels that as long as we are going to sleep for one-third of our lives, we may as well use that time for mind expansion. I only half agree with this premise, mostly because I enjoy sleeping. I think most people do. I know there’s lots of folks who get a warm, happy feeling just thinking about their bed. So I don’t think sleep is a waste of time because it is very pleasant, and probably the only thing I do that is pleasant for a full eight hours straight. However, I am all for exploration on all levels, and already spend a good deal of time exploring my mind. Perhaps a new method would be good.

Now, one problem I have with discussions of lucid dreams is that many folks feel that once you realize you’re dreaming you should do something wild like fly to the stars. Let me tell you, not only do I have no interest in such shenanigans, but they sound pretty juvenile too me. This is probably because the reality-checking part of my brain is overactive. Even in a dream state, I couldn’t fly to stars because I’d be saying “You know, you aren’t really flying to stars. You’re just dreaming that you’re flying to stars. They aren’t really the stars. This isn’t real.” It’s pathetic, really, but that’s how my mind works. So I’m not interested in play time for the brain. I’m interested in further investigations as to what is reality.

In my post “grief, dreams, permanence“, I alluded to the dreams I have where I end up in an argument with others that we are in a dream. I was delighted to read in Exploring the World that this is a common experience. In fact, a lot of the methods I have read about so far are all about reality testing.

One of the first concepts introduced in the book is that what we do while awake, we also do while asleep. Therefore, it’s unlikely we are going to ask ourselves if we are dreaming while we are asleep if we never do while we are awake. We first start with asking ourselves “Am I dreaming?” while we are awake. At first this seemed silly when I tried it (he mentions that it will feel silly), but then I realized that I do have to establish certain criteria to show I am NOT dreaming. Just saying “Because it looks different” or “feels different” is not concrete enough. K says that his dreams are not nearly as detailed as reality, so that dreams and reality clearly look different, but that is not at all the case with me.

LaBerge pointed out there are a few simple things that are always true in dreams. If you look at any text in a dream, look away, and then look at it again, it will not stay the same. It will warp or mutate in some way, or somehow conditions will suddenly change so it is no longer possible to read it. This NEVER happens in reality (other than in a sudden power outage). So, one can starts conducting reading tests in reality. LaBerge suggest carrying a card with you that simply says, “Am I dreaming?” on it. You can pull it out, read it, read it again, and it will always be the same.

I have begun this simple practice, and it’s really pretty interesting. Recently I have been in a variety of situations that were far from my normal experience, for instance, being suddenly backstage at a Lady Gaga performance. That sure seemed like a dream. It was interesting to look around for specific, concrete examples* as to why I wasn’t dreaming.

It’s amazing that something that’s puzzled me for years — the ability to discern dreams from reality — is really easy when reduced to a few simple cues. It’s one of those ideas which was there all along but somehow I couldn’t put my finger on it. Now that I know about it, I feel perplexed (and a little annoyed) as to why I couldn’t have figured this out for myself.

I have continued on to the next set of exercises in the book. One is to read a set of four mundane events that may occur in your day. There is a week’s worth of sets of four. Each day you try keep these in mind and test reality when they occur. They are such things as “Next time the telephone rings” or “Next time I check the time”. The point is to train yourself to keep cues in mind while going through your day, so that you can keep cues in mind while asleep.

Another exercise is to find a pattern of cues in your dreams, the things the only occur in your dreams. Everyone’s dream world is different. I often dream that I am with my family members, whereas in reality I am almost never with them. One cue I have set up is that if I dream about my family, I should test whether I am dreaming. Another pattern is being on public transportation about becoming hopelessly lost, so now when I ride BART or the bus I pay attention to how consistent the experience is in reality so that it will be more obvious when I am dreaming.

Another interesting thing that LaBerge discovered in his research that, contrary to the myth that dreams occur in some sped-up time warp, the events in them occur in real time. It’s just that you jump from scene to scene, as in a movie. This has lead me to another discovery that makes reality different from most dreams: the long spells of the mundane. I am at work for hours on end, doing boring tasks, on and on. That level of continuous non-event does not occur in my dreams. I do occasionally dream that I have gotten up and am getting ready for work with a bunch of mundane details (getting dressed, brushing teeth), but it’s pretty rare.

I’m curious what these reality testing experiences will lead to. I’ll write more if and when I discover anything interesting.

