I just finished watching Waking Life, which in itself is a trippy-floaty experience, an animated fantasy that explores our dream life compared to our waking life, asking what happened before we got here, what’s going to happen to us when we’re gone, and how has our process of evolution changed as we’ve become more aware of our surroundings.
So I’m already dealing with some heavy conversation coupled with this bizarre animation that’s done over the film itself, but then the movie is set in Austin. In the background I recognize where the characters are talking. There’s campus. There’s a coffee shop I where I used to spend many hours. I know that street. That building. That theatre. It takes me back to the first time I saw Slacker, the feeling of watching what it feels like to be you. Waking Life felt like college again — staying up way too late with a friend in the dark wondering if the color blue he sees is the same color blue I see. The movie feels like I’m dreaming about being back in college.
Then add this layer: every once in a while the person on the film is someone I know. A friend, or someone with whom I performed plays in college, or someone I used to listen to on the radio or see in concert. This is another layer that follows the dream world rules — I’m watching something where someone I know is supposed to be someone else and he looks a little different but the voice is the same and he’s in Austin but not really and I haven’t seen him in years and I’m in California and I’m writing out my wedding invitations but then I’m also sending some to Austin but not the people in Austin that are on the movie and it’s weird.
I never told you the story of how one night in the first month that I lived in Los Angeles, Wiley Wiggins slept on my couch. That’s really the entire story, but add that to the layers of meta and non-meta going on while I’m trying to watch this indie art film.
The movie ends with a closing shot that is exactly what happens to me in my dreams when I try to fly. Exactly.
So all of this happens and I’m in my pajamas and I’ve been watching a film that questions when you know you’re awake and when you’re asleep and what if you couldn’t wake up from your dreams? And I realize that quite possibly this could be a dream, watching my old friends in an animated form as I’m planning a wedding in a house I own in Los Angeles, and suddenly I’m really frightened that this could all be a dream, that my dream life, a place I hated as a child, has become the most incredible world, and my reality, if I go back there, could be miserable. Could it be better? Is there a world where I’m happier? I can’t imagine it.
I used to be scared of my future, or at least anxious about it. I thought I’d suddenly get there, to my “future,” and I’d have missed out on something, or forgotten something crucial. I used to have dreams all the time that I got married without knowing it, that suddenly I had this kid and a husband and everyone is telling me how wonderful my wedding was that I missed. I actually had that dream again recently, on the night before I was attending a wedding. There were many old friends at this wedding, and something about seeing them all again gave me the dream where they had all come to attend my wedding, and I was sad that I hadn’t realized it and relished it for the moment that it really was.
It’s comforting to see these people on my television screen. These faces I saw every day in college, people I admired to the point of being awkwardly shy around them are now forever imprinted in film. It’s proof of their existence, that they weren’t just a part of my memory or imagination.
Having moved so much, sometimes I wonder if the memories I have of friends from when I was little were things that actually happened, or things I made happen when they were my imaginary friends in the next place where I lived. I don’t always know if what happened truly happened or I wished it to happen so much it became truth in my memory. There’s a Kevin Bacon movie I vividly remember that I have no proof ever existed. I can’t find it anywhere. It’s possible that I made it up when I was ten, back when I loved Kevin Bacon more than anyone ever should. I think I liked him so much I wanted to see a movie he was in and there wasn’t one, so I made one up and now I feel like I saw it.
I remember stories that I’m later told I couldn’t possibly remember because I was too young. This means I have a memory due to someone else’s storytelling that has become fact in my brain, forming who I am. Dad had a saying for this: “Myth of Pam.” I used to think he was full of it, that my memory was so good that I was better at remembering what really happened than he was. After all, I didn’t have as many years of life to try to remember. As I get older and have some perspective, I can see where I was probably exaggerating things, already testing out the best way to tell a story to entertain an audience. Dad would be celebrating this revelation of mine, you can be sure.
I still have more nightmares than good dreams. I’m okay with it; it’s the trade-off for having a life I absolutely love.
I wish there were more magical movies like Waking Life, films I can drop into my DVD player that unfold like memory books, with pictures from a town I know like the back of my hand, starring old friends talking to each other, to me, making stories like I used to with my imaginary world back when I was a child.