I read on a Kindle in bed at night. Lately I have not lasted very long.
I wake up early, at 4:00 a.m., rested and eager to await and face the day. Through the morning and afternoon we walk a lot, in weather that has been partly cold and occasionally rainy. At lunch the wine pours have been generous. By evening, approaching 10:00 p.m., it stands to reason that I’m running on empty. A page or two into whatever I’m reading (a Kate Atkinson novel right now) I tend to nod off.
These last new nights, overtaken by nods, I’ve had black and white hallucinations, seeing things on my Kindle screen as my eyes close. These are fleeting, pixilated visions on the device’s paperwhite background. Twice now, in black silhouette I’ve seen Florida, the distinct shape of that state, just the way it looks on the map. In a couple seconds the peninsula comes into view, then disappears.
It’s a mini-dream, a flash dream. Is it about an obsession? an unfulfilled desire? About stress and deep-seated conflict? Or is it just a random, flickering reflection of a present or past experience (map study in the 5th grade, let’s say), signifying nothing?
In Medical News Today these hallucinations are described as “hypnogogic” events, pertaining to that eerie threshold period between wakefuness and sleep. A shallow dream state. Everyone has experienced the hypnogogic jerk–barely asleep you dream that you slip, stumble on stair step, fall off a bicycle, and suddenly you jerk back into a wakeful state. Maybe this hallucination is akin to that.
But why Florida?
I’ve been to Florida exactly three times. The first time, some forty years ago, Tizi and I had been married barely a year. Her parents were acquiring an investment property in Homosassa Springs. It was new construction. She and I flew down to make some decorating decisions. Not that we had any expertise in the matter. We spoke English. That was enough.
The weekend is a blur. My most vivid memory is standing on a bridge in a wildlife park, looking down at a hippo, up to its knees in a creek, gazing up at us, its mouth yawning open like the trunk of a Buick with teeth. I’m pretty sure I swam somewhere that weekend. Tizi did not.
In the decades that followed, if I suggested we go to Florida, she would say no. In the cold months I would think, Why not?
“It’s hot down there,” she’d say.
“Isn’t that the point?”
“Swimming pool. Ocean. Sun.”
“It’s hot down there.”
One year, after our daughter and her husband spent a long weekend in Florida, eating in good restaurants, I got the bug again. Somehow I sold my wife on Miami, South Beach. It was January.
“A short flight,” I said.
“It’s hot down there.”
She thought about this one.
“Same time zone,” I said.
“Good restaurants,” I said, “We could give it a try.”
She gave her consent. The next three days she watched me swim in the ocean from the beach.
“Come on in,” I said.
“You get used to it.”
“My feet will get all sandy.”
Toweling off later, I said, “At least the restaurants are good.”
“Beh,” she said. I had learned enough Italian to understand “beh” means many things, among them: Don’t get me wrong, I love you, and I know this frolic in the ocean is your idea of a good time, but it’s definitely not mine. And as far as the restaurants go, beh.
Another fleeting memory of that weekend was water in the city. I think it was global warming aggravated by rain and high tide. In a low-lying zone one morning, as we walked past one art nouveau treasure after another, lakes began to form in intersections.
“You see,” Tizi said.
“Let’s just cross the street.”
“Another reason not to come to Florida.”
“At least,” I said, “we can have a nice swim this afternoon.”
An observation that did not even warrant a beh.
This week we see in the news that Venice is suffering historic flooding, three days of acqua alta (high water). St. Mark’s Square closes. Eighty percent of the city is underwater. Images show tourists up to their thighs in water, Venetians in their sturdy hip boots.
Twenty years ago we were in Venice when the water levels rose. The elevated sidewalks were brought out. Vendors sold colorful boots, little more than yellow and blue plastic bags with soles on the bottoms and string ties above the knee. That day the acqua alta came and went. The locals were philosophical about the situation. “When you’re in Venice, it’s just a fact of life,” they said. The water receded. Life returned to normal. Last year in November we were standing in St. Marks and the water came bubbling out of the drains in the square. An hour later it was three inches deep. A few hours after that there was six inches of water. We walked around it, got back to our hotel. Next day the city was dry.
This year feels different. Something tells me that within a few weeks, the infrastructure will be patched together again. Lights will work. Phones will ring. Hotels and restaurants will be dried up and open. The lagoon boats delivering bulk foods and table linens, transporting building material and picking up garbage, they will all run again. Gondoliers will haunt the bridges and direct visitors to their expensive canal tours. But it’s hard not to be shaken. How long before the damage is irreversible, if it isn’t already?
Years ago I read Suzanne Langer’s Philosophy in a New Key. Very little of it stuck with me. But what did was her discussion of the symbolic transformation of experience. All day long stuff happens to us, we are flooded with sensations, experience, and meaning. The mind processes the experience, stores it in memory, in code–images, words, figures, sounds–in symbols that we access and organize, and shape and re-shape into meaning. We live in a swell, a tide of significance that rises, envelopes us.
But dreams? Langer writes, “The activity of the mind seems to go on all the time, like that of the heart and lungs and viscera; but during sleep it serves no practical purpose. . . . At best it presents us with the things we do not want to think about, the things which stand in the way of practical living.”
Typically I don’t think much about my dreams. For a while I had a recurring dream, vivid and disconcerting, of sitting on the toilet in my driveway in broad daylight. (I suppose it would have just as disconcerting at night.) This dream served no practical purpose.
Two or three nights in a row I see Florida. Is my mind, or my Kindle, trying to tell me something? “Things we don’t want to think about.” Such as Venice going under.
Last night, same experience, different image. In a flash dream I saw a horse’s head. Will I see it tonight? I hope so. But it’s very possible I will go to sleep thinking about Florida.