Fantasy bubble

Posted on October 4, 2011


There is always some way of flying. Always. For as long as I can remember I have drifted off to sleep with a comforting fantasy of moving through the air. When I was a kid, I had a recurring flying dream.  In it, I would float about three or four feet above the ground on the way to school.  My friends would be with me but they would be walking and I would be floating.  There was a particular pocket park that we used to walk through and in the dream the park would trigger the floating.  I had to think in a certain way to get lift-off, and once it happened, I needed to concentrate to stay buoyant.  I would float my way from the park to school. As kids often do, I confused reality and fantasy and couldn’t really say whether this really was a dream or some kind of magic that I could make happen in real life.

For a long time as a young adult I would use flying as a way to lose the stress of the day.  I would picture myself rising directly into the sky as evening fell.  I would go up by tens of metres until I was hundreds of metres above the cityscape. As I rose, I would release the worries of the day.  Each level of stressed detail would drop away as I became more distant from the earth. Finally, when the city below was just a series of warm lights encased in vague shadows, I would begin to fly.  I would sweep down the coast, tracking that wonderfully fluid border between the sea and the land.  The air would be cool and I would be high enough to see both the dying day and the night – the indeterminate in-between space between night and day, wakefulness and sleep, the earth and space, and the sea and the shore.  And as sleep reached out, I would remind myself that from this distance above the ground, the worries that had plagued me all day were insignificant compared to the enormity of the planet and all that lived in it.

Occasionally, the fantasy would incorporate the bed itself – a take on the flying carpet.  Invariably, the bed was an ‘all-aboard’ experience with my partner and the cat joining me in the flying.  The bed would rise up into the evening sky, and we would streak joyfully over the landscape below.

The cat in fact made its way into my dream life on more than one occasion, and I would find us having strange adventures in the streets of Sydney.  Strange because they seemed part human and part cat – but I digress.

I was greatly influenced by a wonderful machine described by Ian Banks in one of his sci-fi novels.  It is a mono-cycle of sorts that is smart – knowing when to stop at cliffs and the like.  I took the bones of this idea and it grew in my mind to be a machine that was entirely adaptable; changing shape at a moment’s notice from a motorbike to a recumbent pod: something that could be entirely invisible, yet always there if needed.  It was something that was impervious to outside attack.  Many a night have I spent in this bubble, flying along windswept roads or unknown landscapes –  launching into the air at the slightest hint of ambush from unseen forces below.  At its loneliest, this fantasy involves a machine that flies above water.  It is still not much bigger than the pod, but it is like the right-hand side of the bridge of a small tugboat.  There is the wheel, and a door with a small amount of decking.  The wheel is inside and the door leads to the decking outside.  In this fantasy the sky is always foreboding, the sea is raging and the pod gives just enough shelter from the storm not to get wet.

More recently, I have put myself to sleep with the uplifting fantasy based on the real experience of one man who hang-glides with his eagle.  The pair share and learn from each other.  A magnetizing thing to watch and one which has captured my imagination lit a yearning to try hang-gliding for real.  But I feel a new fantasy creeping in: a burlesque folly.  It involves a large blimp with an elaborate deck made of wicker.  The deck is shaped like an old ship’s deck, but it is really like the sunken lounge of a bar with sofas and seats set around the edges and at different levels throughout.  Bizarrely, there is the world’s smallest plunge pool in this wicker contraption.   I have not explored this fantasy beyond this so I don’t yet know if anyone joins me in this flying plaything.

I wonder though whether the sofas indicate a willingess to let others metaphorically into these moments of escape.  For that is what my fantasies have been about: escaping the drudgery or the stresses of the day, or retreating into a cocoon, safely away from whatever dangers lurk.

Does everyone have this place of safety that they retreat to?  Are people aware of these imaginary bubbles?  A common criticism of modern life is that we live it in a bubble.  In fact, as we rub shoulders with more and more people, we throw a protective casing around us as often as we can, whether real or imaginary, or so the theory goes.  The challenge for car-dependent cities is as much about getting people to give up the safety net of the car, as it is about improving the reliability and frequency of public transport.  Yet in cities where public transport is the dominant mode, people invent new safety nets – the personal music player, the book, the retreat into sleep.  Is there anything wrong with that?  I honestly don’t know.  I don’t know how people ‘charge up’ for the day without inside space – a place where no-one else can intrude.  Does this mean we are at risk of dehumanizing our contact with the people around us?  Maybe.  Does this matter?  Well, that depends on the consequences.  At times of crisis, are people snapped out of these internal reveries into mutual action?  Maybe.  Perhaps one of the bigger questions is whether we get enough of this downtime now that our lives are so multi-streamed with television, internet, phones, texts, video-games, kindles, books, newspapers etc etc etc.  And…where should we be taking this time out?  If the only place a person gets alone time is on the loo then it seems to me we have a problem.

So, for now, I will keep dreaming my flying fantasies, but perhaps I will let a few other characters into my dream flying boat.  Who knows, I might find my bubble is bigger than I think!