Of Spinning Wheels and Skipping Records.

Though it has been plain to me and has, in fact, plagued me for a good, long while, I only recently came to learn there have been various terms for it in psychology: fate neurosis, destiny neurosis, and most recently, it seems, repetition compulsion. In essence, this is an individual’s unconscious impulse to repeat their history over and over again, in many cases while remaining exceptionally blind to the fact.

It appears to me as if there are at least three steps to repetition compulsion. The origin of the skipping record is typically perceived as a “seed story” or circumstance one faced while in childhood and as a consequence tends to deal with the relationship one had with one’s caretakers. One may have been neglected or abandoned, physically or sexually abused, or perhaps suffered under the reign of an authoritative parent. Another dawning situation, as it is with one dear friend of mine, may be a home life that breeds parentification — a process in which the child is forced to take on the role of the parent due to the actual parent’s general incompetence when it comes to parenting. There are potentially endless scenarios for such a seed story.

Whatever the circumstances, there comes a time when the child is no longer technically a child and so she wastes no time getting the bloody fuck out of dodge. Consciously determined, she then attempts to make her own life, but the subliminal aspects of her being, addicted to that familiar story, immediately get the shakes and they quickly intervene. Though she isn’t aware of it, she then finds herself unconsciously gravitating towards people and finding herself in circumstances that have an uncanny affinity with the people and circumstances she had just managed to escape. Like a shadow, the weight of her history appears fundamentally inescapable: the past, it seems, is forever present.

After successfully anchoring herself in the familiar, the phenomenon of transference takes hold, prompting her to exhibit conditioned reactions in her new context and inevitably, through projective identification, generates the desired reactions from the other person or people in question. In this way, the feedback loop creates and maintains the familiar circumstance.

Repetition compulsion can also come in one of two forms, the most direct being what we could call the Remake. If we can conceive of the original story as a sort of movie, every subsequent regurgitation would constitute a remake. I say this because the distinguishing feature of a remake is that it honors the source material, plagiarizing where it can get away with it and striving to pay homage where it must yield to the call for modernization.

The easiest personal example I can offer is Sandra, who was a longtime friend before I finally had to sever the close tie. Part of the reason was her overall lack of empathy and compassion, particularly with me, despite the fact that I exercised such empathy and compassion with her. The second reason, related and more to my point here, is that she was unable to see the Groundhog Day nature of circumstances, particularly when it came to men. She used to come into my room in the house I shared with her and her brother, lay on my bed and spill her soul to me, raw and unfiltered. This in and of itself is not unusual, as even total strangers tend to do this with me. I don’t mind. But over the course of countless failed relationships, I was hearing damn near the same exact story. No matter what part of the story she happened to be in at the timeI could tell her not only how she had gotten there but where it was going.

It should have been for her like it was expressed in that Nine Inch Nails song, “Everyday Is Exactly the Same”:

“I believe I can see the future
because I repeat the same routine.”

But she never saw it. I have often critiqued her for being unable to see beyond her own head to understand others; the truth of the matter was that she seemed utterly incapable of seeing so much as herself. Her deafness towards her own skipping record life soundtrack was heartbreaking and endlessly frustrating.

By no means is this phenomenon limited to her, of course. I certainly see it in my own life — but for me, that was and remains the difference: I see it. If nothing else, strive to gain some degree of self-awareness, for fuck’s sake.

Another way in which repetition compulsion can play out is in the form of Role Reversal. Whereas in the remake the person always plays the ego, the role they played in the seed story, here the person plays the role of their shadow, seeking out or forcing another into their previous position.

In many cases this can lead down a rather dark path: while you seek out the same general circumstances inherent in your core story, you now abandon your dawning role as the victim and put on the costume and mask of the victimizer. The song “Prison Sex” off of Tool’s album, Undertow, encapsulates the essential nature of this, perfectly summarizing the underlying aim with the line: “Do unto others what has been done to you.”

