When You Sleep

Winter sunrise

AI generated image from DreamStudio

I’m writing this in December, which generally means Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice, New Years Eve and probably a bunch of other holidays I’m ignorant of… are about to take place. It’s the end of the year and the preparation for a new one. In the west, most people are either pulling out their favorite Christmas tunes, or putting on their earmuffs so they can avoid having to listen to them. For me though, in my neverending quest to establish a soundtrack for my life, I’ve decided that Christmas songs should not only be strictly for December, they should be relegated to only the second half of the month. Mind you, I’m not against hearing the occasional Christmas song earlier, but I’m not quite prepared to take an aural bath in the holiday season until it gets a bit closer. 

So what then should be the theme for the first half of December? I would say there are two main themes of this time of year. One is questions, as in “what the heck was that year we just had all about?” and the other, somewhat related, is wonder, as in “wow! That year was a trip wasn’t it?” and “Holy crap it’s cold” and “Snow! Yay!” or “Snow! What a pain!” So with those admittedly general themes in mind, I put songs together into a early December playlist (called “Questions” you can find it on YouTube). This year, the song at the top of my list is “When you Sleep” by the band Cake.

psychedelic hands

AI generated image from DreamStudio

“When You Sleep” is a delightful song. It starts off with a bunch of plucky stringed instruments frolicking around a simple base melody that rises and falls in pitch in a steady ebb and flow. The only percussion is an infrequent sibilant brushing. This all evokes the breathing of a soundly sleeping person. 

The first line of the song is “When you sleep, where do your fingers go?” And that’s just not something you generally think about, but it’s an intriguing question. Fingers are about grasping things, working with things, and also feeling…in a tactile sense of course, but more metaphorically in a visceral sense. If you can grasp something, you can understand it. You are able, to a degree, to take some ownership of it. But where does this ability go when you are asleep? What can you do? What can you accomplish? What do you feel? And what can you understand when you’re sleeping?

The answer isn’t “nothing.” We dream, even if we don’t always remember the dreams we have. Whatever we may strive for in life, there is something under the surface that we all reach for. What is that?

As the song explores some of these questions more instruments join in, notably the trumpet (played by Vince DiFiore) which plays above the established melody like some winged creature taking flight over the water. 

The lyrics continue:

Do they tremble on the edge of the bed

Or do you fold them neatly by your head?

Do they clench like claws against your own skin

When you’re living your day all over again?

What kind of person are you? What are you going through?

The chorus repeats and now there’s a call and response thing going on with the other band members yelling out “When you sleep!” after the lead singer says the other parts. We are fully in the realm of dreams now, what was hidden is now in full view.

Do they play guitar in a Latin bar?
Are they strangers or lovers?
Do they drive your car?

There are a lot of Cake songs about driving and cars. Cake is a great band to listen to on a commute for precisely that reason. Probably their most popular song is “The Distance” which expands on the metaphor of a race car driver (among other forms of conveyance) that keeps going after the race is over. There is also “Satan is my Motor,”  “Carbon Monoxide,” and “Long Line of Cars.” Even the song “Dime” has a stanza that describes a dime sparkling among roadside trash under an overpass with afternoon commuters. This fixation on cars probably has something to do with Cake being based in California, which is notorious for its car traffic. Their home base is Sacramento, but of course anyone in entertainment ends up in LA a lot and that’s a city where there’s a lot of driving. Of course people drive in other cities too. I haven’t done any statistical research on it or anything, but there was an Oscar-winning movie (Crash) about how the only way to meet people in LA is to get into a car accident with them. So presumably it’s a thing. 

I would say for McCrea, cars are representations of the ego, although a complicated version of the concept. In the song “Satan is My Motor” he talks about how he has “seats that selflessly hold my friends and a trunk that can carry the heaviest of loads,” but that “under my hood is internal combustion power.” So there’s a little id in the idea too maybe. Or at least there is an acknowledgment of multiple facets of being. A car for McCrea, and probably for most people to an extent, is a representation of one’s identity. So are you yourself when you dream? Or are you someone else?

Are they swimming submissively

Sex acts of life

Or just cutting through jello with a very sharp knife?

