Recently, I dreamed of a city…
It was a city I had known before.
An impossible city, perched precariously on a craggy peninsula and island at the mouth of the Pearl River; floating at the edge of the South China Sea, in the far reaches of the Orient.
A city spectacular, its landscape one of mountain, water and sky; of verdant peaks plunging precipitously into emerald green waters; of epic forests of skyscraping glass, steel and big capital; and of stairways and escalators leading nowhere and everywhere at once.
Also a dramatic city, erstwhile Hollywood of the East, where the old co-exists with the new, and the city itself plays backdrop to countless movies and tunes about love and longing, heartache and happiness.
I dreamt that I walked this city, across its narrow, mediaeval streets, up and down its endless slopes and stairways, in and out of its countless establishments – bars, restaurants, clubs, museums.
And as I walked, I experienced a series of strange moments of intensity.
One moment I felt completely enraged, believing I had just been bullied; remembering the many instances of bullying masquerading as efficiency I had witnessed before and how this inappropriateness had been normalised and seen as ok.
The next moment – an extension of the first – I felt utterly alone…exposed and vulnerable; walking ahead in the exact direction I wanted to go, but with nobody there at my side rooting for me, just a series of obstacles placed along the path, which I had to overcome on my own.
But some moments after – completely and unexpectedly; out of the blue – I realised I wasn’t alone, and that there was someone looking out for me; and knowing that filled me with a kind of childish joy; the sort that made one giddy and see stars shooting across the sky.
And then soon after, I became again overwhelmed with a kind of delicious melancholy, bursting into tears without rhyme or reason, enjoying the physicality of sadness, learning to let go and let flow…
This moment passed eventually and was replaced by a kind of translucence – a feeling of intense clarity, as though I had seen something I had not been meant to see, but now that I had seen it, it would change me forever.
I learnt a few things as I walked and I walked in this dream of a city, overcome with wave upon wave of emotional intensity.
I learnt that in the course of being too long and too entrenched where I now am, I had come too close to being little more than a robot, executing, value-driving, decision-making, smiling and entertaining even as I have been lost and heartbroken.
I learnt that sometimes innocuous or circumstantial decisions are, on hindsight, incredibly cruel and selfish.
I learnt that one always has to stand up for one’s self because one only earns respect by clearly drawing boundaries.
I learnt that emotions are beautiful – all of them…happiness, heartache, grief, anger, desire, longing, loneliness. And that it is important to feel all these emotions regularly to be whole.
I learnt that sometimes circumstance trumps desire, and that there is a certain dignity in choosing the former over the latter, even if it is always simultaneously abject folly.
I learnt that many things in life are inexplicable and remain out of our control, and the semblance of control and “togetherness” that we “put on” are just that – put on. Understanding this is key to empathy and to understanding the human condition.
But then I ran out of time.
I was awakened rudely and abruptly from my dream, with loose ends untied and mind swirling from the cocktail of emotions and lessons learnt.
And in that general malaise, nursing the hangover I had (not from drink but from emotion), I decided that the overwhelming point of all this walking and feeling, this sturm und drang, was to remind me that it was important to be true to myself.
That in the overwhelming flood of obligations I have found myself having to fulfill in this stage of my life, it was important to remember that I have personal goals, needs and desires, and that these have to be addressed first and foremost, and not simultaneously as or after other (peoples’ and organisations’) goals, needs and desires.
This antediluvian dream of a city was a sign that I had let myself go; that I had not been taking enough care of myself; that I haven’t done enough of what I love to do, what I used to do more of in the past and which I would have never allowed anything else to compromise.
Time to rectify that.