There may be various underlying motivations for repetition compulsion. Seeking out the familiar, no matter how painful, provides a greater sense of psychological security than the health and safety that may be possible, even probable, given a different pattern, simply because familiarity offers predictability, and therefore the illusion of control — and that’s certainly part of it. Also, as has been said in the case of recurring dreams and flashbacks, it may be an attempt on behalf of the unconscious to discharge emotions or desensitize one to the stimulus through relentless redundancy. Conversely, it may be an unconscious attempt to master the circumstance, to find a solution, to achieve resolution.

This sounds an awful lot like the Hindu take on reincarnation, which is to say we keep repeating the same damned cycle, our story, until we ultimately extinguish our desires. Buddhism offers a different take on the matter: one can take charge and work towards escaping the cycle now, within this lifetime, within this most recent adaptation of our recurring story. It involves transcending the ego and, as a consequence, the circumstances it compulsively perpetuates through mindfulness — through witnessing rather than engaging with the mind.

There may be additional measures one could take to escape the chains of their existential echoes, however: creative outlets. Just as our seed story can manifest in our objective circumstances it can also manifest in our music, play, writing, art, as well as in dreams and hallucinations, making us more mindful through the reflection such creativity offers. Carl Jung’s Active Imagination technique could potentially accelerate the process, too.

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Dreams of the Lost.

From what I have been able to recall from my dreams, the theme on the 15th and 16th involved pet animals, much has been the case with my dreams over the course of the last few months. Rather than forgetting I own them and forgetting to feed and water them, however, they were escaping and I was unable to track them down. More recently, the theme of “lost and not found” has carried on, though the manifestations have extended beyond animals.

1/15/16

I had two pets in a glass tank in what appears and feels like my parents living room. One of the animals died, and though I cannot recall what the first animal was the second was a chameleon, and I soon found that it had managed to escape its tank. As I hunted around the house for it, I at first thought I had squished it — I could even see its legs in the pile of stuff I had accidentally, evidently squished it in — but found that this was not the case. It was still alive and roaming free, hiding from me. 

I kept losing it in ways that seemed impossible. I remember catching it at one point and looking in the small tank where I had temporarily put it in shortly thereafter only to find that it was gone. Poof. He was a goddamn Houdini with cold blood. 

I was getting frustrated. And the dream ended without me ever having completed my mission of finding the damned thing.

The next time I slept (which is to say on the same day/evening), I had more dreams. A group and I had been in the house of someone else and the feeling I got is that our presence there was not in the least bit called for, not the least bit legal. They left, and only I remained — in one of the bedrooms at the end of the hall — when I heard the door open and heard (or in any case ascertained) that two people had entered the house.

Grabbing a stuffed dog nearby, I peek around the door frame of the room to see into the hallway, using the plush puppy to mimic the same behavior. It was done in a very childlike way, and I did it so as to not alarm them when they undoubtedly saw me. Evidently, it worked. It was a guy and a girl who came in, though I never saw the girl and didn’t recognize the guy he saw me peering around the corner, hardly glancing at the plush dog, looked me in the eyes and with a casual and even warm sense of recognition said to me, “Hey, Rick.” 

I had a vague sense of having seen the guy’s face before, but I’d be damned if I knew where — and the guy acts as if my presence is no surprise, no big deal. The only problem is that name he called me by. I am not Rick.

In another dream, I find that someone has a pair of leg braces like the ones I used to wear when I was young, and I was curious as to why they had them. Had they also had Perthes Disease? 

In yet another dream, I bump into two shift managers at work, though one was fired a few months back. I give one of them a belated birthday present for her daughter that I had been carrying around. She took it without saying anything, and I feared it meant nothing to her for she saw me as doing it out of guilt.

1/21/16:

I was thinking about a pet rabbit of mine that had evidently escaped some time ago and hoped to find in the context of the dream as we were looking for something else.

1/26/16:

I drive this small toy tank, presumably by remote control, so that it goes right under my bed. When it never comes back out the other side as it should have, I look under the bed — look everywhere multiple times — yet never find it. In another scene, I apparently drive the same toy tank into a pond, where it continues to plow along under water, but when I await its arrival on the side, it never comes. Again I embark on a fruitless search. 
 