An interesting dichotomy presented here. Another Cake song “Italian Leather Sofa,” which is mostly a fun romp about a rich couple’s lack of F’s to give, has the lines “she’s got a serrated edge that she moves back and forth/  it’s such a simple machine, she doesn’t have to use force/ When she gets what she wants, she puts the rest on a tray in ziploc bag in the freezer.” Using a knife is being neat and controlling. Everything in its place and organized. Contrast that with swimming submissively, being immersed in emotions or troubles.

McCrea has conflicting feelings about knife wielders, I think. As much as he seems to mock them in “Italian Leather Sofa,” and perhaps “You Part the Waters,” his description of his ideal girl in “Short Skirt, Long Jacket” includes that she “Uses a machete to cut through red tape.” A knife seems to be analogous to control. Are you out of control and passionate in your dreams? Or do you dream of things being easily manipulated?

As if to answer this question, the song then launches into the bridge:

Now Zeus was a womanizer

Always on the make

But Hera usually punished her that Zeus was one to take

At this point I just want to step back a bit and say that there just aren’t that many songs out there that incorporate Ancient Greek mythology into their lyrics. There’s this one and “I’m Your Venus” and that’s about all I can think of. I’m sure there are some out there, but I don’t think any of them are that popular. Thinking of things like Pandora’s box, Icarus and whatnot it seems like an untapped resource.

But anyway, what are we to make of this? How does this answer the question or explore it further? There are a couple ways to interpret this. For one Zeus and Hera could be thought of as two aspects of the same person. That there’s a passionate, boundless aspect and a more controlling, restraining aspect. Similar in a way to the idea covered by Nietzche and other philosophers about the duality of the Apollonian and Dionysian aspects. Apollo represents the light and righteousness, but also rules and order, while Dionysus is darkness and subversion, but also freedom and passion. It also fits an Eastern idea of yin and yang, or the Native American idea of the two wolves in the soul

Another way to look at it though would be that the singer (which is to say, the “speaker” of the poem of the lyrics and not necessarily McCrea himself)  is like Zeus, having his way with women, while the particular woman of the song ( the “you” here) is plagued by some emotional backlash, the “punishment” unleashed by Hera for Zeus’s misdeeds.

Or it could be that the “you” in the poem is like Hera herself, planning revenge against the singer’s exploits.

There’s a prolonged harmony of the question at this point and a musical interlude with more wordless vocalizations.  Also, there are some bells in the background, which are a little jingly? Almost Christmas-y. Which is another reason why I think this song fits December. Finally the lyrics continue:

Are they pulling out weeds from the dusty soil

But then never rewarded with the fruits of their toil

Are they scratching their nails on the chalkboards of death

Only seeking attention when everyone in the room has left

I love the instrumentation here with some distorted piano(?) sounds plinking in as if to represent the weeds getting plucked, and then later descending in pitch to incorporate the darker thematic tone of the end of the stanza.

Hera on a chalkboard of death

AI generated image from DreamStudio

Frustration seems to be the common thread here. I find the “chalkboards of death” line particularly poignant, though. When I first hear it, I think of a Grim Reaper teaching a class or or something, but it’s not Death with a capital D. It’s regular old death. The chalkboards don’t belong to Death, rather they are representations of death itself. A black, blank void. And your fingers, representation of your struggles to feel and understand, are scratching against it. Fighting it desperately. But scratching nails on a chalkboard is something immensely irritating and it’s something you do to get attention. Only there isn’t anyone around when you’re sleeping. You are screaming against the void and no one can hear you, but more than that, you don’t really want anyone to hear you.

In another nuance, it’s not really “you” who’s doing this, but your fingers. So if there’s no one in the room, who are your fingers seeking attention from? That would be…you. Your desire to feel and understand is struggling against the void of death and begging you to pay attention. 

Or is it? Maybe you’re just having a good time, flying or being naked or whatever. 

The song goes back to the first question, of whether the sleeper keeps their hands folded or if they tremble on the edge of the bed. It’s as if we’re coming back to reality from the world of dream. 

Just a great song. 

Anyway, these are just my current thoughts. I could be way off base on some things. I hope your December questions lead to beautiful and wondrous answers.

