About a month ago, I woke up around 3 AM to find that I couldn’t breathe or move and one of my arms had gone completely numb. The whole thing felt like some crazy attack with no source—I was being attacked by nothing. However, that didn’t make the situation any less terrifying, and the entire time I had this desperate feeling like getting out of my room was my only chance of survival. Which—I know—makes 0 sense. No one dies from choking on air.
But regardless, with what felt like a last ditch effort, I somehow managed to drag my lifeless body from my bed. Then, I stood in total darkness, swaying for a good two minutes with my one numb arm flopping around and trying to catch my breath. (I imagine from a surveillance camera eye’s view this probably looked like some kind of attack from the other side. Like, I was that chick Katie from Paranormal Activity and this was the beginning stage of my possession—the one right before I start inexplicably watching my parents sleep for 3 hours every night in a trancelike state. This is all hypothetical, of course.)
Once I realized my lungs were working, still in my half-asleep state, I clawed my way through the house, switching on every light as I went, and made myself a bowl of Greek yogurt because…the subconscious wants what it wants after a long night of simulated near death experiences? I have no fucking clue.
But, after that, I went back to bed, and right before I fell completely asleep again I dreamt (hallucinated?) that I could see the silhouette of a large bulky man with the head of a ram staring at me sideways from across the room—like he was curious about me, or waiting for me…
It. Was. So. Fucking. Creepy.
So the next day I decided to Google: Is it normal to wake up gasping for air?
The first link to pop up directed me to a question forum like Yahoo Answers, but sketchier, and I read a response that was like: OMG! I STARTED WAKING UP NOT ABLE TO BREATHE OR MOVE AND I’D HAVE THIS WEIRD DREAM ABOUT A SCARY DEMON THING CRUSHING MY CHEST. I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT INCUBUS ATTACKS UNTIL THIS HAPPENED BUT THEY ARE REAL!!!!! I SEARCHED THEM AND ALL THE IMAGES THAT CAME UP LOOK JUST LIKE THE THING I SAW ON MY CHEST! OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!
God dammit! I thought.
Like, I just wanted to know if I should go see a doctor. But then my curiosity became unbearable, so I Googled: Incubus Attacks, and clicked on, Images. And I’ll admit, it was kind of jarring to find tons of depictions from different cultures, religions, and time periods, that all showed the exact same ram-man as the one in my dream.
I had always assumed that my “Ram-Man” nightmares had to do with being raised Christian and, from a psychological standpoint, were just a manifestation of my own, personal, childhood fears. I never once thought that this was a nightmare that thousands of people across time and space, from secular to various religious upbringings, had experienced. But after surfing the Internet, I found myself in a state of Google-induced paranoia that had me believing the Ram-Man was embedded in the human collective subconscious. I couldn’t decide if this made me feel better or worse, so I proceeded to educate myself in the ridiculous subject that is “Incubus Attacks” in hopes of finding a more practical explanation for my sleeping problems.
Apparently an Incubus Attack is when a person wakes up to find that they are being held down and sexually assaulted by a demon—this is my lazy, amateur, explanation, but—for real though—people actually believe in this shit.
One article I read was like: Ghost Sex: Could aliens be responsible? While another article went in a less speculative direction and was more reprimanding, saying verbatim: “If you’re reading this, you probably clicked on this link looking to learn more about Incubus Attacks for impure reasons. (You must stop making contact with the devil!) If you are one of these people, somebody sent you here—a TV show, a book, a singing sorcerer…” I promptly spit out my coffee—a singing sorcerer. Seems legit. And finally, one article went as far as slut-shaming my brain by saying: “Basically if a person has a loose mind, one prone to fantasize and lacking in self-discipline, then that person [deserves to be raped by a demon in her sleep.]”
Seriously? A loose mind. Like sorry I’m not boring, bitch.
Meanwhile Science was just like: Stress.
Stress, anxiety, mental illness, repressed memories…these are the real culprits behind sleep paralysis, otherwise known as “Incubus Attacks”, and the two groups most susceptible to these culprits are people in their twenties and the elderly—two stages in life when humans are most directly confronted with the unknown. Therefore it would make sense that sometimes, our waking minds, so overwhelmed with the reality of our impending futures or impending deaths, would conjure up a physical manifestation of everything we can’t explain—at least not yet.
The truth might be underwhelming, and infinitely less fantastical, but I went to college. I got a degree in Shakespeare and defamiliarization and carefully crafted sentences. I understand literary theory. I can’t watch a movie or read a book or even have a basic human interaction without turning it into some kind of analysis. I spent the past five years obtaining a $60,000 brain that I can’t afford and, who am I now?