1/27/16:
 
It had been some time in the dream before I realized I wasn’t wearing my hat. My immediate fear, my instant sense of embarrassment arose from the realization that my bald spot had been exposed for a such great length of time — and all without my knowledge. I ran back to where I thought I had lost it. 
 
***
 
In general, dreams about getting lost, having lost something and searching for it are regarded as an expression of your sense of alienation or inadequacy. Losing a pet chameleon? Perhaps losing the ability to blend in to your surroundings. Losing a pet rabbit? I don’t know — perhaps losing softness, a sense of idealism. The toy tank having gone MIA not once, but twice in the same night in two different scenes? I’m clueless. Losing a hat? Maybe it suggests fears of losing your social role, social masque or persona — or having anxiety about what others might think regarding your hair loss…

Explosions in the Sky (1/9/16 Dream).

It was approaching evening and there was a crowd of people around me when it happened. There was a big explosion at the horizon which shot these tendrils of light high into the sky. Each of these tendrils then descended, arching down for a short distance before each of them exploded as well, shooting their own spidery tendrils in every direction, and this chain reaction carried on for a short time.

Frightening, awe-inspiring in its beauty, people seemed shocked and confused but despite the lack of any explanation seemed to quickly forget about it. In the meantime, my concern remained steady and my curiosity, my need to get to the bottom of it, continued to gnaw at me.

My frustration with the apathy of those around me seemed to grow throughout the dream. There was a scene in which I had a rather childish fight with the eldest of my two younger sisters where I experienced that blinding, all-consuming rage I often had as a kid.

At some point I burst open a door to a nearby house and tried to ask the people inside if they had seen what happened in the sky, if they knew what had caused it. There were four people, I think: two pairs sleeping with one another, curled around one another with their pillows and blankets on the floor.

Though I knew what I wanted to say in my head with precision, I was unable to get so much as a word out. It felt as though I were pushing to say it but at best I could make only muffled, garbled sounds. I began losing motor control in my body, too, and I thought to myself that this had to be another anxiety attack. After some fruitless effort, after I was sure that they were confused and frightened and thought me to be some weirdo, I managed to escape back out the door.

UFOs and Possessed Cars (1/7/16 Dream).

Within the dream I began to remember one night where UFOs displayed themselves above my parent’s property — a memory pulled from one the many vivid dreams I have had regarding that particular scenario, and this particular dream involved an awe-inspiring spectacle in the sky. I was going to ask someone, perhaps my brother in law, if he remembered it, but I never did.

Sitting in car on break at work, reading or writing when I hear a grumble and feel a faint vibration. I’m confused to find that my car has somehow just started up. After a moment I get out and look up, wondering if a UFO might be overhead. I am walking towards the rear of the car and look behind me and see the passenger side door open and close as if someone invisible had just gotten in or followed me out. The car tries to back up, but I block it and it doesn’t elect to run me over.

Eventually my car seems to have gone back to normal. Once back inside, I walk behind counter and down the pathway between the pie oven and the kitchen, telling Elizabeth and one other person about it in passing. It’s too weird for them to believe it, I feel, but it happened and I’m tired of always being afraid to talk about these weird things in my life.

Haunting Roads (1/2/16 Dream).

For some time I was with a large gathering of people in a tightly-packed, dimly-lit room, and this seemed like a very long part of the dream, though I can remember little of it.

Eventually I leave with a small group of people through a forest. Up ahead, we can see this road turning left, cutting into the forest. Somehow the blacktop is on fire, and my curiosity pushes me to go ahead of the others. Though the fire certainly should not have died given the time it took me to run there, by the time I get there the blacktop is only smoking, and for some reason I put down my book bag and take off my shoes before stepping down on it. I follow the turn, lined by a thick, green cave of trees and see what seems like a ball of fire swiftly shooting from the woods, passed me and up into the sky.

