Friday, February 22, 2008

The boy who dream too much

By Rain Chudori-Soerjoatmodjo, Short story

I once had a friend who dreamt while he was awake. By dreaming, I do not mean daydreaming, something we so often find ourselves doing at school, in the office or walking down the street. This peculiar friend of mine would actually enter the world of sleep, while remaining awake, and experience real dreams. His eyelids would flicker slightly and he would delve into a fully unconscious state, his eyes remaining wide open, and waking him was near impossible.

This of course presented difficulties in his day-to-day routines, but he soon learned that these states of unconsciousness occurred mostly when he was alone. The flickering of his eyelids warned him of an episode approaching and he would quickly find a seat nearby. It rarely took place at school, or with family or friends. His eyelids would flicker, he would begin to dream, but his eyes would remain open, his body would keep moving and his mouth would continue speaking.

Why it happens, he does not know. He never told his parents, just his closest friends. And me.

***

I was never particularly close to him, having just seen him around the school once or twice. I never thought anything particularly unique about him. He was the standard thigh-slapping, fist-bumping, sport-crazed boy, the type I hardly would run with. But I encountered him one particular Sunday morning as I sat at a cafe, and he asked if he could join me. He was alone and it was strange to see him in clothes other than the drab school uniform. For a while, we kept a leisurely but cheery conversation up about subjects at school, which we hated, which teacher were the most painful, which kids we couldn't stand. We then switched to talking about our plans next year. I told him I had a few prospective interning jobs lined up after graduation. I asked about him, but he didn't answer my question.

Instead, he nodded his head, as if pondering my question.

"I have a conundrum," he said.

A conundrum? I was taken back by the word itself.

"This might be interesting to you," he said.

"Well, what is it?"

"I have this problem. I fall asleep."

"We all fall asleep."

"No, unexpectedly."

This was, as you would expect, quite a bizarre thing to hear. I had heard about this condition before, so I tried my best to sound knowledgeable.

"Oh, you're narcoleptic?"

"No, not narcoleptic. See, I fall asleep, but my eyes are open."

Right, I thought. So this guy is a dead head.

"That's day-dreaming."

He shifted in his seat.

"No it is not. My mind is asleep. It is dreaming. It is doing things, thinking things I can't control and it says I am asleep. But my body is awake. My eyes are open, I am walking, talking, eating, everything."

"What do you mean?"

"Okay look. See? Look at me. So my eyes are open like this, and I keep on talking to you, or sitting in front of you. But my mind, it's dreaming of things like, I'm flying or I'm a bird, and sometimes I even say it, and I can't control it."

"Do you have brain damage?"

"Do you think I'm lying?"

"No I mean, do you think your brain is doing this because you have brain damage?"

"Maybe, it's not like I can't remember stuff, or anything."

"Amnesia?"

"Yeah. No, I don't have that."

"You just fall asleep."

"I just fall asleep."

"You're right, I am intrigued."

"See? Everyone's intrigued by the boy who falls asleep."

"Who's everyone?"

"Everyone."

***

It was as if he entered a trance then, his eyes began to flicker, and for a while he shifted in his seat here and there. He stayed seated though, upright as he had been before. He wasn't talking and I thought he was deep in thought, but when he stayed like that for a while I began to panic. I was afraid he had died. But he looked peaceful, like a person sleeping. I stared at him as I sipped my coffee. It was a lovely Sunday morning and I was now spending it exactly as I wanted to, with the exception of my dreaming friend in front of me. Then, he woke up.

He took a big gasp, as if something startled him, but his eyes stayed the same, as if they were never closed.

"What happened just now?"

"I fell into a dream."

"Was it a good dream at least?"

"They're always good dreams, they're never bad dreams."

"Well, you have that at least."

Soon after, he got up to leave, but I was concerned about how he would get home.

"Oh that's okay." he said, "If I dream on the way home, my body keeps on walking until I get home. It's just my mind that's asleep."

***

I am watching his fluttering eyelids, his peaceful smile, but this time behind the television screen. My father watches this with his brows furrowed, eyes squinting at the object of his intrigue. My mother remained still, wrought in her own thoughts. But then, he woke up again, startled, the way he had woken up in the cafe that day. Simultaneously, a thunder of claps sounded, and the presenter started yelling "Fantastic!" The guest doctor of the week, a prominent neurologist, was seated next to the boy's worried looking mother and pondering father. Their expressions were much like my own parents, and probably so many more parents from school watching this. The doctor then listed off some theories, none sounding too convincing, and said more tests would be required to work out what the boy was experiencing.

As it so happened, the boy had fallen asleep on the way home from school but instead of waking up upon arriving home as per usual, he had remained in a state of dreaming. When his mother began speaking with him, he remained silent, and when he awoke he was strapped to a doctor's chair, with wires running from his head. He knew his secret had been discovered.

"See, the problem with the boy is, he dreams too much."

***

*The Boy Who Dreamt Too Much' was what they called him in newspapers and on television. The tabloids linked him to strange scientific discoveries like the *Bearded Lady' and *Three-footed man'. Sometimes he was even called *it.'

He was called *The Boy Who Dreamt Too Much' by his arm-punching, jaw-smacking friends and the girls who showed a sudden interest in him. Teachers called him this, blaming his condition on his failings in class and not on their teaching ability.

I'd see *The Boy Who Dreamt Too Much' walking around school in his casual, nonchalant way, but the crooked smile was gone. Now, there were only bad dreams.

***

Not surprisingly, the hype around *The Boy Who Dreamt Too Much' faded, only to be replaced by *Five-Eyed Woman. Eventually, he was forgotten altogether, and his condition was left undiagnosed by the neurologists, the media and the community.

