On Dreaming Escape by Michelle M. Campbell


When I was a young child, I would lay awake at night and travel. I had read one of those late 80s magazines about everything supernatural and, along with a young adult novel whose title I forgot long ago, I was summarily convinced that I should, at the very least, give astral projection a try.

This is not a piece about how astral projection works.

What I discovered then, though, was that if I focused enough during the day–many religions and practices call it mindfulness or extended concentration–I could recreate my environs before falling asleep every night. I could recreate not only sights, but also smells, textures, sounds, tastes. I could approximate reality, and I could direct it. Often, my visualizations led to me experiencing an area utterly alone, unaccompanied by an adult.

I can still feel the metal pole with flaking maroon paint that led up the awkwardly spaced stairs to my elementary school.

I can still smell the musty freshness of my narrow bunk in our camper–a space where I learned that sometimes close can be comforting.

I can still see the small sand castles the worms created with their waste, only visible when consistently eye level with the ground looking through the grass blade forests.

I grew up on dreaming escape.

But now, I dream escape to places both real and imagined, except I can make my imagined placed real. When I desperately yearned to be out of college apartment housing, I walked my dream house hundreds of times. I knew the bedroom carpet, the corner in the garage where the spiders held their congress, the under-performing garden in the back. I harvested my doubtful bounty.

Lately I’ve been dreaming of land. As I approach it from the road access point, I can see tall scrub brush at the foot of towering pines. There are some low lying areas not too far to the right, behind the first gathering of trees; we’ll want to proceed cautiously because we’ve had a few days of rain. A squirrel chatters aggressively at my intrusion, and I obliquely apologize. I want to build a life here, a house, perhaps. Welcome anarchist scholars from around the world to visit my library barn that will be just over there on that rise to think and talk and learn. I can smell the fresh cut wood, see the shelves and shelves of books I will ship in, run my hands along their spines. The dark head of an eminent scholar over there, looking up from his reading to consider and sip good, dark coffee.

But so much detail is tiring. It’s tiring to build such a perfect life in lifetime, let alone in an hour as day turns to night.

And it’s tiring to return to a world where I can’t really escape. My dreams all revolve around isolation, a carousel of single horses with a haunting tinny tune. I’ve come to the realization lately that not only can I not separate myself from the world to live my life, if I would do so,  it would not be my life. I’m in too deep. I can’t quit now; organizing and political analysis has seeped into my bones. It has made them strong, yet fragile. I can’t live without new injections every so often.

The symptoms of withdrawal include anger, followed by depression, some crying, and staring at the ceiling. Soon, a sense of purposelessness, desperation, and hopelessness replace each strong cell in my body. Retreating within myself is exactly what I cannot do if I want to remain.

I dream of escape not because I’m not capable of leaving, but because I know I won’t survive if I attempt it.




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