Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked,
I cried to dream again.
The Tempest III-2, 148-156
I am as awkward around boys today as I was when I was twelve. I blush, I blurt, I hide, I say and do the wrong thing all the time. The difference is that today I resist my awkwardness less, and I have insider information that swears they feel just as awkward around me. I strew disastrous faux pas like daisies, but once you've seen enough great big important men gaping like guppies or structuring word usements that could only have come from the cutting room floor, you start to figure, “they're just as much of palookas as I am. Yes, even that guy who looks like that. And that guy who dances like that. Palookas to the bone.”
But even palookas can find themselves in situations where they rise above their palookadom and share something special. And after dances like those, my own personal palooka tends to come crashing back with a vengeance, to make up for lost time. I am total crap at opening my eyes after that kind of dance. How can I open my eyes and face you after what we've just shared? Knowing what you know about me now? How can we go from what just happened between us to opening our eyes and talking about the weather? Why do we even bother?
On a neurological level it's tough to make the shift between an extremely right-brained activity like dancing a very emotional dance and an extremely left-brained activity like making polite conversation that has to fit neatly into the space of about twenty seconds. Listen to those gears grinding as the brain, which was so smoothly flowing along, has to switch tracks. And the better the dance is, the harder it is to switch gears. You're relaxed, you're in tune with your partner, you're one with the music, you're not giving a damn about your fucking feet—it's beautiful. Then someone throws a bucket of cold water all over it and you have to scramble back into your emotional clothes really fast because it's no longer okay to be naked.
No thank you. I always appreciate it when someone allows me to emerge slowly from those special dances instead of abruptly dropping their embrace. Sure, you can never know for sure if the other person is also having that kind of dance or if it's just you, and the better the dancer they are, the less you'll know it. But even extremely good dancers are, see above, palookas at heart. One extremely good dancer once said, “it's like coming out of a dream.” And I thought, “it's like that for you too? Really?” (And if I had allowed myself to think it, I would have thought, “was it like that just now for you? Because that would be just nuts, seeing as I am only me and you are, well, you.” Good thing I didn't allow myself to think it.)
Dreams are important. The phrase “only a dream” belies just how important they are. After the baby, when I wasn't getting any sleep, I developed post-partum psychosis. Without sleep knitting up our ravelled sleave of care, we literally go mad. And part of how sleep knits us up is by using dreams to process all the junk that's going through us at any given moment. Dreams are how we work things out. Dancing is also, for me, how I work things out. On an equally subconscious level. I don't go to a milonga with the intention of solving my life's questions any more than I go to sleep with plans to solve the national debt. But even though we don't dance or dream in a goal-oriented way, they help us get to the next step. And we learn just how much they help when we try to take them away, and suddenly we can't get anything done and we're hopeless basket cases, snapping at co-workers and throwing tantrums on the sidewalk.
Dreams can also feel more real than waking life. Who's to say they're not “real,” anyway? What is real? Are the colours and sensations of dreams not more intense than those of daytime? They certainly are for me. Waking life is a muted and pale shadow of the life we live in the shadowlands. As for the feelings we feel in dreams...I still remember the terror of a nightmare I had when I was three. I have lived through many horrible things, and still no waking sensation can compare to the horror, grief, and despair we can feel in dreams. —And on the plus side, what's good in dreams is better than “real” life too. Dreams can be radiant with beauty and light. Elation and ecstasy await us beyond the curtain of sleep. A good feeling (perhaps brought on by a sleeping body snuggling up to a flannel sheet) feels so divine you think about it for the next three days and wish you were still asleep. “It just felt so real,” you say. “It was like it really happened.”
“Really” happened? Who's to say it didn't? You perceived it, you sensed it, is that not enough?
During my post-partum psychosis, every day I had hallucinations that my baby was suffocating to death. For me they were real, even though they were a kind of dream. I remember them with searing acuity when millions of adorable "real" Gerber moments are gone forever. They made an impact on my life that all those more ordinary moments, the ones I wish I did remember, never did.
Beautiful dances are equally important and equally real, and fortunately, they're on the other extreme end of the horrible-wonderful spectrum. Sure, emotions during a tanda can be larger than they might be outside of one. But does that mean they're “heightened,” or does it mean that outside of the dance we inflict self-preserving measures to diminish our awareness of them? The dance reveals our feelings to ourselves. It gives us aha moments that we wish we didn't have. The more delicious and magical and hyper-real the dance is, the more I dread the palooka moment that follows it. I palooka out of fear, that perhaps this gift of myself was handed to someone who didn't really want it after all.
So, dear sirs with excellent dances, be kind when you decide it's time to talk about the weather. Do not expect me to string two coherent words, or even syllables, together. Do not step away from me and expect me to look you coldly in the eye if we're still clinging together like entwined morning glory vines. And when it's time to part, leading me back to where you found me is not an empty courtesy, it's a necessity—otherwise I, in my hormonally-induced stupor, go crashing into people and chairs and knocking over tables and it's all a big old palooka mess.
Because I don't want to leave you. I don't want to wake up. I don't ever want such a beautiful dream to end.