A clumsy waitress at a yacht club for the overly privileged and mostly delusional; for all the pretend commodores of imaginary ships—people who would gladly have me thrown out to sea because, god forbid they receive one complimentary dessert instead of two. No wonder I wake up in the middle of the night completely convinced that I’m drowning. This cannot be your destiny. That is what the Ram-Man is trying to tell me. Wake up! He says. Do something! But I can’t move because he’s the unknown and he’s in the room and I don’t know what to make of him or anything.
When did the future switch from being a promise to being a threat? Seth of Chuck Palaniuk’s Invisible Monsters writes this thought on a shabby post card and sends it sailing through Seattle to nowhere in particular. And now I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s such a simple sentiment, but I can’t stop wondering: When did the future become a threat? It’s like I spent my entire childhood and adolescence promising myself: Someday, Someday… And now, Someday is To-day, and I’m still trying to figure out a game plan. Like, I haven’t even gotten to the putting-plans-into-action part yet, and it’s making me reckless in my decisions. Shit, everyone knows that recklessness rarely ever leads to success.
Or maybe it does.
I don’t know. It’s like this: Someday has become Today, and with Today I have this anxiety that, at any moment, it’ll turn into Yesterday. Yesterday meaning that, I blew it. Nothing turned out the way I’d hoped and I’m a total failure. So in some ways, I’m just like: I might as well be reckless. Why waste time building a bridge when I can just jump off one or, even better, burn one? I want the applause, the approval, of things that make me go…
And now I’m just quoting Lorde lyrics.
But I’ll get to the point. This is how I hope things turn out, this is the summary of my dream—Someday I make a living writing whatever I want. No one tells me what to do, at least not in terms of what to think or how to be. Nothing would ever be a demand, only a suggestion. People would trust and respect my opinion because my books, or whatever, would be good enough to entitle me to that kind of power…
Do you have any idea how bat shit crazy this “dream” is?
I’m pretty sure only 1% of the population ever actually gets lucky in terms of making a living solely from their art, and who knows what percent of that 1% is comprised of writers. (Even less than one percent, that’s for sure.) Meanwhile, I’m just a speck in the 99% that is my competition.
And despite all that, I still keep promising myself: Someday, someday, because writing is the only good thing I’ve got.
At times, it feels awesome. Like I have this secret weapon—I can turn anyone who ever hurt me into a story or a joke or a lesson. I can say everything I’ve ever wanted to say, with tact. Nobody can interrupt me. Nobody can put me down half way through. It feels awesome. It feels so, so, awesome—sometimes.
But most times, it just feels like some kind of affliction. Like I’ll never not write. I’ll never not think so much that I need to get it out of my head before it’s gone. I’ll never stop hoping what I write will matter someday while also understanding that nothing really matters and it’s selfish to hope to matter anyway. Simultaneously narcissistic and self-aware. Hopelessly hopeful. Idealistic to the point of delusion and self-loathing and everyone-else-loathing—This is what it means to be a writer.
It sucks because it’s lonely.
I feel like an alien.
I feel like the oldest girl in the world to still believe in magic.
Doesn’t anyone else feel that, or am I really the ridiculous person I pretend to believe I am?
Is now a good time to say that I hate corporate America? Ever since I got my writing degree I’ve learned to hate capitalism more and more everyday because of what it does to people like me—Artsy kids who don’t come from rich families. I think Bret Easton Ellis created a kind of allegory for what happens to artsy-kids-with-no-money in his novel, American Psycho, when Patrick Batemen—a character embodiment of all things capitalist and money hungry—says this:
“I have no patience for revelations, for new beginnings, for things that take place beyond the realm of my immediate vision. A young girl, a freshman, I met in a bar in Cambridge my junior year at Harvard told me early one fall that ‘Life is full of endless possibilities.’ I tried valiantly not to choke on the beer nuts I was chewing while she gushed this kidney stone of wisdom, and I calmly washed them down with the rest of a Heineken, smiled and concentrated on the dart game that was going on in the corner. Needless to say, she did not live to see her sophomore year. That winter, her body was found floating in the Charles River, decapitated, her head hung from a tree on the bank, her hair knotted around a low hanging branch, three miles away.”
