Monthly Archives: August 2017

Sleep Paralysis

What if you couldn’t jolt awake to escape from the demons and goblins in your dreams? What if they were there in your room, skulking, waiting for you to wake up?

When I younger, around 16, there was a period of time in which I had nightmares almost every night. It was an occurrence that seemed to beget and beget; after a few times, I would go to sleep wondering what the next nightmare would be, so of course, I had one. A fair portion of these experiences included sleep paralysis.

It wasn’t the first time I had experienced anxiety surrounding sleep. As a child, I got into the habit of sleeping as close to my wall as possible to avoid the view of my window, because I was paranoid that a strange man-ghost was staring at me through my window and if I couldn’t see him, he couldn’t see me. I imagined that soldiers were going to climb through my window and brutally murder me, but as long as I didn’t look at that bedroom window, their reality didn’t exist; they couldn’t cross the threshold, they couldn’t “get” me. With time, these fancies moved to the interior of my house; over and over I had a vision of a shadow figure moving slowly up my stairs and soon, soon, it would appear at my door.

I grew up in a Christian school and tried and failed to be religious – agnosticism is in my bones – but still, the only thing that calmed me down during these nocturnal attacks was repeating the Lord’s Prayer over, over, over again. It was so much engrained in me that it was the first mantra my mind jumped to, just something I knew off by heart. I repeated it to try to keep the terror at bay until I finally fell asleep. It was like counting sheep.

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There were, of course, phases where I slept like a baby, as I mostly do now. Sometimes, though, in unfamiliar places, it would get worse. During my first without-family holiday with my friends, I woke up in the middle of the night and every object around me took a human shape – I had to wake my unfortunate friend to ask her to turn the light on because I was so scared I didn’t want to leave my covers. Needless to say, it was embarrassing.

But I never imagined that one day I would wake up and physically not be able to move.

If you are unfamiliar with the condition, Wikipedia is your friend:

Sleep paralysis is when, during awakening or falling asleep, one is aware but unable to move. During an episode, one may hear, feel, or see things that are not there. It often results in fear. Episodes generally last less than a couple of minutes. It may occur as a single episode or be recurrent. […] The central symptoms of sleep paralysis is during awakening being aware but being unable to move.

Humming, hissing, static, zapping and buzzing noises are reported during sleep paralysis. Imagined sounds (voices, whispers and roars) are also experienced. These symptoms are usually accompanied by intense emotions: such as fear, and panic. People also have sensations of being dragged out of bed or of flying, and feelings of electric tingles or vibrations running through their body.

Sleep paralysis may include hallucinations, such as a supernatural creature suffocating or terrifying the individual, accompanied by a feeling of pressure on one’s chest and difficulty breathing. Another example of a hallucination involves a menacing shadowy figure entering one’s room or lurking outside one’s window, while the subject is paralysed.’

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I don’t know why it suddenly picked on me when I was in my teenage years. I woke up to the sensation of tingling in the tips of my fingers, like pins and needles, which spread like a violent shudder through my whole body, and then I couldn’t move. The only movement I could make was with my eyes; in their childish instinct, they moved toward the door. I only saw darkness, but I felt strongly that there was a presence. I felt like it was suffocating me, and my heart was racing. It was like a dark, oppressive shadow in my periphery that I knew was there but I could never see directly. Because I didn’t know what it was, I struggled against it, which makes it worse, like thrashing around in quicksand. This must have only happened for a couple of minutes, but it seemed like an age, and eventually, it became so distressing that I blacked out.

This happened a few times in a short period and a couple of times throughout the years, but the other main event I remember is when I was asleep on the couch in my living room. I woke up with the similar pins-and-needles sensation – by now, it was a familiar indicator of what was about to happen. I looked at the living room around me, one of the most familiar sights in the world, but… I can’t even explain it… it was almost like I wasn’t looking at it from my body. It was too still, a perfect camera pan like I was dreaming it but I knew I was awake. The most familiar room to me became strangely alien and uncanny to me and I knew I couldn’t move, and in the safest space, I didn’t feel safe. When I look back on this since watching Twin Peaks a year or so after the event, it reminds me of the ominous shots of the ceiling fan in the Palmer residence.

