We are without a car. In Boston this would be a good thing, but in Malaysia not having some form of powered transportation is a prison sentence. Granted, it’s a prison with a 50-meter pool, a silly brown dog, and internet access, but luxury is pointless without freedom. I could, for example, partake joyfully in the watching of English-language television, but watching the same three episodes of Friends and Law and Order over and over again makes me want to start collecting cats or keeping creepy porcelain doll heads in a burlap sack under the bed. As an alternative, I have been spending a lot of time in my head as an escape–which is weird, since traveling halfway across the world was supposed to be an escape–which makes my little retreats an escape from the escape. So let’s not discount the doll heads quite yet.

I’ve written a few posts, mostly moody and cerebral little bits about culture shock and adjustment to a new lifestyle, but it occurred to me that I never really explained much about why I was writing in the first place. High Definition Fantasy was the best way I cold describe the notion, espoused by some, that the fantasies we create often feel more real than the fleshy matter that breathed life into them. And they’re not all pleasant, either. I bring this up because there was a sincere hope that changing places and putting myself in the middle of a generally alien culture would burn off the dark cloud that always seemed to follow me around.

Rather than a dark cloud that follows me, I seem to be inexorably linked to an imaginary place. An endless corridor of doors stretches on for as long as I can remember. Though some are possibilities and some are memories, all the doors look the same. Behind them are the echoes of screaming, laughter, ecstasy, violence, grief, and everything in between. Tomorrow, I might go surfing for the first time in a decade, but to get there, I have to walk through one of these doors, and the event will be invariably tinted by whatever lies on the other side. I could set out with a sense of exhilaration, passing through the feeling of the first time I ever stood up on a board and let the surf guide me. Alternately, I could start with a sense of sublime terror, with the feeling of my body flattened against the muddy bottom, staring up at the glistening surface with an eerie sense of calm, wondering if the end had come. Or it could be the doors behind which lie unpleasant encounters with brain coral, a scattering of ashes, cold margaritas, or valkyries. Some are memories, others are fantasies. Take your pick.

At some point, the barriers between the memories and fantasies break down and they bleed into each other and reality. Theoretically, it’s easy to keep them straight: this one here happened; that one there did not. But their relationship as opposites–the energy it takes to keep them separate–puts them in the same long hallway, where they might have separate doors, but share a wall.

And then where do altered states fit in? Can I keep the memory of (spoilers) valkyries descending onto a beach, even though it’s a brief hallucination, a figment of the subconscious–or do I have to give it over to fantasy? The knowledge that it was never real directly opposes the lived experience of it actually happening. Yet there it sits, the weird gangly kid, last picked for dodgeball. But of course memory gets this guy, citing the “real enough” clause. In fact, the bleed seems to come from this notion. With enough focus, a fantasy can become as real, or even more real, than the world that created it. And the reality of memory can just as easily become fantasy, altered at a whim by our reconsiderations, desires, and regrets.

So where am I? We’re not the sum of our memories, but are we the sum of our fantasies? Someday, I’ll find the real me behind one of these doors and view the world, finally content, with his eyes. Or so I’d like to think.


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