Then the rest of the group catches up. I don’t even mention the ball of fire so far as I can recall; I do remember figuring they would not have witnessed it given my luck anyway. As they follow me into the woods, we see these little holes — in some places they look like holes dug into the spaces between train tracks — where cats and dogs had hidden together and died. We journey through the forest away from the road and see a gas station and I plan to go inside to ask if they saw anything, if they knew what had happened here. Once I go inside I realize I left my wallet in my book bag and have no money to buy anything, so I feel awkward about asking them questions and never do.

In a later scene, my mother drives us (or in the very least me) along a highway with white roads, and when we stop at some point — apparently in the middle of this sparsely-populated highway — she sees someone she knows but hasn’t seen in a long time. The whole circumstance — maybe it’s the flat expanse of concrete, the white roads — somehow reminds me of the flashback of the Goblin Man I had when I was sixteen. I want to ask her about it. Before I do, however, I wake up.

What Hides Inside (12/29/15 Dream).

There were two dream scenes I remembered.

In the first, I’m at work. Elizabeth says something which prompts me to ask her whether she still meditates while intoxicated, and she says yes. I then explain to her how when you initially begin meditating your thoughts seem to get louder because you are paying more attention to them, but then they mellow out if you keep doing it for awhile. I tell her this is why I began and then stopped my meditation practice a few weeks back. My mood the following day was horrible, I remember, and my self-loathing ran deep.

In the second scene, I start yelling at mom viciously, saying how I will never get married, as if I am trying to hurt her by saying this. Then I add that if I ever have kids I’m not going to treat them how she treated me.

I woke up feeling angry that I’m evidently still this angry at my mother. She has changed since she retired; it was as if a fist within her was suddenly released. I thought I had gotten over this, grown out of it, and I’m embarrassed to still find it hiding within me.

Of Gravity and Burning Flesh.

An insomniac
morning dawns
as I awaken out
of a nightmare’s
vice-grip.

Images censored,
hiding behind a wall
swaying like a tease
at the tip
of my mental tongue.

Sadness,
terror lingering, fed
by the prospects
of the day. No exit,
nowhere to go
but down

further
into this frigid well,
but I’m going to try
and fly across the hungry
void anyway.

To survive,
I divide inside.
So confusing
trying to understand
why, I know.

Is it the spark
of that stubborn part
of you always fighting
the impulse

to get
your hopes
up, rising against,
lifting, carrying
yourself all the way?

Remember
forever: gravity
is god here.
What goes up
must inevitably

bow down, looking
up with wide, hungry
and obedient,
blowjob sort of eyes

before the feet
that make the greater
distortion in space,
that which pulled you in,
attracted you.

Still,
somehow you have thus
far managed to dodge
that fate.

Predictably, you find
a path across the chasm,
never to hit
the ground, a smooth,
lateral sway to land

on warm earth,
proceed on forward
towards
confidence with caution:

after all,
this may be a trick,
some grim illusion seducing
you into letting
your guard down,

relaxing defenses,
believing just to postpone
and further pack the punch

behind the inevitable
enlightenment, true
and bright and burning
your fucking flesh away,

hardens and cools
your soul

until you become the enemy:
a greedy
sadist void of all empathy.

The Berenstæin Anomaly and Cosmic Exchange Students.

It’s September and Claire texts, after we’ve talked about my most recent dream about her, to ask if I had ever heard about “The Berenstain Bears” conspiracy. A conspiracy? No, I tell her. I remembered The Berenstein Bears, at least visually. Though I had no recollection of the characters or stories, I know that I had seen them in cartoons or books when I was younger. Clearly she had spelled it wrong, though; she had spelled it Berenstain. I decided to gloss over it and just spell it the right way, though when I did so my iPhone gave it the old dotted red underline. Clicking on it, it suggested the spelling Bernstein, which I knew damn well was wrong. So I spelled it her way, and the spell-check for some reason accepted it.