This question — “Am I dreaming?” has led me to develop another question — “Am I acting?” during the day, I spend a lot of time smiling and making nice to those around me. I believe that this is good manners, and how one functions in society. By the amount of rude people I encounter, I realize not everyone adheres to the ideology. I realized, though, I should think about when I am acting nice out of politeness and when I really mean it. I think I can easily get into a gray area where I can’t discern how I actually feel about a person or a situation until after it is over, because I am too busy pouring my energies into being polite. At times it seems I have too much energy being externalized i.e. focusing on others, and not enough energy focused internally. It’s all fine and well to be polite, but not to the point where later I realize that I have suppressed myself to no end — just out of habit.

*Another cue LaBerge mentioned is digital clocks or watches. In a dream, you can never look at them twice without their changing the time non-sequentially. (He points out the analog watches in dreams are a little trickier).

dead-junco.jpg

Just as I sat down to write this post last week, the crappy stupid cat next store jumped on top of my fence and killed a junco. I have no idea how he did it or what happened. I looked up, he was on the fence, and the junco was dying on the ground. I buried it in my yard and then I drew this sketch the next day.

Anyway, this is what I meant to say before that sad incident.

One day about fifteen years ago, I realized that other than the most common birds, I had no idea what was flying around me. I also had no idea how to distinguish one bird song from another. It was all just tweet, tweet, tweet. (Now that means something much less tuneful.) In any case, I started trying to learn about birds. I got an Audubon Guide, and eventually moved up to a Peterson Guide, and looked through them over and over. I bought various cassette tapes of bird calls, or borrowed them from the library. I have one particular one, Birds Songs of California, that I must have listened to hundreds of times. I am finally pretty good at identifying birds. It’s very satisfying to walk down the street and know who is in the trees just by listening. It’s thrilling to see a type of bird I’ve never seen before.

Although K is usually with me when I am IDing birds, he is not a birder per se. He has definitely learned a lot by being stuck in the car with me while I listen to the Bird Songs tape (yes, I still have a cassette and player in my car), and from my blurting out the names of birds as I see them. I have only once gone out specifically to bird, with the one friend I have who also is bird-obsessed. Mostly I just look for birds as K & I are hiking, which turns out to be quite a lot of birds over time.

Lately, in the back of my mind, this thought started to burble up that I should become more serious about birding. That I should make a concerted effort to see and ID more birds. That I should finally go on an outing with other birders, where I would probably learn a lot more than looking in books.

To this end, I attended a presentation recently of the birds indigenous to my local watershed. I was pretty excited to get more information about the neighborhood birds and to meet other birders.

As I came into the room, I entered a sea of L.L. Bean. I am definitely working from a small statistical sample, but it seems that birders like to dress in a practical, no-nonsense way at all times. Hair styles also were nondescript. As I sat down with my asymmetrical ‘do and bright red pants, I thought “uh-oh.”

By “uh-oh” I mean that experience I have had, time and time again, when I investigate a group that I hope to become part of, only to discover that what I thought was going to be a homecoming is going to be more like monkey-in-the-middle.

And then it got worse.

Near the very top of my “Things I Hate” list is this: attending an event where I expect to be a spectator, but without advance notice I am forced to be a participant. This happened recently at a circus show where the clown (who was cute and charming unlike most clowns) was trying to pull me onstage. We had stupidly sat in the first row. K went in my place; apparently K has no fear of looking ridiculous, which amazes me.

Back at the presentation: after a truckload of announcements, the person MCing the event asked if we would each give our name and a tell a story of a recent exciting birding event in our lives. I could see this if we were a group of four or even ten people, but there were about fifty people in the room. I was so annoyed. I also mistakenly thought that there would be other introverts in the room who would bow out. Here’s where I was wrong. Birders are EXTROVERTS who will talk about birds TO ANYONE, ANYTIME.

One by one, each person told there long-winded tale of bird encounters. The woman just before me gleefully told how she had seen a hawk carry off a feral cat. She was just beside herself with joy that this hawk killed a cat. I kind of felt like vomiting. When it was my turn and I only said my name (even then I wanted to give a fake one), someone said, “Yeah, well, how can you top that last story?” I was excused from bowing out by the cheering of the cat-hating fans in the room.

