This is Your Brain on Standby.

“I dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke. Now I wonder: Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?”
-Zhuangzi

 When we sleep, our bodies shut off. Our heart rests at a steady pace; air whispers through our lungs, and our eyelids begin their nightly dance. But our minds enter the world of our subconscious—a labyrinth of fantasies and urges we pay professionals to interpret.

And when we wake up, sometimes for a minute our minds blend. Our eyes might be open, but there are a few lingering seconds when we peer over our covers, scanning the room for the creature we’re hiding from or the loved one we’re still trying to embrace. This colliding of worlds is reminiscent of ancient beliefs.

Back in primitive times, people assumed dreams were how the supernatural world spoke to humans. They believed dreams were intentional figments of our brain, as if our subconscious minds were a paranormal channel of some kind. Today, people still believe dreams are purposeful. Some even believe they predict the future:

“In this dream I had, I was out with work friends. I don’t really remember the details, but I vividly recall ending the night with a cab ride. I was sitting next to one of my coworkers. I didn’t think anything of the dream at the time—I’m not one to take cabs or go out with coworkers. But sure enough, a few weeks later, I found myself out with a big group of them. It got late and a few of us split a cab home. When I got in the back seat, I looked up and saw that same coworker from my dream, looking at me with the same expression! Crazy, right?”

–Anonymous

Psychologists have tried to debunk this theory with the notion of self-fulfillment; we fabricate a memory as a means of fabricating foresight (the I knew it all along moment), but still it bears questioning—why do we want to add purpose to our subconscious fantasies? Why are there are thousands of dream interpretation websites, paperbacks, and even interpretation services in our society?

Freud chimed in on this one. Overall, he defined dreams a means of wish fulfillment. We want to add purpose to our subconscious as a means of completing goals or satisfying desires we cannot otherwise experience.

This all makes sense for those dreams you never want to wake up from. The memories you cling to as you groggily find reality again in your bed, recalling the time, repositioning yourself in Monday morning. But how does one explain nightmares?

“In a single jump he came out into the hospital night…He thought he must have cried out, but his neighbors were peacefully snoring…He panted, looking for some relief for his lungs, oblivion for those images still glued to his eyelids. Each time he shut his eyes he saw them take shape instantly, and he sat up, completely wrung out, but savoring at the same time the surety that he was now awake…”

-Julio Cortazar

Sometimes these figments of our subconscious are terrifying, like that dream we’ve all had about being chased with some barrier to running away. I can’t imagine wanting to fulfill myself with dreams of massive spiders clawing my guts apart, but maybe that’s just me. Where does this unpleasantness come from? The International Association for the Study of Dreams (yes, that’s a thing) says nightmares are our brain’s way of dealing with unresolved situations. For instance, people who consciously experience trauma need to cope to get through daily activities, so they bury their dreams far below the surface. At night, our minds are idle, so they tap into those subconscious depths in our brain and try to make amends.

This all still confuses me. How can we have some dreams that we avidly seek out for fulfillment, yet others that our brain is constantly fighting to repress?

Either way, Freud made a decent living off the subconscious mind candy.

Dreams freak me out. Our brain, the organ we use constantly, never gets a break. It’s constantly talking to us, telling us what we need, and especially in the subconscious sense, what we want. Maybe dreams mean nothing at all. Maybe it’s a way for our brain to relax without shutting down completely, and our mind just has to accept it. If that isn’t supernatural, I don’t know what is.

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It’s So Tragic: She Was So White

I’ve been watching Pretty Little Liars. Anyone who follows me on Twitter is well aware, since I’ve been reacting prolifically and profanely since I started. My friends who don’t watch the show are like, I’m so bored of your tweets, and I’m like, you don’t understand, this bozo-ass shit is emotional for me. Because the show truly borders on the insane. I won’t take too much time to summarize, but essentially, without spoilers, the show focuses on four amateur models high school girls with a host of life-ruining secrets trying solving the murder of their enigmatic best friend, Alison. Meanwhile, they’re getting stalked via text by a mysterious and deranged psychopath who is actively trying to ruin their lives. Life sucks in Rosewood, PA.

