"I'm keeping him in my thoughts."
Where exactly in your thoughts does he fit? In between "my ass hurts from this chair" and "let's fuck the waitress"? What are your priorities?
--George Carlin (RIP)--"Things We Say When People Die"
I wake up dead.
I've had this dream a good dozen times since I was a little kid, maybe more often than that. I wake up dead. It's hard to explain how I know I'm dead even before my field of vision starts expanding to impossible angles, but I know. Probably the same way I know I'm alive in the mornings before I open my eyes.
Like a helicopter lifting off, my perspective starts whirling slowly around the room. The details are always different. Sometimes I look down at my body and think it almost looks asleep. Other times I've been savagely murdered and hacked, almost minced. Sometimes there's just a newspaper article...that's when it's a continuation of another recurring dream, one in which I'm trying to teach a pretty girl how to swan dive: I bounce on the diving board, sproingy-sproingy-sproingy, and launch into my dive...except I keep going up. First the pool, then the city is lost to sight as I find myself high in the stratosphere, and only then do I curve and plummet to earth. As I'm bracing myself for the impact that will turn my body to paste, the dream cuts out to a black-and-white newspaper shot of my remains, and then I'm in my dead dream.
Regardless, I know the dream immediately. Oh, no, not this again.
If it's not suicide-by-impossible-swan-dive, I resolve that this time I'm going to gather some details about my surroundings. I never manage to do it: it's as if my disembodied eyes are on strings and everything I'm supposed to see is spotlighted while everything I'm not is in deep shadow.
There's then a jump-cut and I'm at my funeral. Here's where things come clearer, visually. This part of the dream is always different, too. Sometimes I'm in a huge and packed cathedral; sometimes I'm in a simple country church (more than once it's definitely been the church Eva and I got married in); one time it was a graveside service, and you couldn't have picked a better location for a grave if you tried: forest, overlooking a lake.
I'm able to fit around the ceremony, observing the congregation, noting who's there and who isn't, who seems to be happy I'm dead and who is inconsolable. Often somebody I'd expect to be on one side or the other of that emotional equation isn't where he should be.
When I was a kid I used to jerk myself awake at this point, because everybody was pointing at my corpse and laughing...and when I was a teenager there was one instance where all the men were taking turns pissing into my coffin.
Last night there wasn't a soul there at all. Just a preacher droning on, his voice echoing in a church where I was the only other presence. There was music (there's always music--my dreams should have soundtrack albums). In this case the song was Corey's Coming by Harry Chapin, a song that really affects me every time I hear it.
Not a sign of Corey, though. Or anyone else.
The worst thing wasn't the empty church. The worst thing was that I wasn't surprised.
Last night, for the first time ever, the dream didn't end at my funeral scene. I found myself Steadicamming up the aisle, making a right and entering a hallway, then a left into a small office. A computer sat on an old desk and before I knew what was happening, I was inside it--where my actual funeral was taking place.
No people, of course, any more than I was a people in this eerie blue digital world...but lots and lots of thoughts. Thoughts both fleeting and eternal, like everything else online.
I usually catapult up out of that dream sucking in air, heart pounding. Having been so recently "dead", it's a shock to the system to be alive again. This time I floated up gradually, trailing dream-strings like so much seaweed. Some of them were knotted up and I struggled to untie them, feeling as if I had just dreamed something both personal and profound.
I know what ingredients combined to make that nightmare stew. I heard that Carlin routine above yesterday for the first time in years; obviously that got filed away where it jibed with my recent (and not so recent) musing on the deceptive depth of purely online relationships. Add a soupçon of loneliness, stir vigorously and voilà.
Laying in bed, dream both fading and solidifying, I think to myself:
ONLINE = UNDEAD
What's online stays online, of course: it's there forever, if you know where to look. Give me two minutes and I can find you the first thing I ever posted to the internet, in late 1991. It was quickly followed by a torrent more posts, in forums as diverse as can.politics, rec.arts.pinball, and (yes, indeed) alt.polyamory, among half a hundred others. The internet very quickly subsumed my waking life and before long I could not be said to have a waking life. I was hopelessly entangled in the Usenet: I'd invited it in, and it was sucking my lifeblood out of me, drop by drop.
I neglected my real-world relationships...they all migrated online. It's a world of pure thought (often impure thought, but whatever) and seemingly pure emotion, and that is a potent, heady cocktail for such as me. Only in hindsight--as in, this morning--did I realize that only one relationship which originated online lasted. With a very few exceptions, any friend I made in real life first is still a friend today, even if the relationship is largely online now. I'm certain of his place in my world and just as certain of my place in hers. The woman I married? I didn't have her email address until it was the same as mine.
The online relationships are almost without fail ephemeral and uncertain. The only real exception I think of is ironic given this extended 'undead' metaphor: it spawned in alt.horror in '92, and though I've never met her, I know she's a friend.
Excepting her, though, the more real emotion I pour into an exclusively online relationship, the less solid it feels.
It's not that these people are fake. Not at all. It's that the online realm takes real emotions and makes them indistinguishable from ersatz copies. "I'll keep him in my thoughts". Really? Where? This cause is important to me...so important that I will spend three seconds "liking" and "sharing" it. It occurs to me, for the first time, that pouring all these real emotions into a giant facsimile machine is probably a waste of energy. If only it didn't have such a bloodsucking hold on me.
Circumstances combined to deprive me of a computer for several years. I'd allowed the internet vampire to eat my scholastic career; any more feedings would (I'm not exaggerating here) imperil my life. It was to the point I was starting to forget to eat. I put a lot of effort into keeping access, piggybacking on my only friend's account; when she graduated, I was left pouring my money into Spectrum Internet Café...which promptly closed.
For two years I wandered around, leeched of most of my vitality, recoiling from the sunlight, not entirely sure how to even begin to start over in the real world. Very much like someone who has been bitten. Gradually, oh so gradually, with the help of a LOT of (offline) writing, I recovered enough of myself to make a friend who became a lifemate; she helped me with the rest of it. I'm not sure there are enough words in this language to express my gratitude for what she's done for me. I've been saved twice in my life, once by my stepfather and once by my wife. That's twice more than I deserve. I'm working to become someone who's worthy of it.
Alcoholics say they are always alcoholics, no matter how long they've been sober. Likewise, I'm an internet addict. I've kept my addiction mostly in check this year, but it's been difficult and there have been days when I've slid back into an early-nineties mindset.
The net hasn't changed much in twenty plus years. Oh, it's obviously no longer just on university campuses: now it's in the palm of everyone's hand. And there's endless video. But Skype aside, most people communicate online exactly the same way they did in 1990: with words. And the words are just as fake-seductive and often meaningless as they ever were. I've become more and more convinced that the sentiments behind them are real...and if they're expressed face to face it's still real...but in many cases putting it into a series of texts makes it fake anyway. Kind of the way vampires turn people into something that's not dead, but not living either. Undead.
Recognizing this, being able to put it into words and post them (online, natch) is important for me. It makes it easier not to throw my whole heart into relationships that don't reciprocate--and easier to blame the net, rather for the person, for that lack of reciprocation. It's only the vampire doing what the vampire does, sucking all the bloody substance out. Dracula can't help his nature.