This is another thing that bothers me. People, at least in this country, have a weird propensity to like only one species of animal and to develop an animosity towards others. I saw this repeatedly when I worked or volunteered at animal shelters. As you know from the beginning of this post, I’m not too fond of the dumb neighbor and her murderous cat, but that doesn’t mean I’d jump for joy if I saw another animal hunt down and kill him. That’s just sick.

As I sat and listened to many, many bird stories, that sinking feeling of not belonging burbled up from within. I not only didn’t fit in with this group, I didn’t even like some of them. Like feral cat lady, or competitive guy bragging about his life list, or women talking about watching a hawk eat a pigeon for an hour. (Really? An hour?)

The presentation itself was good, with great photos and helpful information. I probably also learned something, somehow from the personal anecdotes which lasted longer than the presentation itself. The most important thing I learned, though, was that I will continue to bird on my own. As Satre said, “L’enfer, c’est les autres.”

Note: This review is written by someone who is hostile towards pop culture.

Lady Gaga at oakland coliseumSome friends are always trying to convince me to watch some television show or another. It doesn’t matter that I don’t even own a TV. They are sure that I will find their show hysterical, wildly entertaining, or emotionally gripping, depending on the show. When I do finally acquiesce and watch the damn thing, it always falls flat.* Then they tell me it’s because I need to watch a few episodes to “get into” the characters. I don’t agree with them and I never follow this recommendation. If I don’t like a show after watching it once, it’s not going to get better. I tried it a few times, and they were wrong.

I had a similar experience last night that I ended up backstage at Lady Gaga’s show at the Oakland Coliseum, and fairly suddenly. I happen to be related to a member of the crew, and K, K2 and I headed over to see him on fairly short notice as he didn’t alert us he would be in town. We knew he was on the Lady Gaga Tour, but we weren’t actually paying attention to her schedule (see note above).

So, while we were hanging out he invited us to take a peek at the show, and full of curiosity and expectation we went. We got to watch from off to the side near the front, very very close to the stage. The seats close to us were worth hundreds of dollars.

I have no doubt the thousands of fans thought the outfits, props and imagery to be fun, shocking, freaky, and weird. But to me it all looked very derivative, and mostly a watered-down montage of performance art and 80s style. Everyone calls her style Madonna 2.0, but there’s also some attempts at Karen Finley, *The one exception in the last 20 years is The IT Crowd.

Here’s some video of my Boe-Bot (robot kit) navigating a simulated table-top and avoiding a virtual fall to its demise.

Because this is what nerds do.



During a discussion today with my coworker H., we were discussing how much ire is expressed towards the EPA. EPA’s job is to protect the environment and public health, so why would this make people angry? Politicians claim that it’s because the EPA obstructs business opportunities and therefore jobs. Many of these politicians represent corporate interests, and therefore greed, so it’s obvious that what the EPA is really obstructing is unmitigated greed and profits. Reigning in corporate activity to protect health and the environment completely chap’s the corporate ass, as well as all those with stocks in? up? the corporate ass.

The ire that is expressed has another level to it. The EPA’s job is protection and doing good. They are basically perceived as a bunch of goody-goodies riding high on their moral horse. Since I am a vegetarian, I’ve often felt this kind of ire on a personal level. Which is to say, some meaty people perceive that I am holding myself to a higher moral standard, and they resent this, so they feel a need to insult, mock and belittle my vegetarianism. I mean, why should anyone care what I eat? They care only if they perceive I am judging them. Really, it’s about them judging themselves. Right now there’s an ad by McDonalds appearing on buses that says that their “all-american” food is for everyone except vegetarians. Ha ha ha. Did they forgot about those who keep kosher, or follow halal laws, or who eat healthy? No, they just want to mock vegetarians because everyone knows vegetarians are irritatingly with their damn morals.

In the same way, I think politicians who attack the EPA dislike the idea of a body being protective and kind, especially if they themselves are mean and corrupt, so they attack. All these perceptions and misconceptions are simplified though. EPA isn’t a bunch of saints and don’t always make the mark. This is why non-profits such as the NRDC exist, to keep the EPA to its goal. But no matter. The perception is more real than the reality.