I’m being glib, but Pretty Little Liars is so absurd that it’s hard to be serious about it. It’s a generally popular show, with plenty of suspense and romance with attractive actors playing the parts. But what may be the most important—and perhaps the most overlooked aspect of the series—is the well-worn media narrative it is based on: young white woman goes missing; everyone pays attention.

The western media seems to have a deep obsession with the victimization of women; the obsession specifically applies to white women. So much so that social scientists have named this preoccupation “missing white woman syndrome,” or the imbalance of media attention given to white women who have been abducted or murdered.

Back in 2005, people followed the Natalee Holloway case religiously—a pretty, young blonde woman who disappeared in Aruba that year, later declared dead in 2012. “Breaking News,” read broadcast reports: “White Middle Class Girl Missing.” Speculations, not just about her disappearance, but about her moral character—her partying habits being one major discussion point that this deluded article references—swirled around the 24 hour news cycle for months, even after the declaration. Ultimately, though, she was immortalized as a sweet, young tragedy.

Around the same time, LaToyia Figueroa—an African American woman who was five months pregnant—also disappeared, and was later found strangled. Until researching this piece, I hadn’t even heard of her. Clearly, Holloway’s case was obviously much more publicized, giving way to a very brief discussion on the intersection of race and women victims before the two or three outlets making the point quietly moved on.

The entertainment industry capitalizes on these blonde sacrificial lambs that star in 10:00 news. It twists their stories into salacious and scandalous 45 minute bites that we greedily eat—only the producers don’t have to try too hard at that, since the news media has done the groundwork already. Pretty Little Liars isn’t the only show to profit—its predecessors, Veronica Mars and Twin Peaks, also packaged dead white women as a fun plot point.

Every one of these TV women victims follows particular mold. She is blonde and gorgeous, with a face that teeters between sweet and sexual depending on the context. She has a damaged, Lolita-esque charm that appeals to older men in her life. She has vague but dark secrets that always seem to emerge after her death. Flashbacks reveal her to be slightly narcissistic and uncaring—until she inexplicably shows warmth toward other characters. She trusts no one. Everyone in the small and humble town she lives in trusts her. The reason why is unclear, but all we know is that she is magnetic. And her strange magic and darkness compels us as viewers on a shallow but sinister level; it’s a more fun version of the Natalee Holloway story.

In a succinct analysis titled “What Is TV’s Obsession With Dead Teenage Girls?” Sara Bibel says, “Fictional teenagers are both innocents who need to be protected, and mean girls who revel in cruelty to others, flaunting their sexuality and living to party. They’re Disney princesses whose wholesome image is just a façade.” Bibel goes on to say that we as viewers enjoy watching the façade fall, with a preoccupation on the loss of innocence and purity—one that seems only to apply to young white women.

The worst part of writing this was reconciling how I eat this shit with wide eyes, one finger on my phone, furiously live-tweeting. I loved Veronica Mars and Twin Peaks just as much, both of which followed the same formula. I’ll say there’s something about the very Lynchian idea of deep sickness in tight-knit communities that really motivates me as a television consumer. I’m prompted to assert it’s because I enjoy watching Americana drown, but what does it say about me that I see the demise of these women as the ultimate representations of the demise of the culture I live in? And why am I so entertained by the stylized victimization and destruction of young women? The LaToyias are as important as the Natalees, but neither deserves to be packaged as passive, brutalized ghosts to sell a TV show.

I ask more questions than I answer here. I do not know what truly motivates me—only that I will probably finish Pretty Little Liars. I will probably enjoy it. I’m not sure where that leaves me, other than slightly nauseous. Someone else might comment that we’re all just victims of pop culture; I won’t say that. It’s important to recognize how much stock we put into the tropes presented to us; that awareness equips us with the ability to rewrite and rescope those narratives. As a journalist, a writer, a woman and a human being, that’s all I can hope for.

Serendipity on 16th Street

Click. I flick my music on shuffle without a second thought and with Amy Winehouse crooning in my ear I slide softly into my pace,

Well sometimes I go out by myself, and I look across the water…

Cross 13th Street, then 14th, onto Park, finally whipping around the corner to start making my way up 16th Street. The song ends and a brief silence follows. I hear my footsteps smacking the pavement and ease my stride. A few steps later a beat picks up- it’s Fabolous and he tells me:

Girl, you be killin’ em.