It took me 240 pages before I finally understood why I found American Psycho so unsettling, but then I came to this passage and I got it. I found the book unsettling because I’m the hopeful girl who winds up metaphorically dead and dismembered. I’m the one who talks about possibilities and what the world can be; I’m the girl who devotes her life to ideas instead of money, and winds up only ever being humored—washed down with a Heineken and confined to a 9 to 5, somewhere. Who cares. Money, money, money. Die. The world never gets better because the masses don’t really give a shit about what it’ll look like for our surviving generations.
For an idealistic girl like me, total realization of this truth feels like decapitation; like my body was just found headless in some river, never really experiencing life, just floating—just getting by—and not by choice.
Uuuuuuuuugh, I can’t help but worry my future is going to be some horrible corporate-devoted nightmare because, at this point in time, working for a corporation feels like my only option, like the only way I can ever make enough money to pay off my student loans. But settling for offices, call centers, break rooms, assembly lines…the redundancy, the blank walls, the cubicles, the recruiting propaganda that lies: This company is community and family oriented! Just makes me nauseous. It all makes me want to resign to a life spent living out of my car or off the grid. Is it too late to be raised by wolves?
I mean, I’ll admit, I used to think corporations weren’t so bad. I assumed anyone who had strong negative feelings about them was just kind of lazy and didn’t understand the concept of: Life isn’t fair. But recently I interviewed for a job at a major insurance company, and the more the interview went on, the less I wanted the job.
First of all, I’m convinced the HR person interviewing me was a cyborg; like I’m positive [insert major insurance company name here] just plugs her into a wall every night and downloads different policies and protocol into her system because she was fluent in business jargon and political correctness at a robotic level. Also, she never stopped smiling, which was disconcerting because it was obvious half way through the interview that I didn’t want the job and she wasn’t going to give it to me.
I put in less effort with every question and answer because it felt like everything I said had the potential to be, and inevitably would be, used against me. At one point, I made the mistake of saying that I didn’t mind constructive criticism and, as you can guess, the cyborg immediately pounced on this statement:
“Tell me,” she said, “About a time when your employer criticized you constructively.”
I remember pretending to think real hard before I said, “Gosh! You know! I can’t think of anything!” Then I thought: Can I go home now?
But after that, the cyborg went on to explain that [insert major insurance company] was a goal and performance based environment, “If you saw your name at the bottom of the results chart,” she said, “How would you handle that?”
And I said, “I would try to do better at my job…I’d ask my supervisor for tips on how to improve, and I’d make improvement a goal. I’d ensure that my results were better next time.”
When I finished talking, she looked kind of taken aback—like I’d just come out of a tourettes attack—and all I could think was: Shit-fuck! What do you want me to say?!?!
I’d kill myself.
If I saw my name at the bottom of the results chart I’d kill myself. I’d shoot myself right in front of it and repay the insurance gods by spewing chunks of my $60,000 brain all over the chart graphing my personal failure. Happy, Cyborg?!?!—Later I told my boyfriend this dramatic internal monologue, verbatim, and being the rational levelheaded person that he is, he said, “You could have just told her that your name would never end up at the bottom of the results chart.”
And all I could do was bury my face in a pillow and loathe him for being right. I should have just given her some bull-shit-too-good-to-be-honest response because that’s what job interviews, and corporations, are all about—bullshit.
For example, I have this ex-boyfriend who is a bullshit genius. Like one second he could be the corporate cyborg, saying things like, “The company, and the company. Here’s my action plan. Now let’s go air this thing out, come to an agreeance. I think we can hack it. Did I mention the company?” Then he could turn around and be a real person again, like, “What company? Oh. That’s just where I make bank off being good at bullshit.”
He’s going to be a millionaire someday. Isn’t that infuriating?
Well no. It’s not. I actually think the world, to a degree, needs people like that. Good bullshitters make the world go round. But my real issue is that, A.) It’s much, much, easier for this ok-with-bullshit type of person to be successful opposed to anyone else, and B.) I’m definitely not an ok-with-bullshit type of person. Like I just don’t think I could ever be so passionate about money that I’d be willing to spew bullshit for it. I’m too honest. I could never actually look that cyborg of [insert major insurance company] in the eye and say, “My name would never appear at the bottom of the results chart.” Because it’s a lie. I’m a shit salesperson! I’m a shit salesperson like I’m a shit bullshitter.
At the end of my interview with [insert major insurance company] the cyborg asked, “So, do you have any questions for me?”
And as she stared at me, expectantly, with her unblinking black hole blue eyes, all I wanted to ask was, “What happened to your soul?”
