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15 Feb

The fish – So the week is over, and this translation project that I will most likely be engaged in for the next two years is not going so well. To put it bluntly, it seems a bit beyond my capabilities. Not the translation part, of course, but the abridging part. Or at least that’s the way it looks right now. I think I need to step back for a moment, take a deep breath, and rethink my approach to this whole thing.

“I had a very interesting dream, and that dream allowed me to rummage around inside myself for a while.”

I think part of the problem is that I’m feeling the pressure to produce “results” by the end of June, when we will submit our mid-term report. Keenly aware of just how much translation I need to get done by then, I dove right into the work, trying to abridge as I translated. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be working. I think I need to sit down, look at the thing as a whole, and then try to formulate a strategy. In other words, I need to plan.

But that’s not what this entry is going to be about. No, this entry is part of the “step back and take a deep breath” phase. I just need to take a break, both mentally and physically, and I thought that maybe I could channel this sense of impending doom (the same panicky feeling that always hits me in situations where I suddenly fear that I’m in over my head, but which generally just means I need to step back for a moment) into some sort of creative activity. Like writing more content for my teeming masses of loyal readers—after, of course, engaging in such exercises of the imagination as fantasizing that I actually have teeming masses of loyal readers.

The content I had in mind was a dream I dreamt nigh on two weeks ago. I’ve been having more dreams lately, or, rather, I suppose I should say that I have been remembering more dreams lately. I realized one day, to my dismay, that I did not appear to be dreaming as much as I used to, and so I decided to try to pay attention to dreaming again. Lo and behold, I realized that I was still dreaming, but I just wasn’t taking the time to pull the dreams from my unconscious mind into my conscious mind when I woke up.

Dreams are not part of our conscious thinking, but at the moment of waking we are partly conscious, and therefore still partly in the dream world. It is at that moment that we can still remember our dreams. What I had been doing for the longest time, though, was letting that moment slip by and failing to pull my dreams out of my unconscious. Once my conscious mind swung into full gear, my dreams became lost in the subconscious soup, mere wisps of ideas that would occasionally resurface when my conscious mind happened to stumble over them at some point during the day, but that was rare, and even then incomplete. You know, like that weird sense of déjà vu you get sometime during the day, and you think, ‘Hmm... why does this seem so familiar? Oh, that’s right, I had a dream about this last night.’ At least that’s what happens to me.

I have often heard of people keeping dream journals, writing down dreams that come to them as soon as they wake up. While I think this is a great idea, I don’t often have time to write down a dream when I wake up in the morning. I have found, though, that I do not need to write the dream down to remember it. All I need to do is consciously think about it. That’s what I mean when I talk about pulling a dream from my unconscious mind into my conscious mind. By thinking about a dream, I am making it a conscious experience that I will remember like any other conscious experience. Writing dreams down is one method of doing this—the very act of writing about it causes you to think about it, making it conscious. I just find it a lot less time-consuming to think rather than write, since I can think while doing other things.

Of course, even when made conscious, most of the dream will most likely be consigned to short-term memory. That’s why it’s a pretty good idea to write the dream down at some point, preferably on the same day, because a dream is still not as tangible as a real experience.

This dream I had was so vivid and left such a deep impression on me that I did write it down a few days after I had dreamt it. I had an ulterior motive, though: The Dream Project. I stumbled on this site quite some time ago, and was fascinated by what they were doing there (basically, animating people’s dreams), I always thought about contributing, but I never thought I had a worthy dream. When I had this dream, though, I had to contribute it. So I wrote it up and sent it in using their handy submission form. The original idea was to do a journal entry on the dream if it was ever selected for animation. Unfortunately, updates to the site have been somewhat sporadic, and the list of unclaimed dreams in the forum runs to forty-four, and the list was last updated in November of last year. I realized that the chances of my dream ever being animated are slim to none, and decided to do a journal entry on it while it was still fairly fresh in my mind. So, without further ado, I present to you “The Fish.”

I am standing on a lawn of thick, freshly cut grass, enjoying the green smell and the blue sky and the sun on my skin. Suddenly I notice a fish swimming through the air, a few feet off the ground, not too far away. It is shaped like an angelfish, but much larger, at least a foot in length. At first it appears to be of one uniform color, a rich velvet blue, but as I watch it I see that it shimmers a deep, royal purple when its scales catch the sunlight. I am fascinated by the fish’s beauty, but also disturbed by its presence.

I think that perhaps I am seeing things, so I bend down and pick up a clump of earth. I toss this at the fish, and to my surprise and dismay I hit its dorsal fin. The fish also looks surprised, and slowly tips over and sinks to the earth. I am horrified at the thought of having harmed such a beautiful creature, but I can only stand and watch as the fish wriggles on the ground.

