When great change is afoot, I tend to dream more. I take instruction from legitimate dreams. A sober, unplugged journey could bear vast implications to my inner life. Sex and death. That’s what I’ve dreamed of most of my adult life. The sex has involved “me” in the dreams; the death has happened to “others.” Some might say that these two motifs are symbolically, metaphorically, psychologically similar.
Though I still find myself often thinking about death and sex, I don’t dream much anymore. Maybe it’s a sign of aging—which I refuse to believe; maybe it’s a by-product of a few evening drinks—which is only sometimes the case; or maybe my life really hasn’t been as much in a state of upheaval as I often seem to make it out to be. Does this make me a liar, a purveyor of dreams that didn’t happen, a shadow-maker of dreams that are really only the daytime imaginings of an idle mind? And when I do dream, its validity comes into question: was it really a manifestation of some legitimate inner turmoil, or was it that I watched a twisted episode of television or tripped-out movie? The “media dreams,” as I call them, are merely the collective rare bit dream of a writers’ group who ate bad pork at some late night staff meeting. I always disregard these media dreams.
On the other hand, what do I make of a series of recent negative dreams about my recently-commenced beard? Why aren’t my eyebrows scorned? Why isn’t the peach fuzz on my ears ridiculed? (Probably because, in reality, Nic won’t let those get out of hand.) At any rate, my beard, of all things, is the one hair-growth project that looks good. While the increasing length of my cranial fuzz at the very top of my head looks like the path less traveled or one slightly overgrown wagon-rut on the Oregon Trail, my facial follicles have suffered no indignity since last I implemented a moratorium on cheek-shaving. In one dream, though, a group of students told me I should shave the beard off because it looked stupid. In another dream, Nic told me she didn’t like it. (In waking hours, though, she tells me she likes it.) And, in last night’s dream, I looked at myself in the mirror and pondered the cutting of said beard.
The reasons for growing my hair out are two-fold.
One is practical: not only is it cold here in Korea and there are still some peaks to train on (we head out this Sunday morning in 38 degrees F), but when I get to southeast Asia (in spite of the heat), I’ll have less to worry about in terms of maintenance of short hair and shorn cheeks; all the more time to ponder the weight of the world. In addition, the extra hair will provide much-needed extra warmth on 4000m Himalayan spring nights, keeping shivering to a minimum and holding The Brothers Karamozov steady.
The other reason I am growing my hair out is a symbolic au revoir to social norms. This is not to say that I will also take to touching Thais on the tops of their heads, moving ritualistic artifacts in Vietnamese hill people’s villages, laughing while in the Killing Fields of Cambodia, or eating with my left hand in Nepal. I’ll do my best to represent myself well in these culturally diverse situations. However, I have worked hard and earned my place on this trip. I deserve to thumb my nose—at least for a little while—at those who say only an unrespectable, disrespectful man has an unkempt and disheveled mane. The travel beard is by no means a unique concept. I, however, fully intend to participate in it.