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I liked to think I’d changed, grown out of it. Last night, I thought my sleep paralysis was going to come back. Luckily, I bolted awake from my bad dream (which involved some kind of demonic figure) and didn’t get stuck in that liminal space. But I knew if tried to go straight back to sleep it would occur. I just knew it by instinct. In fact, my paranoia had shot up so high after that bad dream that I was convinced the demon in my dream had woken me up just to make me see or feel them in the waking world. I was terrified to go back to sleep. Childhood fears came flooding back, “I’m a bad person, they know I’m a bad person, demons exist and they want to take me, they want to scare me and punish me.” I still don’t follow a religion and yet I felt sin weighing on my chest. I tucked all of my limbs into my covers. I looked at the clock and of course it was 3 am which, if like me you’re interested in the paranormal or have watched one episode of Most Haunted, you’ll know is the “Witching Hour”. I resigned myself to stay awake for a bit, mentally poking a bit of fun at myself. Something was bugging me about my dream and I was trying to think of where I got the word ‘Hepzibah’ from in it, which I now remember is the name of a character in Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables. I heard dogs howling outside and chuckled at my immediate thought that this was classic confirmation that there was something afoot, as clearly I have watched too much Hammer Horror.

Finally, I closed my eyes, sighed and, from my heathen lips, uttered the Lord’s Prayer. Our Father, who art in Heaven…

Once.

Twice.

Out like a light.

— Laura

​Thoughts on Lana Del Rey’s Lust For Life

When I first listened to Lust For Life a day after its release I wanted to respond in full right away, but ultimately decided to listen to it several times first, allowing the overall flavour to separate into its notes like a good wine. During this process, I allowed the excitement to settle and formed my own thoughts on what the strongest parts of the album are to me.

To say it isn’t my favourite LDR album does not subtract from its merit; when choosing my favourite Lana album I tend to think about which album works the best as an overall piece and, in my opinion, this is Honeymoon, which is a gorgeous album. It showed growing thematic promise and proof that LDR, whilst she does recycle, also takes on new subjects and new sounds that serve an album’s story rather than the radio.

Lust For Life didn’t have this same flow, exactly – it’s very listenable, but definitely has songs on it that don’t belong. This said, different styles are experimented with which do really complement the signature Lana sound of the album, as evidenced by the collaborations (I particularly love the duet with Stevie Nicks, ‘Beautiful People, Beautiful Problems’ and with Sean Ono Lennon, ‘Tomorrow Never Came’.)

What makes me love the album thematically is that although Lana clearly wants this to be an optimistic album set apart from the others (clearly expressed by being the only album cover on which she is smiling), she also embraces and even has an indulgent sense of humour about the Sad Girl aesthetics she has woven into her music and visuals over time.

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Lust For Life album cover, 2017

To contextualize this: Certain attitudes within the feminist community sometimes use the very patriarchal structure they want to resist to invalidate female sadness, female madness, female performance. They have a very definite idea of how strength and resistance manifest in the realm of protest. There is a pressure to always be strong or successful, and any shortcoming or sensitivity is almost an open wound subject to being labeled unfeminist. I would argue that this denies women an important part of human experience and perpetuates the idea that sensitivity is negative and should be silenced.

Audrey Wollen says of Sad Girl Theory that it is ‘the proposal that the sadness of girls should be witnessed and re-historicized as an act of resistance, of political protest.’ She claims that ‘girls being sad has been categorized as this act of passivity, and therefore, discounted from the history of activism’ and that she is ‘trying to open up the idea that protest doesn’t have to be external to the body […] There’s a long history of girls who have used their own anguish, their own suffering, as tools for resistance and political agency. Girls’ sadness isn’t quiet, weak, shameful, or dumb: It is active, autonomous, and articulate. It’s a way of fighting back.’ (source)

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Sylvia Plath, the general fan base of whom is often dismissed as merely a bunch of narcissistic teenage girls

All too often dismissed about historic Sad Girl icons – Plath, Monroe – is that they were also capable of exquisite happiness. This is certainly what sets Lust For Life apart from Del Rey’s other albums more than anything else, and the aspect of it I enjoy the most. In the trailer for the album, a holographic image of Lana muses, “each morning I have the luxury of asking myself, “What shall I cook up for the kids today? Something with a little spice? Something with a little bitterness but is ultimately sweet? Or shall I take the day off and turn down the fire, and just take a moment to send my love to them over the ether?” Because sometimes just being pure of heart, and having good intentions, and letting them be known is the most worthy contribution an artist can make.”