I smile. Yeah, Fabo, I know. Several blocks later Fabolous fades out and in fades a playful Keri Hilson rhythm. I resist the urge to pump my fist like you go, girl. I dash over the bridge at Piney Branch Parkway pumping my arms,

Do the pretty girl rock, rock, rock.

I’m settling into a solid groove; quick feet, swift steps. I’m headed up 16th Street at a steady clip. I come up on two miles when it occurs to me that my iPhone, still humming away on shuffle, has not made a poor choice yet. With every song that ends, a lively pop anthem or powerful beat follows. Each song, randomly selected out of hundreds, proves energizing and restorative. I power past the Buddhist temple, the Chinese church, past the soccer fields at Carter Barron. I’ve crossed Arkansas and Colorado, I leap across the crosswalks at Military Road. And each time my earbuds go silent and I brace myself to at last skip through the next song, I am lifted higher still into a state of heightened excitement.

Aw, shit, get your towels ready, it’s about to go down! 

I’m on a boat, motherfuckers!

I don’t dare to count the songs or keep track of my streak for fear of tampering with my iPod’s good will. I soar past the Rock Creek golf course. At Aspen Street I dart off 16th, down a winding and suddenly wooded road. The sidewalk turns to gravel, the gravel into dirt and pebbles. I take the turns wide and peer around the corners for cars. There is no one but me and now the boys of Madcon,

Beggin’, beggin’ you (put your loving hands out baby)

And I am begging the gods of iTunes to humor me just a little bit longer.

I’m begging you for mercy, why won’t you release me?

I see a trail marker up ahead and veer off-road, I hurdle a fallen tree with the ladies of Girls Aloud.

Jump! for my love…

Rock Creek Park has swallowed me, Matt & Kim whole.

Now this is all me, now this is all me…

 Without a soul or a car in sight Modest Mouse and I forge on south along the Valley Trail.

Alright, already, we all float on.

Suddenly there is pavement beneath my feet as I’ve emerged from the trail onto Beach Drive. I dart across the highway, dodging cars speeding towards downtown, to pick up Rock Creek Trail.

Sigilosa al pasar… mirala camminar, camminar.

I have left my inhibitions far behind. I’m sure of it now: my iPhone knows me. It understands me. We are united in an ecstatic and unshakeable bond.

Still miles away from home I am riding this shuffle out; I jam my earbuds deeper into my ears. And just as I round a corner to pick up the Western Ridge Trail that will take me home, just when I didn’t think this run could sound any sweeter-

Got me looking so crazy right now…

 Beyonce, Sweet Bey, floods my eardrums.

Your love’s got me looking so crazy right now…

In absolute ecstasy I fly- no, soar- down the trail with the Queen herself, and though I am most definitely running, swift and uninterrupted, my veins are pulsing like I am shaking my hips right alongside her.

Your touch got me looking so crazy right now… 

Before I hit the zoo I dash across the parkway, and Bey and I shake it up Kenyon Street. Nine miles out and yet so close to where I started. I summit the sharp hill with a final push, a great oomph, practically tumbling onto Mt. Pleasant Street.

Looking so crazy in love…

Just five blocks to go and my legs are jelly, my knees giving out, but I hammer out those final strides.

Got me looking, got me looking so crazy in love….

Outside my house I collapse onto the front stoop and, at long last, tear my iPhone from my armband. I gaze down at the little device, impressed it’s enormous feat of selecting from a two thousand song library the forty some-odd songs I needed to hear. Of weeding through the audiobook chapters, the broadway soundtracks, the Paul Simon, and miraculously landing on the Amy, the Patti, the Beyonce.

Panting, I slide my keys off my shoelaces and, know the time has come, yank my headphones out from my ears. The screen illuminates and I am staring at a playlist I created months ago, a forgotten 40-track set entitled “Running” that I selected, unknowingly, over ninety minutes ago.

Click. I am back on the ground.

With a shrug I shove my phone under my arm, heave myself back to my feet, and fumble with my keys. Back in the reality where electronics can’t read minds, I’m thirsty and sweaty and sore. I’m disappointed but also a little pleased that I managed to fool myself into believing my phone was capable of magic.

I guess it’s not that hard to believe that I could fall for my own trick. I guess sometimes we create our own magic.