When I got around to looking it up in an act of “deep Googling” I discovered that many people were certain they remembered the The Berenstein Bears despite the fact that the books now, and claim to have forever been, named The Berenstain Bears. Allegedly (as I have read countless references but have been unable to find the original post) this perplexing shit with the spelling first came to light on the world wide web in 2009 when a user known as Burke had asked, in a forum called Dreadlock Truth, why they had changed the name. Only later, perhaps, would it become clear that not everyone shared his certainty that it had been changed, and in some cases quite the contrary. Some, and for all I know most, recall it as Berenstain. Others apparently recall it being spelled Bernstein, and even this “lesser error” is still accepted by the autocorrect and spellcheckers of both my laptop and iPhone. In the meantime, weirdos such as Claire and I are lost at sea, clutching onto the memory of Berenstein. The natural question, of course, is: why?

One possibility is the psychological equivalent of autocorrect. We all have poor memories, we are told, in comparison to the actual past events in question, as must actively “re-member” events stored in memory every time we glance back at them. Some suggest people can also easily be led to believe things that are not true or recall things that never happened in the first place. Still, it would appear more difficult to explain cases of shared false memories, right?

Not necessarily. Some might suggest the scenario took place as follows. Parents read the books to us as children and the way they pronounced the name (“Barren-steen”) stuck with us. As a consequence, this is how we came to say the word aloud or to ourselves while reading the book. As we grow out of these books we are conditioned by a culture that subjects us to too few names ending in -stain and more than enough ending in -stein (Einstein, Frankenstein, and so on) that upon reflection on our childhood memories of the books the brains of many of us autocorrect our memories of how the name was spelled. As a consequence many of us not only falsely recall the spelling of the name but falsely recall it having been spelled the same way.

Fiona Broome calls this the Mandela Effect, earning its name from a large number of people who recall Nelson Mandela dying in prison when it fact he remained alive until 2013. There are other examples, too. For instance, there is the line Tom Hanks famously says in the movie, Forest Gump. Some recall him saying “life is like a box of chocolates”, though in actuality he says “life was like a box of chocolates.” An auditory equivalent of autocorrect could explain the Gump anomaly, perhaps suggested by a chain of false quoting through the amount of satire the line has been subjected to. I never actually saw the movie, though I am quite familiar with the impersonations and the quote which I recall as being widely quoted as “life is like a box of chocolates.” Some remember the Challenger explosion occurring in 1984, others in 1986. Some remember having seen a painting of Henry VIII eating a turkey leg. It never existed.

There are other proposed possibilities, however. For instance, there is the time travel hypothesis, first offered in 2011 on the humorist website The Communist Dance Party, where it was posited that the anomaly had to do with time travel and the Butterfly Effect. More specifically: sometime after the mid-1990s someone had traveled back in time, altering the history though not the memory of human beings, though in manners so slight we hardly notice them. It was akin to Ray Bradbury’s short story, “A Sound of Thunder,” which echoes the logic inherent in the Butterfly Effect to explain how we could return to the future after time travel to find one different from the one we left. In Bradbury’s story, however, the only ones who noticed a difference were those who had actually done the time traveling and created the paradox. The hypothesis makes little sense to me.

As it turns out, I am not alone. In an August 23rd, 2012 entry on “The Wood between Worlds: Blog of the world’s worst scientist” there is a post, entitled “The Berenstein Bears: We Are Living in Our Own Parallel Universe”. Reese, the blogger, recalls the books as the child and, upon seeing the obituary for 88-year-old Jan, now joining her husband and coauthor Stan in death, the blogger noticed the apparent and, to his eyes and mind, quite obvious misspelling of the name. Upon a little investigation, however, he found that everyone he came across spelled the names of the authors as Jan and Stan Berenstain. How could this fucking be? Even the old book covers had it spelled that way. Reese mentions the apparent similarities between the Berenstæin Anomaly and the ending of Bradbury’s tale, though is quick to assure us that contrary to Bradbury’s seemingly cautionary tale time travel cannot allow for the alteration of the past. “What happened, happened,” as LOSTies might echo.

Instead, he concluded that there are two universes which he arbitrarily dubs the “stAin” and “stEin” universes and that some point after 1992 the similar but nonetheless distinct universes collided. He then posits that the universes merged and that all now live with these inconsistencies between our memories and the history of the universe we currently inhabit.