Then, the fish slowly comes to its senses and swims back up to its original height. Slowly it begins to swim toward me, and when it reaches me it swims slow circles around me. I want to touch the fish, because it is so beautiful, but I am afraid that its scales might hurt my hand. Finally I reach out and gently stroke the fish’s side, and I am surprised to find that it feels as velvety as it looks. The fish looks into my eyes, and I can sense what it is feeling. I can tell that it enjoys being petted, that indeed this is what it wanted all along.

“What are you doing here?” I ask the fish, smiling gently. “This is not water, you know. It is air.” The fish continues to stare into my eyes, and I am struck with a sudden thought: “Or is it water?”

I always like trying my hand at interpreting dreams, but on the surface this just seemed too perfect. And the dream itself was so vivid—one of the things that most impressed me about the dream, content aside, was how vivid the colors were: the green grass, the blue sky, the blue/purple fish. It was so intense that the images were burned into my mind. The dream is also very cohesive, following a very logical progression. If I were given to living in a cave or sitting motionless on top of a very high pole, I might take this dream as a sign and become an ascetic. Then again, if I were given to those sorts of things, I probably wouldn’t find this dream all that unusual.

I was interested in delving into some of the symbolism of the dream (let’s face it, this dream is filled with so much symbolism it would make a high school English teacher cry for joy), but first I thought I’d think about what the dream meant to me. One part of the dream that I find interesting is the part where I throw the clump of dirt at the fish. That is taken directly from an incident that occurred during my youth, an incident that had a great impression on me.

I was out in the backyard, and I noticed a small rabbit sitting in the grass a good twenty meters away. It was sitting right outside of my mother’s garden, and she often complained about how the rabbits would get into the garden and eat her vegetables. There was a wire fence around the garden, of course, but it did no good. The holes in the fence were small enough that I couldn’t even fit my fist through them, yet we had seen with our own eyes rabbits jump right through these holes. I came to the conclusion that rabbits were either more fur than meat, or that they had no bones and were actually made of Silly Putty®.

Anyway, I saw this rabbit sitting there, eyeing the vegetables just on the other side of the completely useless fence. I picked up a rock and tossed it in that direction, intending to scare the rabbit away. To my surprise, however, I hit the rabbit right on the head. It jumped up in the air, screamed, and then fell back to earth, landing on its back. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard a rabbit scream, but it sounds frighteningly human, like a child screaming. I nearly jumped out of my skin. I quickly ran over to it, but it just laid there on the ground twitching, staring up at me with it’s dark eye.

I didn’t know what to do, so I grabbed a laundry basket and put it upside down over the rabbit. I’m not sure why I did that, whether it was to protect the rabbit or to contain it. I wasn’t really thinking. Then I ran to get my mother and told her that I thought I might have killed a rabbit. When we got back to the laundry basket, though, the rabbit was gone. For one, that experience convinced me that I would make a lousy hunter, unlike my father.

I suppose I rationalized tossing the dirt clump at the fish by saying that I wasn’t sure if it was real. That’s completely true, of course, but the whole thing is virtually a mirror of the rabbit incident, which my unconscious apparently decided would be a nifty thing to have in the dream. I can speculate no further on its meaning, other than to say that I realize I have a somewhat contradictory nature. At times, I am so averse to hurting living things that I will take bugs outside rather than squashing them in the house. At other times, though, I can be immensely cruel. My parents-in-law own chickens, and I happen to hate chickens, so if they show even the slightest sign of aggression toward me I whack them mercilessly with a stick. I know it’s a very cruel and immature thing to do, but I can’t help it. I think the inherent contradiction of throwing a rock at a rabbit and then being surprised when I hit it is an expression of this contradiction in my nature. It is especially true in my dream, because, unlike the rabbit incident, I was actually trying to hit the fish, not just scare it away.

The fish’s revival and subsequent friendliness toward me is somewhat baffling, as if I didn’t mind the fact that I had just knocked it out of the air. It actually reminds me more of the actions of a dog than of a fish—you can beat a dog and it will still come to you for affection. Perhaps I was seeking redemption or forgiveness for hitting the rabbit. I know it must sound like I am making a big deal out of a silly little thing that happened a long time ago, but it was actually very traumatic for me at the time. Now that I think about it, I looked straight into the fish’s eye, just like I looked into the rabbit’s eye.

I don’t really think the dream was about that one incident, though. The rabbit incident is certainly embedded in my psyche, and no doubt my unconscious used this theme in the dream, but I do think it would be going a bit far to attribute the entire dream to that incident. There is the fact that it is a fish, and a fish swimming around in the air is quite out of the ordinary. And then, of course, there is the very Taoist twist to the dream: I am so convinced that I am standing in the warm sun on a green lawn beneath the blue sky, and yet the appearance of the fish suddenly makes me question everything I hold to be true and real. I was fairly certain I was breathing air, but here comes this fish, and who am I to say that my reality is any more real than his? More importantly, how do I reconcile our two realities, which seem to be mutually exclusive, yet are apparently existing in the same space and time?

