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Tuesday, December 13, 2005 

The Somnambulist’s Shadow

Before I reached puberty I was prone to somnambulism, an altered state of sleep, often referred to as sleepwalking, in which the body is aroused while the conscious self is not. Although memories of somnambulism are, like dreams, usually offset with amnesia, I have several ambiguous recollections of these walks, as if a camcorder had been, in a moment of violent desperation, accidentally switched on. I vaguely recall lurking at the foot of my parents’ bed as they slept, and standing in their bathroom, looking into the mirror while hearing my mother’s distant voice. I remember being in the dark kitchen in my underwear, and feeling the cold, moonlit linoleum floor against my bare feet. I even remember strolling into my older sister’s bedroom and trying to speak to her, but only being able to mutter some unintelligible words.

Oddly, these episodes of somnambulism, which have become part of the familial mythos, were countered with a less public display of nocturnal irregularities, a form of paralysis in which my conscious mind was aroused as my body slept—the direct opposite of somnambulism. These brief panic-filled moments were fixed to a strange sensation that my body was not just frozen, but bloated and expanding at an intense rate. Though terrifying, I never experienced any visual hallucinations with these episodes, only the occasional feeling that the ceiling was slowly collapsing on me, or that I was being lifted up against it.

For me these occurrences, in which the synchronicity of the body and brain is disrupted, acted as a means of seeing the world through different eyes, a rite of passage into Rimbaud’s derangement of the senses. It is perhaps fitting that, in spite of an inquiry into the sleeping behaviors of my local friends and acquaintances, it was only until I discussed these accounts with the Portland Surrealist Group that I received any reciprocal tales. Morgan Miller informed me that throughout his life he has frequently experienced both sleep paralysis and lucid dreaming, two states often linked to one another. Meanwhile MK Shibek explained how his brother told him that one evening Shibek came out of his room in a deep sleep, and followed his brother and a friend down a hallway, only to lie down whenever they paused.

Brandon Freels

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