 

How to Achieve Your Dreams

sky-clouds-above-clouds-wallpaperThe following is a response to a question on Quora. I didn’t quite read the question correctly, but I like what I came up with as an answer. I have no definite expertise on any of this, but I have learned a few things that may be useful for somebody.


dmaicIf you’re serious about accomplishing your dreams, there are some tools that have been developed in the business world that can help. I’ve been involved with some Six Sigma projects, and I like the model of DMAIC for the most part. That is Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control. These sound boring, but they’re really not. Let’s go through them.

Define
The first step of accomplishing your dreams is to have realistic dreams. This isn’t giving up, this is building up. If you want to fly, great. I’m not going to say you can’t fly. But what exactly do you mean by flying? Is flying an airplane going to work for you? No? How about skydiving, that’s kind of like flying, or hang gliding? Do you actually want to be like a bird, or do you want to be superman?

Already, while we started off with something that seems unattainable, we now have several options that are much more attainable. One of the things that keeps you back in this step is fear. Your dream of flight is nice, but what if you don’t like it? What if it’s dangerous? What if it seems less beautiful? These what-ifs can hold you back, but they shouldn’t be ignored either. Make a list of these fears along with any other risks, because its entirely possible that you actually don’t want to accomplish this particular dream. Next to these risks, you want to list the benefits of accomplishing your dream. What will you gain from it. Why do you want to accomplish it? It could be that while your dream involves flight, what you really want is a feeling of freedom, and there might be better ways of doing this. If you think of some, great, make another list of risks and benefits for this new dream. Does it look better than what you had before? You keep at this until you have something that matches your desires and yet still fits with what can occur in reality.

If, at this point, you still don’t see how you can accomplish your dream, then look for ways to get closer to accomplishing it. If you want to be Superman, maybe look into jet packs, physical fitness, rescue work, or space travel. Depending on what it is about Superman that you most want to be, learning about these subjects might not get you there, but it will get you closer. The idea here is to bring your dream closer to reality by bringing reality closer to your dream.

Measure
weight-scale-400x400-300x300How close are you to your dream today? The easiest example of this is weight loss. If you want to lose 30 pounds before next Thanksgiving, you need to monitor how you’re doing to know if the diet you are on is working or not. Even if it’s something you dread, you have to get on the scale and check, otherwise there is no point in dieting. You can get more sophisticated in this step for more benefit. You can make a graph of your progress for example and a list of all the foods you ate each day and any exercise you did. This way if there is a large dip or a peak, you can see what might have caused it. Weight loss is nicely quantitative, so measuring is easy to do.

The picture to the left links to a blog about not letting scales control your life. This is a common sentiment, and I can understand where it comes from. I think it’s a completely wrong way of thinking about things, but I understand it. If you aren’t having too much success accomplishing your dreams it can be disheartening to measure how far you’ve fallen. This is because humans aren’t robots. If you aren’t doing well in your progress, you need to either move on to the next steps (analyze and improve) or reconsider the previous step. Is loosing weight really what’s important to you? Could it be that you’re really worried about your fitness? Weight may not be the best way to measure that. If you stress eat, you might measure progress by recording times of stress and how you coped. Or maybe whatever is causing you stress is the problem. Putting serious effort into fixing that might be the best bet. You are never going to be able to levitate yourself. That’s depressing. But being able to do a pull up is close. Even Superman started with tall buildings. But whatever you’re goal you HAVE to measure your progress toward it somehow if you’re serious about accomplishing it.

For your more qualitative goals, like flying or perhaps owning your own business, you might need to make a journal dedicated to the goal. You can probably come up with many little goals and you can note your successes and your set backs in a journal as you experience them. The point is to have a record of what works and what doesn’t so you have some guidance in the next step.

Analyze and Improve
If your diet isn’t working out, change it. If you feel like you’re not getting anywhere, move. You do NOT want to be consistent if you are unhappy. A foolish consistency, as Emerson said, is the hobgoblin of little minds. Although you want to make changes that are likely to work and that aren’t too dangerous, remember it’s okay to make mistakes. You are, in fact, required to make mistakes in order to know what does not work for you. There are different kinds of writers, different kinds of digestive systems, you may, in fact, be from the planet Krypton. You can’t just follow someone else’s plan.