This is the real reason that I think I was afraid to touch the fish. I rationalized it by saying that I was afraid the fish’s scales would be rough, but I was actually just afraid to touch the fish and bring our realities together. Once I touched the fish, I acknowledged it as being part of my reality, and me as being part of its reality. That moment when I actually touched the fish was quite comforting, and yet at the same time it turned my whole perception of reality upside down. I was comforted because I felt a connection with the fish, but it also called into question my perception of reality. While I was in the dream, I saw my reality and the fish’s reality as mutually exclusive—in other words, the only two options were that the fish was out of his element or I was out of mine. It is only now that I have begun to really think about the dream that I wonder if they are truly mutually exclusive, and what it means if they aren’t. I’m not sure I can really answer that right now.

So that’s my interpretation, or at least my exploration, of the dream. I decided to do a little Googling to see what I could find on dream symbols, and most of what I came up with was quite silly—one dream dictionary told me that “To see fish swimming in your dream symbolizes good luck; personal wealth and power may be on your way.” I’m sorry, but that just sounds too much like a horoscope. Good luck? Personal wealth and power? Please. Dreams may offer us a window into our unconscious mind, but they are not tools of divination. Well, at least not generally. I won’t say it’s impossible, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t happen often enough for us to be able to assign meanings to certain symbols.

I felt I was getting a bit closer when I came across’s dream dictionary, which characterized fish in dreams as “insights from your unconscious mind.” The best lead I found, though, was from a link in The Dream Project forums: Michael Lennox’s Dream Dictionary. The general description of fish read: “Fish represent the ideas, thoughts or concepts that float in our emotional life or unconscious self.” The logic is that if water represents the “emotional side of the unconscious,” then fish are the ideas that float around there. I found the very last sentence in the definition quite interesting: “Fish out of water or you in their watery domain could indicate how different the ideas in your emotional unconscious feel from the norm.” This particular dream dictionary also offered symbolisms for specific colors. It did relate some colors to chakras, and I only have a vague conception of what these are, but I was able to glean some basic, more straightforward information—namely, that blue is the color of communication, while purple is a spiritual color.

This all sounds very interesting, but putting all that information together in a coherent interpretation is easier said than done. In trying to come to terms with this dream I have felt like I am chasing something, a shadow that is flitting away, always just beyond my outstretched fingers. Something I think I can feel it brush against my fingertips, but when I close my hand there is nothing there.

The concept of fish being ideas swimming around in my unconscious is not a difficult one to grasp. I particularly like the bit about fish out of water, since it definitely seems to have some bearing on my dream. The problem is that I can’t really say if the fish is really out of water, or if I am really in its “watery domain.” Does that mean that my ideas are clear, but their environment is not? And what would that mean, anyway?

Let’s leave that for a moment and look at the colors of the fish: blue and purple. The primary color of the fish was blue, and I only noticed afterward that it had a purple tint to it as well when the sun shone on it. Communication is obviously a very significant concept for me, and one about which I often ponder. Translation, of course, is the mode of communication most pressing on my mind these days. Could this dream be a sort of allegory, a visual representation of what is going on in my unconscious mind concerning my translation? Could it be that one environment represents the target language, while the other represents the source, and the meeting of these two environments—the simultaneous existence of these two environments—through my physical contact with the fish represents the ideal for which every translator struggles, yet which every translator knows is impossible: the perfect harmony and preservation of meaning in transition from source to target? Perhaps it was a dream of hope....

Ha ha. Maybe I’m getting a bit carried away here. Then again, it is my unconscious we’re talking about here, isn’t it? Still, the translation interpretation sounds neat and tidy, but it doesn’t seem quite right. Most likely, there is no “correct” interpretation. The “answer” here is probably that a number of threads of my unconscious came together here to weave what was for me a very vivid and amazing experience. Maybe, for now, I should just admire it from a little further back, enjoy it for what it is, for it seems that whenever I try to delve into the deeper meaning of it I am led astray by wisps that promise answers but in the end just lead me in circles.

There is no conclusion, I suppose, no “final answer.” I had a very interesting dream, and that dream allowed me to rummage around inside myself for a while. I think my attempts at interpretation will stop here; I don’t want to forget what the dream felt like because I was too busy trying to figure out what it meant.

I’m feeling a lot better since I started writing this entry yesterday. Yesterday I was on the verge of panic, today I think I’ve gotten a good, firm grip on myself, and I have no intention of letting go. I’m happy with this entry, because I feel that I’ve really been able to express myself and just let the thoughts and ideas flow. It’s a good feeling, like an icy crystal brook splashing down a hillside on a warm summer day. I’ve never written an entry this long before, and when I started writing yesterday I had no intention of writing 3,000+ words. But now that it’s done, I feel almost cleansed. I think now I can go back to life with a new energy, and a new optimism. Let’s just hope it lasts for a while.

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