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Lana and the lunar cycle in the Lust For Life album trailer, drawing attention to her role as a woman figure

For Lana, it seems, being pure of heart is not necessarily channeling aggressive positivity (something we see a high saturation of recently) but being honest. It is acknowledging her responsibility to provide a message for her fans, but not denying any part of the spectrum of her experience. Emphasizing the importance of being hopeful, but accepting that happiness can’t be reduced to an end-goal and accepting that being human, being a woman in our society, is really hard sometimes.

Here are my personal favourite songs on the album and why I think they’re the strongest tracks in conveying this message.

CHERRY
This song shows the most aesthetic self-awareness, and acknowledgment of the fragility of nostalgic, romantic images. Referring to the obvious iconic songs (plus her obsession with peaches), she laments, ‘my cherries and wine, rosemary and thyme, and all of my peaches are ruined.’ She uses the theme of disintegration in the song, particularly poignant in the line, ‘my celluloid scenes are torn at the seams’ with reference to the found-footage montages Lana has used in her visuals from the beginning. By doing this, she powerfully conveys the falling apart of artificiality in the face of “real” love and the feeling of somewhat losing one’s sense of self almost violently, as shown by her metaphor of the firing squad. It’s really over-the-top and really heartbreaking all the same.

WHITE MUSTANG
Again, Lana shows aesthetic self-awareness and almost self-mockery in the line, ‘Slippin’ on my dress in soft filters’. This song is about women who love too much (‘I was such a fool for believing that you / Could change all the ways you’ve been living / But you just couldn’t stop.’) We are reminded of her single ‘Shades of Cool’ from the album Ultraviolence which features a similarly harmful relationship in which she regrets that she ‘can’t fix him, can’t make him better’. The song is heavily romanticized but also, I feel, shows the futility of such a love.

SUMMER BUMMER
This song really grew on me over the course of about three listens and now it’s one of my favourites! I think the line, ‘You can’t escape my affection / Wrap you up in my daisy chains’ is so powerful in a way you might miss on the first listen. Over the years, Lana Del Rey has pastiched the image of femme fatale and she is now recreating it. She doesn’t use any words in the semantic field of allure, she very purposefully uses the word ‘affection’. She brings a power to affection and sentiment. The phrasing ‘wrap you up’ and ‘can’t escape’ connote images of the serpentine, which are very typically femme fatale, but she subverts this by using daisy chains, surely a symbol of simple affection, innocence and childhood summer days. This also plays on her former Lolita image but also gives a power to sentimentality in a way that really appeals to me and which I think is really radical and important.

IN MY FEELINGS
This is the ultimate self-indulgent, tongue-in-cheek Sad Girl track. In the best way, it borders on the female grotesque and reminds me of Mulholland Drive when she sings almost monotonously, ‘I’m crying while I’m cumming.’ This song is exactly what I mean when I say that in this album (and, I would argue, in albums before) she is bringing a self-awareness and wry sense of humour about her own work and themes. It always makes me smile a bit on the line, ‘Sobbin’ in my cup of coffee ’cause I fell for another loser’. This is what many of us experience in private but don’t admit because we are told to grow a thick skin. It gives us permission to feel these things.

To conclude what I love overall about the album, it isn’t just these permissions in ‘In My Feelings’ that make me love the song – it is the empowering refrain:
‘Who’s tougher than this bitch, who’s freer than me? / You wanna make the switch, be my guest, baby / I’m feeling all my fucking feelings.’
This clearly says that there is power in processing things emotionally rather than just switching them off and repressing them. She is arguing that allowing herself to feel her feelings is what gives her power, what makes her strong.

Lust For Life on iTunes: link

— Laura