Saturday, December 08, 2007

A dreamy fish story: hooked by hidden meanings

I'm usually not one to burden others with the task of deciphering my dream meanings, but occasionally I have a sleep-induced imagining that seems too deceptively random to take at face value. The best fairy tales can be read as simple adventures on the surface, but swimming beyond the shallows we often discover darker psychological metaphors swirling in their murky depths.

I dream a lot each night, and the topics shift quickly to include new objects and places; each flowing from a previous mental scene with completely different actors. The new imagery starts midstream and continues until another idea overtakes it, or waking rays of morning wipe it out. The abrupt changes in perspective and narrative might seem jolting in real life, but are completely consistent within my land of nod.

So this one begins with a sudden but accepted transition. I stand before an empty aquarium with its light bulb strangely detached from the lid. It's an average sized tank ... the 10- or 20-gallon variety found in most homes. The unlit bulb hangs awkwardly in the clear water, calling out for assistance to my perpetual desire to put things right.

I assume that it's my fish tank, although I haven't actually ever owned one. It seems oddly still, as if there ought to be fish inside, but I stick my hands in anyway. I do my best to snap the bulb back into place and put the lid back on. That's when the strangeness begins. As if tainted by my touch, the water begins to change to a milky white, and I realize that this isn't my aquarium at all.

It seems I've been playing in an alternate world, and forgot to switch back to my own dimension. The tank in fact belongs to someone else; one of the avatar-linked members of a virtual community to which I belong. I "log off" and return to my reality quickly, worried that I might have caused irreparable harm to his fish tank, wondering if he left the water uninhabited for a reason, perhaps to clean it or treat it.

The tank then changes to one that I accept as my own. It's fully decorated and some fish swim around in its bubbling water, but not all that belong there. There's a shallow, clear tray sitting in front of it, and a number of my fish have been placed in this temporary home. I sense that this may be the pay back for my well-intentioned virtual vandalism.

The tropical fish of many colors and shapes teem in the tray, swimming with difficulty. Some are too big for the amount of water there, so they flap their fins while floating on their sides trying to remain submerged. Feeling an urgency to get them back in the bigger tank, I lift the tray and try to pour the fish out slowly. The first to reach the aquarium — a large, plump, orange goldfish — passes right through the water and lands convulsively on the floor.

The tank, I then realize, isn't actually there after all, having been replaced by a realistic simulation. I second guess myself for not having kept the aquarium off-limits to other's manipulation (the way objects work in Second Life, for example). I feel a sudden panic about the well-being of the rest of my fish, and then I wake up.

Note: Image courtesy of Lerdsuwa at WikiMedia. Click here to see a larger version with full description.
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