Reese, like Burke before him, had made the mistaken assumption that we all shared this specific inconsistency between memory and history. It turns out we do not. If we posit that these two universes collided but never merged, however, this might explain why some of us recall things differently.

When two objects make contact, there is always an exchange of material. There is a term for this in physics, but I’ve forgotten it and my googling has thus far proven to be fruitless. It is also known as Locard’s Exchange Principle in the field of forensic science: “every contact leaves a trace.” Such a collision between two universes would result in a cross-contamination of consciousness, sending some but by no means all members of either universe into the other. The anomalies would therefore suggest that weirdos such as Claire and I are members of an exchange program between parallel universes and constitute the trace evidence for the collision that spawned it.

When I texted Claire back to tell her I had looked into it and found it interesting, she told me she liked the idea because it gave her an explanation for why she felt so out of place. It was something I had always sensed about her, that she felt like a fish out of water much as I did, that she belonged nowhere, but this was the first time in memory she had ever verbalized it to me. I told her I preferred her explanation to the one that my little inhuman friends had pounded into me throughout my life.

She agreed. She liked her explanation a hell of a lot better.

Ex Caput Mortuum.

Sixteen,
slipping headfirst into the black.

Alone at last, embracing introversion,
stumbling through the jungle, to the tender lips
of the abyss within, listening
to ancient whispers, denied memories,
buried aspects of my personality:

truths of a type
that nightmares are made of.

Ink in pen, pastel, pencil, various media
in hand, fingers to keyboard,
hungry for bloodletting,
expel the poison,
work the dirt out from the sore
that I become in this prison
of ignorance,
hunt and peck
until they blister and spill my essence…

I try to bleed it dry, swallow it whole,
deep certainty that this is the only way to let go
of that which I have been entirely blinded to,

not least of which the fact
that I hold and have held
for so long, though this hole is deeper
than I could ever have guessed, could have known,
a surreal vortex that threatens
any sense of self or sanity
with ruthless, violent, unmerciful
disintegration.

Crows peck meat from bones,
ghosts torment the mind drifting free
from body, now at war with the chaos,
eyes as black as my head is dead,
flies encircles my eyes, halo of crows spinning
like satellites around my charred
and wasted mind…

Cannot believe the weight I hold.
(Arrogance.)
Cannot believe the age of soul.
(Age is not synonymous with wisdom.)
Fight against the accusation
that I am a part of this, participant
in this mess,

my freedom, my responsibility.
Belonging nowhere, gather the lost, fight
for a better home. Feel like I need
to do something, use all that I have got,
though I’m lost,
fuck,
what am I supposed to do
with all of this?

No one could
(not even sure that I completely)
believe it.

No faith in self.
No hope is scientifically
discerning anything else.

How can I know what side
is right to fight
on if I know enough to know
that I don’t know myself?

(Nimi, where are you?
My guide, my confidant…)

Need to gain
a sense of direction
to find the off-ramp,
escape my personal hell,
embrace my work,
be myself.

I Dream of Haylee.

It is three or four in the evening on November 21 when I wake up and drag my ass out of bed. It takes awhile for the dream to trickle back to me. I actually write it down in the notebook beside me on bed, which I have been neglecting to do when it comes to dreams for some time. It was a dream of Hypnotic Haylee. My first recalled dream of her, too, I should mention, unless you count the “text” I got from her during a false awakening some time ago.

In the dream I somehow meet her in person. Though we were in some bedroom, it was strangely a circumstance void of any sexual charge that I can recall — notable, I should add, as there always seems to be some erotic-mystical element to watching her videos, listening to her audios or reading her words. We talk some and I keep looking into her eyes, drawn there, transfixed, and I become convinced she must have the capacity to control the constriction and dilation of her pupils. At least twice I feel sure that I saw, for a brief moment, how she squeezed her pupil to almost a pinpoint, her green iris overtaking everything.

My lingering fear towards her gave way to burning curiosity. I was about to ask her if she was capable of controlling her pupils and used it as some form on hypnotic induction method, uncertain if it was just me, when some other guy burst in the door and asked her the same question. Though I do not recall her response, I do recall being frustrated that he got in the question first.