Graduation came. *The Boy Who Dreamt Too Much' became a valedictorian, despite barely passing grades and hardly attending school. People clapped when he approached the podium, expecting a tear-jerker speech about his struggle to stay awake, to stay conscious.

"You want to see me sleep right? So alright, go ahead. See me sleep."

And he closed his eyes and really slept.

***

Five years on, I had long forgotten my school, teachers, some of my friends and had never once thought about the *The Boy Who Dreamt Too Much'. Then one bright Sunday morning, I bumped into him. He was hard to recognize, dressed like a regular businessman, but he recognized me.

"Luna? We went to high-school together right?"

"Yes. Who are you?"

"I'm...well, you wouldn't remember my name anyway. But, I'm The Boy Who Dreamt Too Much."

His eyes didn't flicker, there was no crooked smile.

"It's been a while."

"Yes it has."

Then his eyes flickered, and he was immobile. I waited for him, watching the flickering.

"What happened?"

"I fell into a dream."

"So suddenly?"

"Well, I realized, afterwards, that I would fall into one whenever I'm comfortable."

"Just like sleeping."

"Just like sleeping."

"Was it a good dream at least?"

"They're always good dreams, they're never bad dreams."

"Well you have that."

***

They envied *The Boy Who Dreamt Too Much'. The cheerfully fake talk show hosts and presenters, the neurologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, his parents, his idiot friends, his inane girlfriends, me. We all envied him.

Envied his ability to fall asleep faster than you could imagine, envied his ability to dream, to dream good dreams, his ability to realize there was more to life than money, work, school, more to life than your looks, your mental health. We envied his understanding of the soul, ability to feel, beyond the mind, deep inside a person. He showed us this gift, and in turn, we envied him. We tried to *cure' him, make him human. But maybe we're the ones that are inhuman. We wanted a boy to stop dreaming.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Golden lessons from Vodka

Lily Dawis , Jakarta Post

"Memoirs-in-stories" is a somewhat new way to classify books that have recently piqued my curiosity.

I first encountered the term while flipping through some books in my favorite bookstore on the ground level of Plaza Indonesia, looking for a great read to break my chick-lit binge.

I read constantly, mostly to unwind after a hard day of working and taking care of my sweet and energetic toddlers. Therefore, books that boost my mood and do not add creases to my forehead (from over strenuous thinking) are usually what I choose.

Famous for its popular formula of guy meets girl, guy annoys girl or vice versa; kiss, make up and live happily ever after, the chick-lit genre usually serves its purpose. That day however, I was getting rather tired of sugar coated prose, which is why I decided to venture into something different.

Are you there Vodka? It's me Chelsea, by Chelsea Handler, had a "brand new" sticker on its front cover. Upon reading the title and the author's name I had to pause and do a double take, unsure whether the Chelsea in the title referred to the author.

The cover featured a lively sketch of a lingerie-clad woman holding a cell phone. The title aroused my curiosity, was vodka a reference to the drink or of someone named vodka? I found the answer to my question on the back cover, explaining that the novel was a collection of "entertaining memoirs-in-stories" and the Chelsea in the title was indeed Chelsea the author.

A reviewer's quote on the back of the book sealed my decision to buy the book, "If I had the balls to really not care what people thought of me, this is the book I'd write." And boy oh boy I ended up patting myself on the back for purchasing the book.

My eyes widened, I snorted with disbelief, and my tummy got some much needed exercise from laughing so hard, time and time again upon reading Chelsea's words. The chuckles started right from the dedication page where she refers to her mother as "chunky monkey".

The book follows a somewhat biographical timeline, starting with her colorful childhood and working its way to the present, where Chelsea works as one of the most successful female comedians in the US. The book provides glimpses of how she comes up with her material and comic timing.

By the third chapter, I reluctantly tore myself away from the book to Google Chelsea Handler as I had a tingling feeling that I knew her name from somewhere. My instincts were right, apparently I knew the author by watching her cynical but mostly funny commentaries on the E! Entertainment channel.

The book is certainly far from being politically correct and is not concerned about pleasing anybody. It does not try to teach any lessons, but manages to be pure entertainment. Take for the example, the crazy yet hilarious way Chelsea describes her unique father: "Bitch Tits", her prim sister "as much fun as a cold sore" and others in a similar comic style.

The tempo accelerates when she writes about being pulled over for DUI (drinking under the influence) and ends up instead in a county jail for a seemingly minor offence - faking her sister's ID to get into a club. It was great fun reading her thoughts about her time spent in jail, including ideas about which would be the best gang to join, as well as how she connected with a pretty and soft-spoken inmate who was serving time for murdering her own sister.

However, what makes the book ultra appealing (it topped The New York Times non-fiction bestseller list in May 2008) is perhaps because as over the top as her life sounds, it is written from the heart.

Once in a while, Chelsea is endearing, dropping hints about how her family and friends have made her who she is and will love her no matter what.

Writing about the time she took Bitch Tits (her dad) away to Costa Rica on an all expenses paid trip (it was her father's first outing out of the country in 47 years), she states simply, "I was expecting to bond with my father." It is one of the rare contemplative moments and also when I worked out what she really meant by "vodka".

This is a book that I would recommend to anyone who is not fainthearted and has a tolerance for dark comedy written by a stellar author. The final thought that crossed my mind was *Who needs fiction when you have Chelsea Handler!'

Chelsea Handler is an accomplished comedian with many stand-up gigs all over the US. She has her own show on the E! Entertainment channel called Chelsea Lately, which has just been renewed for another 150 episodes. Prior to Are You There Vodka, she also wrote another bestselling memoir, My Horizontal Life, which is an account of her one-night stands.