On the list of most popular dreams, right behind “falling” and “teeth falling out,” you’ll find “flying.” Everyone has a dream about flying at some point, soaring through the air and feeling your weightless body zoom through the clouds. Not me, though. When I had flying dreams, I would just sort of float.
Not even high in the air, either. I can distinctly remember a recurring dream from my youth where I’d watch superheros and regular folks soaring through the air. I’d try to join them, and instead I’d just hover a few feet above the sidewalk. I’d figure out how to propel myself forward, but the movement wasn’t any faster than when I walked or ran. I was able to float, but not soar; hover, but not fly.
I’d wake up frustrated, annoyed that everyone else was able to achieve what I wasn’t, true flight. It was a dream, of course, and a recurring one. But it wasn’t until much later that I analyzed what it meant.
Obviously, dream interpretations are personal and flawed, mostly they’re just neurons firing in your sleep and your brain trying to make sense of the messages. But if you look at the typical interpretation of flying dreams, they mean you’ve lifted yourself of some burden. You feel lighter, so you picture yourself as lighter. In that context, what does hovering mean? Lifting some of your burden, but not all of it?
For me, I don’t think that’s accurate. I look it at as achieving your goals… And I’d look up and see people doing better than I was at every turn. Was I dragging or holding myself down? Probably. Almost definitely. And certainly, this perception that everyone else was able to fly higher than me was flawed, though that’s definitely how I saw things in real life.
Take another weird riff on a typical dream I had with regularity. I would fall off a cliff or a skyscraper, or some similar height… And then, land safely and keep walking. In any interpretation, I think you can point to an amount of confidence I had, that I believed whatever problem I faced I’d solve. I’d be just fine. That gels with the hovering dream, which showed I believed in myself, but only to a point.
That’s a bit of what I tried to channel in my story for IN THE AIR, though took it in a slightly different direction. In the story, the protagonist can float higher, but they’re not able to control themselves. There’s other reasons for why she’s that way, and how it plays out; but in terms of the emotional sense, I was definitely channeling these dreams of hovering, the frustration of not being able to break out of whatever circumstances you’ve ended up in. Often, we think everyone else is flying while we bob along far below on the sidewalk; but more often we’re all there together, dreaming of zooming about the clouds.
Now the teeth falling out thing, that’s a whole other story.
Alex Zalben is the author of an all-ages comic book series for Marvel, “Thor and the Warriors Four.” His short fiction has recently been featured in Splickety Magazine, Gypsum Sound Tales “Thuggish Itch” anthology, Third Flatiron’s “Galileo’s Theme Park” anthology, and an issue of Enchanted Conversation Magazine. For the past decade he’s hosted the live show and podcast Comic Book Club, which has been profiled in the New York Times. He currently works as Managing Editor at Decider.com, with previous bylines on TV Guide, MTV News and more.
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