I recently dug my portfolio of my large works out from under my bed. Yes, I store my artwork under my bed. It’s the only place I really have room for it. Over the years a lot of my work has gotten frayed, but I guess I don’t care that much. I figure it’ll all get thrown away after I die anyway. Which sounds grim, but I guess I was planning on being known post-mortem, I would have been showing my art publicly, or had progeny, or something, and I have done none of these things.

In any case, as I looked through several decades of painting and drawings, several things came to mind. I was impressed with the craftmanship of my earlier works. It looked to me like I used to spend hours just working on the eyes on some faces. I don’t feel like my art takes me more or less time than it used to. It’s always taken many hours to complete a piece. I think I used to just work on it more, such as every day, whereas now I work on it only one or two days a week. And what I wanted it to look like has changed over time.

More importantly, since my art comes mostly from my subconscious, I felt that perusing these works was a time machine back through my subconscious mind, back through the thoughts and feelings I have had over the years about myself and my life. Some of these pieces have a lot of emotion behind them, and looking at them, I could feel that emotion come alive in me.

In this way, it is the same if I think about a dream I had that particularly effected me, or about a strong memory. Sometimes I am a very different person than who I was in the memory, or who went to sleep one night and had a profound dream. But thinking about these things still has an emotional effect on me. And when do I think about these things? Well, if you read my last post, you’d know.

It seems that I am simultaneously experiencing life in four different paths, or perhaps parallel worlds. Everyday life, the world I share directly with others, is like the molecular structure holding the atoms in place to create a molecule. The world of my art is influenced by my everyday existence, but in some ways has a life of its own. It has its own developments that reflect daily life but are a unique language all its own. In the same way, my subconscious take my experiences and creates entire new worlds out of them every night, which amazes me constantly. And memories — why do certain ones stick in our minds, and other vanish completely? Some of them don’t seem particularly important yet they remain, year after year. Memories have a life of their own too, and their own priorities. I seem to have varying control over each of these four paths. I have the illusion that I have the most control over my waking life. I make decisions and act on them, and these decisions have ramifications. I seem to have the least control over my dreams, even though I experience lucid dreaming. I have no idea what I will dream every night, which is really part of the fun.

It’s interesting to see where these path converge and diverge. My latest drawing is a convergence of art, memory, and dreams that I have brought into the world at large. My subconscious has been made visible. It moves me in an indescribable way.

I spend a lot of time daydreaming; I always have. I spent a lot more when I was young had the ability to lay on a couch all day starting out the window. I used to say “doing nothing” was my favorite activity, which is far from the case presently. But I still enjoy just thinking for thinking’s sake.

It seems like I used to see other people daydreaming, but I hardly see it anymore. At the bus stop, on the BART, everyone is engaged in some gadget or another. A few are reading books. They seem well absorbed and content. The other day, though, I saw someone on the transbay bus staring out the window. That’s when it dawned on me that I really don’t see this anymore. The scenery from the Bay Bridge is often breathtaking and I’m at at a loss as to what people see on their device that is more stunning. I guess it just must look different to me. But also it’s the thoughts that I have when looking at beautiful things, or even just experiencing the sights and sounds of the world, that are important to me. Yet it seems that these have little value to most people.

In reality, they never did. How many kids are admonished to “stop daydreaming”? It seems that these admonishments haven taken hold and the daydreaming has stopped. It doesn’t seem like a loss. The world has gone on. No one seems to suffer from lack of it. Did daydreaming ever had a purpose?

According to Wikipedia, daydreaming is associated with the creative process. (If you read the entry, there are some good footnotes as well.) Most people in a capitalistic society are not engaged in particularly creative endeavors, so in fact daydreaming could be seem as a waste of time from an individual standpoint. Reading the news and gathering information, communicating with others, etc. would probably be as a more effective use of time if one has no creative outlet. Also, people with dull, rote jobs may spend much time daydreaming at work and would rather use their time for other activities.

Overall, the U.S. has made it clear that creativity and arts has little values. It’s usually the first programs cut from dwindling school budgets. Grants for the arts are also in the first cuts to any municipal budget. Also, careers in the arts are woefully underpaid. For many people, it can only be a hobby.

Conversely, hobbies are often the very activity that give life purpose and meaning.

In any case, my daydreaming may be out of step with the masses, but it is actually very useful for my creative endeavors. Apparently my stubbornness about not adopting the use of personal devices or cell phones is not just obstinacy for its own sake. My resistance is about my art. So let the daydreams continue.