dream attack

21 12 2010

This is your first lesson in not trusting me:  nothing about this post refers to either dreams or attacks, despite the title.  It’s just not there.  Well, there may be a panic attack later.

It’s a tear from the Silver Jews’ song “Trains Across the Sea,” the larger line of which goes “I just got back from a dream attack / that took me by surprise.”  I’ve been having problems with words lately, and on the ride home from work I was listening to that song, and I liked how it sounded.  It’s nothing special, I suppose, but it resonated with me, and I’m barely too weird to ignore that as a possibly significant occurrence.*

I’ve long been mildly obsessed with words, their meanings, and their conveyances, and lately, their singular meaninglessness between two people.  I should say in between two people, because once a construction leaves one person’s mouth, it doesn’t mean anything until another person hears it and decides what it all means based on his or her personal orientations to the world, the words, and the person speaking.  I used to be in love with written communication.  Books, articles, correspondence—especially correspondence—but in the past few years have realized that the word, which I once thought was so powerful, is nothing until the listener or reader gives it power.

If you believe that the onus is on the writer/speaker to clearly state and support their thoughts in order for words to be properly utilized, then I agree with you to a point.  In fact, it’s never been a hassle for me to sit in front of a computer for an inordinate amount of time while deciding on the most precise term to use, or to make a sentence force the reader follow a relatively carefully orchestrated line of thought.  The less you leave to the imagination, I reasoned, the more effective the communication and the better use of everyone’s time.  I still feel it’s the case—it’s the only way to be properly understood, and for most of us nothing’s more important to our sense of sanity than being understood.  Except that now I also know that people find what they’re looking for, and it doesn’t matter the amount of care you put into crafting a thought—it’s going to be misunderstood by someone.  Sometimes.

At its grandest, this is a problem of a subjective reality, which is also a recent favorite interest of mine.  In a very real way, nobody is able to understand anyone else.  Everything will never mean the same thing to two people.  We just have a collection of humans trying to build a consensus about what reality is, and it’s pretty solid, except that you can never control how close on the continuum of Truth (a continuum because there is no fixed, immutable Truth) two people will find themselves.  Sometimes that distance is pretty substantial.  In certain situations, that difference can really affect two people.  But it’s a disturbing concept even at low levels.

You can tell two people that a FACT is a fixed truth all day long, but in practice, and therefore in their minds where their reality is constructed, they will eventually have a difference of sense.  Show them a guitar and then show them a hundred stringed instruments and ask them to name which ones are guitars, and somewhere along the line they’ll disagree.  One will see a minor difference that they feel violates their feeling of what a guitar is, or one will not notice a particular difference and label it guitar when guitar, strictly speaking, it is not.  And imagine what kinds of differences of understanding you’re going to have with anything intangible:  emotions, beliefs, life directions.  No wonder it’s so attractive to live the prescribed life of your culture.  When you start thinking about and finding more personally meaningful ways in which to express and direct yourself, you are left basically alone in your world before you know it.  You’d better be ready for that.

I say all of that to say this:  I no longer know what is worth one’s direction.  Words were once my thing, I believed in them, I thought that I could issue them and command where they went and what they did, but I cannot.  No one can.  I am clinging to the idea that they’re at all useful by the narrowest of margins.  I suppose that in the same vein I am clinging to the idea that anything is real by the narrowest of margins.  You feel things, the world mixes around, you feel things differently, and it’s all just a giant sandbox being raked around by a thousand toddlers; everything’s the same, but it’s always changing, and you’re not going anywhere.


*I am suddenly freaked out by the word “occurrence.”  Look at it:  it’s spelled like a stutter, all hung-up and tight-jawed.  It’s like falling down a scaffolding and cracking into something on every level.




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