“It’s all about who you know,” says the aspiring rap artist giving me unsolicited advice on creative writing at the bar. This is after I’ve told him that I have a degree in the exact thing he’s trying to school me in, so I’m impatient with his false confidence.
I say, “It’s also about talent and ambition, you know. I’ve been writing everyday since I was twelve…I got a degree in writing knowing it wouldn’t make me any money but at least I would have an incentive to write—which is the only way you get better…knowing the ‘right’ people can’t inspire a person to be that ambitious or naturally inclined to…”
He cut me off.
He doesn’t get what I mean because he’s not a real writer—he’s just a bored dude talking out his ass in a vain attempt to seem interesting because he’s got nothing to lose, and I don’t feel like a bitch saying that. I can tell the difference between someone who just wrote a cool sentence one day when they were high and a real artist—writing is the only thing I reserve my right to be this cocky about. The only subject in the world I feel comfortable interrupting people on and saying: I probably know more about this than you. I mean, I’mma let you finish but…
I swear I had a majority of this post already written before Kanye West gave his Video Vanguard Award acceptance speech at the VMAs. I had already written that I wanted to lead a life motivated by ideas instead of money, despite how “practical” other modes of being might seem, before he said,
“I will die for the arts, for what I believe in, and the art ain’t always going to be polite… I don’t know what’s going to happen tonight. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow…But all I can say to my artists, my fellow artists: Just worry how you feel at the time…Just worry about how you feel… I’m confident. I believe in myself. We the millennials… This is a new mentality. We not going to control our kids with brands. We’re not going to teach low self-esteem and hate to our kids. We gonna teach our kids that they can be something. We’re going to teach our kids that they can stand up for themselves. We’re going to teach our kids to believe in themselves… I don’t know what I stand to lose after this. It don’t matter, though, because it ain’t about me, it’s about ideas… New ideas. People with ideas, people who believe in truth.”
And regardless of how rambling or confusing or weird his speech might have been, he meant something real by it, and it was refreshing to watch someone with such a diverse and massive platform be so unapologetically idealistic about the future of our generation; for someone of that caliber to express the same frustrations and sentiments I’ve been feeling and thinking for the past few months.
I’ll admit he lost me the moment he said he would be running for president—unless he wasn’t being serious, who knows—but up until that point, he had me.
It was admirable how he tried to explain himself, what was going through his mind when he interrupted Taylor Swift at the VMAs six years ago. How all he was trying to say was that he didn’t want to be a bullshitter. He just wanted to be honest. He was trying to say that art is about more than awards and competition and getting the most votes, about more than popularity and making money. That it’s about ideas, and how much an artist is willing to sacrifice in order to remain true to their ideas, even at the expense of popularity and success; about being a visionary first, and a good businessman second.
It’s not all about “who you know”.
My favorite writing professor constantly told us, “You have to be ruthless.” Like: Don’t kid yourself. Be brutally honest. Always choose writing over anything else. Don’t apologize for believing you have a shot at this. Don’t be afraid to burn bridges for the only thing you’ve ever really wanted in life—to say something that will be taken seriously.
It’s a lot of pressure, actually having the nerve to believe in yourself—that lame bullshit cliché that millennials are so often accused of believing in too much.
But I can’t help it. I believe in it. All the time. To the point where, to actually tell people what I hope for—out loud—feels like admitting I still believe in magic. Like I’m seriously delusional, like: Hey, I’m twenty-three and I’m still walking around with this lame ass thing called a dream, and because I believe in my lame ass dream so much I will never, ever, allow myself be passionate about a corporate agenda, or brand names, or all-inclusive vacations, or starting a family, or even paying my student loans on time…fuuuuuuck!!!!!!!
How am I ever going to be truly, fundamentally, happy if this one thing that I want never happens?
That’s the question waking me up in the middle of the night; that’s the pressure on my chest at 3AM; that’s the Ram-Man—the unknown—appearing by moonlight to jolt me awake and say: Get up! Do something—the future is switching from a promise to a threat!
And the more the future, my unknown, weighs down, the less certainty I have in who I am and what I’m here for. And when stress-induced sleep paralysis won’t let me rest in peace and I start to feel that ominous presence, that simulated attacker in the room, I just remind myself over and over: It’s a lie. It’s a lie. Then I think of my dad, who, on the days when I look defeated after serving shifts or failed interviews, takes a moment to say, “You’re an artist…Don’t settle for anything. Someday it’ll happen for you.”
And finally I fall back into my dreams because I’m a self-indulgent millennial and I believe what he says is true.