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I’ve counted my sheep and followed the alphabet to the ends of the earth, I’ve listened closely to the sound of my breath, and still, I am not asleep.
I remember a sleepless time in my childhood when I was told ”Go to sleep,” to which I would answer, “How?” No one could explain it to me. I thought everyone was born with the instructions on falling, everyone but me. I kept myself awake as I tried to understand how to fall asleep— that moment when we move from one world into another.
It seemed like magic. All over the world we closed our eyes and left reality. We became someone else. The world was never fully awake or fully sleeping; we took turns dreaming. We still take turns dreaming.
The world has cycled through countless theories of why we dream and what our dreams mean. They are prophecies and warnings, from our ancestors, from the Gods; they are our souls at play, leaving our bodies and transcending our physicality. They are our collective consciousness. They are our personal wanderings. They are the things we can’t say to other people, and the things we can’t say to ourselves.
Each night we close our eyes and create a world. The walls are made of memory, the sky of our deepest hopes, the ground made of now falls away with every step.
In dreams we develop our own language, and each night we write stories filled with meaning and metaphor. Certain images come back to us night after night.
I don’t know from where the birds took off, in a distant century or in a recent memory.
I don’t know what is written on the palms of hands but they keep turning toward me.
I see the snow falling and beginning to melt, but I don’t know what’s sleeping under it.
These images, or symbols, that come to us in sleep have been seen as windows into the subconscious. Freud understood a symbol in dream as standing in place for something else (a sword for a penis, etc). Jung, on the other hand, saw a symbol not as a substitute but rather as in itself the best possible expression of an idea.
The word symbol itself, taken from the Greek “symbolon” (sym = together, bolon, from ball = I throw) means literally “thrown together.” In a symbol the familiar and the unfamiliar are “thrown together.” A symbol is the meeting of the conscious and the unconscious (Private Myth, 176).
In his diary poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge writes, “In looking at objects of nature while I am thinking, as at yonder moon, dim-glimmering through the dewy windowpane, I seem rather to be seeking, as it were asking, a symbolic language for something within me that forever and already exists.”
When I photograph I am like a sleepwalker. I roam the streets looking for the language I have hidden within me, the words I make up in my sleep. I am looking for the symbols in the world that express something within me that cannot be stated in any other or better way. I am looking for the meeting of the conscious and unconscious out in the world, the moment when waking turns to sleeping.
As the German Romantic poet Jean Paul Richter put it, “The dream is an involuntary kind of poetry.” I find that with these photos I am writing a poem. Some photos are nouns, some are verbs, and some are in themselves complete sentences.
I invite you to look at these photographs, to read my visual poem, to play Freud and Jung, and interpret my dreams.
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Stern, Emily Slome, "Falling Awake" (2016). Senior Projects Spring 2016. 377.