Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Tandem to Camden

Onto our sixth dreamer and our second dream about bikes and bridges. It’s not our first dream from a Philadelphian, though Lindsay is the first of the 31 Dreamers to submit a dream actually dreamt in Philadelphia. Lindsay writes:
I was riding on a tandem bicycle with another person (don't remember who). We were riding onto a tall, narrow bridge. The bike jumped into the air and I realized we weren't going to land on the bridge. I said, “flap your arms!” to try to keep us out of the water below. In spite of the flapping we fell into the river, near to the bank. A boat passed by—it was a tour boat or something like that, large with a lot of people on it. I treaded water and waved at them and yelled, trying to get them to stop and pick us up, but they just waved back, like I was just saying hi. My boyfriend shook me awake, saying I had started to yell "help" really loud in my sleep.

Bridges and bikes go together in dreams like toilets and alligators in the awake world. In a dream a bike is some sort of journey, a bridge is a transition along that journey. By “journey” I don’t necessarily mean an actual voyage that takes you from geographical point A to geographical point B, but any process by which we move through the world, be it real space or time, a particular project, career, relationship, or life in general. A tall, narrow bridge on that journey shows fear in the precariousness of the transition, though not always fear of what’s on the other side. I’m speaking somewhat generally here. Mainly, I see two fundamental ways to read this dream, based on a single factor:

Are you on the back of the tandem bicycle?

Or are you on the front of the tandem bicycle?

I’m guessing that you are riding in front, because if you were on the back and telling the person in front to flap their arms, then they would have to let go of the handlebars and lose control of the bicycle. Though if a bicycle is falling through the air, what good are handlebars anyway? You can’t steer yourself into falling this way or that. Of course this is a dream we’re talking about and in dreams the laws of physics, among other laws, are temporarily suspended until your boyfriend shakes you awake, right?

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s start at the beginning.

And you are on the front of this tandem bicycle.

And you are piloting this tandem bicycle with expert precision over that tall, narrow bridge, and you are in nigh total control.

Nigh” means “nearly.” I say “nigh total control” because you are not in absolute total control. This is a tandem bicycle. Someone else shares your responsibility for maintaining balance and speed and pulling their own weight as well as the collective weight of the bicycle and its mission. Who is this other cyclist? You’re not sure. Could be anybody. Could be everybody. It could be any and every single person that you interact with on a regular basis—friends, family, people that you work with, the person who shakes you awake from your nightmares—everybody. And you rely on them to help you maintain a steady course and do their share of the work that needs to be done. But you are in front, gripping the handlebars, and you are in control. Nigh total control.

Then you lose that nigh total control and you need to rely on that person on the back seat a little more. Quite a bit more, actually. But unless they are a condor or a giant bat or a pteranodon, their pathetic arm-waggling will be of little use to keep you out of the river below. And thus you are all wet, trying to stay afloat, waving to a boatload of clueless tourists who’ve just paid $26 to gawk at the downtrodden residents of Camden, New Jersey like they were animals in a zoo—by far the most realistic part of this dream for anyone who lives in a city with a Duck Tour. “Yo!” you say, “Can’t yous see we’re drowning here?” But instead of them tossing you a lifesaver all you get is: “QUACK!”

Lindsay, your dream might be telling you to take a break from tandem bicycle riding for a minute. Don’t just take a back seat, take a vacation. Let other people do the steering and the pedaling altogether. Go for a walk alone in the woods. Sit and read a whimsical novel (perhaps Italo Calvino’s The Nonexistant Knight, our book of the day). Do something that does not involve other people. Let go of things for a day, a week, however long it takes to really allow the things that you feel responsible for to pack their bags and vacate your mind. Then think for a moment: What do I expect from others? What do others expect from me? Write these expectations down on some leaves that you picked up off the ground on your walk through the woods. Then, walk to a tall, narrow bridge, take a deep breath, and throw these leaves into the wind.

Or were you riding on the back of that tandem bicycle?

I thought so.

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