It is very important, however, to continue to measure your progress. You might think it’s a good idea to eat nothing but soy products in your diet, but you might find out that you actually gain weight (because, surprise, soy can be fattening!) Give it some time so you can be sure of how things changed, but if things are going worse, change your system back to how it was before if possible, or make another adjustment if its not.

houseflyI’m going to digress here for a moment to talk about house flies. If you watch a fly fly, you might notice how randomly it moves. It buzzes around your sandwich quite a bit yes, but then it takes a trip to the window and the to the lamp shade and back to your sandwich again. The actual motivations and causes for the complicated behavior of a fly is complicated, but one possible way of explaining it is as a modified random walk. A random (or drunkard’s) walk is one in which a moving object moves in a random direction for a random amount of time. The fly does just about the same thing, except it has memory, sight and smell, signals that make it prefer certain directions over others. As long as the good signals are getting stronger, the fly will keep going in the same direction, pretty much, but if there’s a bad signal that’s getting stronger or the good signals are getting weaker, it sort of tumbles in the air and flies in a new, but still mostly random direction. This is rather inefficient, but it works. If you are near a sandwich, and you get further away from it, the signal goes down. You then go in a different direction and maybe this is also leading away from the sandwich so you change directions again, and now you are going toward the sandwich again so you keep going. I should say that the fly is a bit (a LOT) more sophisticated than I’ve described here, and, while a fly does act this way somewhat, this behavior is more like how bacteria move (Howard C. Berg has written a lot of interesting work in “random walks”). The point is, that it doesn’t matter so much what you adjust, or in what way you adjust it; what does matter is how often you adjust it and how closely you monitor your situation.

If things are progressing well, don’t mess with them! But if things aren’t going anywhere, some kind of change is in order. If things are getting worse, than a change is not only a good idea, but an urgent one. Don’t let fear keep you from a better life. You might be in a situation where you don’t have a lot of options, but even if you only have two paths you can go on as Led Zeppelin says, “in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.”

Control
ControlThis step has two phases. While you’re still attaining your dream and making adjustments, you will probably find it helpful to establish some rules and guidelines. For example, jumping off a building is not an acceptable means of learning to fly. In weight loss, you might find that day to day, your weight varies by about a pound or so there’s no reason to stress about an increase unless its more than that (stress->despair->ice cream so limiting stress is also important). You may also have some go-to adjustments for when things go wrong, such as doing more exercise or taking a quiet moment to watch the birds when you’re feeling down. These guidelines that you develop on your way to your goal are the first phase of control.

The second phase of control occurs after you’ve attained your dream. So you’re successful. Now what? Well, the answer to that question is usually that you want to make sure you stay successful. A lot of the guidelines you came up with in the first phase will work in this second phase, but there may be a few things you need to do differently. If you get a job as a pilot, for example, you need to review all the safety procedures even though day-to-day you may not need to know them. You also need to keep an eye out for new technologies and if necessary train yourself on them so you don’t become obsolete. Once you lose the weight, you have to stay vigilant to keep it off, and you may have to employ different strategies as you age or go through other life changes.

As you may have noticed, all these “steps” overlap, and turn back on themselves like eddies in a river. You could in fact just as easily start with Control, and then notice somethings out of whack and move to Analyze and Improve and then Measure, and then find out what exactly the problem was at the end of the whole process (Define). That’s more or less what happens when police make an arrest. Perhaps it would be better to call these phases or even aspects of goal setting, but I think if you’re looking for a way to start accomplishing your dream, defining your dream is a good place to start. If you’ve got your dream well-defined, measuring your progress is the next thing to try. Then adjusting things as needed, and finally controlling them once you have things pretty well established. They build on each other nicely that way, and besides, that’s how the business world groups them.


Note: This post used pictures from the following websites. Please visit them and consider purchasing any products they’re selling.

http://www.jeesukkim.net/velocity/

http://www.sixsigmadaily.com/what-is-dmaic/

http://blogcritics.org/how-heavy-does-your-scale-weigh-on-you/

http://www.qpm.ca/Pests/House-Fly-How-to-Kill-Exterminate-Get-Rid-Eliminate-Pest-Control.html

http://www.mwultd.co.uk/services/part-exchange/control/