Uncharted Territory

I have several recurring dreams. One such dream places me back at home, in my home town. I am on a routine trip, say to the grocery store. Suddenly I deviate from the path I always take and find myself taking one I’ve never taken. It is that path that reveals mystical, magical areas of my town to me, areas that clearly exist only in my imagination–for example, suddenly a path I take to the grocery story becomes a narrow passage on the side of the mountain that suddenly appears next to my house. My imagination goes wild, conjuring up places taken from some kind of fable, splicing them into my dream. While such fantastic places clearly are fake, I can’t be sure in the dream because technically I’ve never taken that path.

I think this recurring dream highlights my fascination with unchartered territory, especially places in close proximity to well-known and frequently-visited areas. It’s almost as if my mind wanted these areas to be full of mystery.

I think it’s a natrual response to the world getting smaller. It’s now easy for me to fly all over the world; any two places on Earth are at most twenty-four hours apart, yet there is still so much I haven’t explored, even five hundred yards from my childhood home.

I go back home every year and sometimes am tempted by following one of those alternative paths from my dreams. But I quickly stop, knowing deep inside that I’ll be disppointed if I do so. If I prove to myself that there is nothing out-of-the-ordinary there, where will the mystery, the magic go? With nowhere to go, it will disappear. And life without magic is an uninspiring life.

The most shocking example of unchartered territory is probably my apartment block itself. I live on the eighth floor of a Communist-era block: back in the ’50s, a marvel of engineering and a perfect example of socialism manifesting itself through homogenization and utilitarian mass production; now a dark, ugly reminder of the depressing times that’s way past its effective lifetime and thus unsafe; then–the Burj’s (al-Buruuj) of their times; now–embarrassing pimples in the skyline that desperately wants to be innocent enough.

I have lived in the building for most of my adolescent life, yet I have never taken the elevator past my floor. Not once. The top floor–one I’ve never been to–with its access to the roof, and the terminal stop for the elevator, has only (but prominently) featured in my dreams. For instance, I would frequently dream of mistakenly taking the elevator to the tenth floor. Every time I did, something fantastic happened–for example, the elevator wouldn’t stop and simply blew through the roof (in a puzzling, rather than scary, kind of way); or I’d never actually get to the tenth floor, yet always get closer and closer to it. Or the elevator would suddenly start moving sideways. There were dozens of variations, one for each recurrence of the dream. They weren’t frightening; I remember being intrigued and overwhelmed, like Alice in Wonderland.

They were, however, respectful of the Magic. The tension in the elevator cables made a distinctive set of sounds as the elevator crawled from the ground floor to the eighth (in a kind of signature unique to this elevator). Obviously, the symphony is unfinished; I don’t know the last two bars of it. None of the dreams ever dared complete it for me; the sounds are like a key to the unchartered territory that I never obtained.

There is an animated short that reflects the spirit of my feeling like nothing else; it is one of the shorts of Animatrix, called Beyond. In it, a child discovers a “bug” (the whole world is a computer simulation–there, I spoiled Matrix for you) in his neighborhood that causes the laws of physics to cease to apply momentarily, warps time and space, and allows cause and effect relationship to be violated. It’s a clever way to describe magic. In the short, the bug is corrected; everything goes back to norm. But we can’t stop feeling disappointed, even though we knew it was all unreal.

Will I ever ride to the top floor of my building? Never. Not because I’m afraid, but because if I do, there will be no unchartered territory. The magic will be gone; hefty reality will set in instead. And I find it rather convenient to have an infinite repository of magic two floors above my apartment.