Dreaming about peeing and making art out of our traumas
Updated: Jun 17, 2020
Venezia and I had a very illuminating conversation today. It started with me recounting my dream to her.
Lihong: So, in my dream i was with you, in a queue at a public pool for a toilet. you went in and out quickly and i asked if the toilet was ok to use, you nodded yes. I went in, it was a pretty gross toilet, and I had to pee standing up (in a standing position like a man).
But i was stressed by the crowd outside the stall, I had an image of starved zombies clamouring at the door. It took a while for me to relax my spincter muscles enough to pee. When i started peeing, someone rattled the door and the lock slipped open. I was shocked and the pee stream lurched like in that dream world in Upload (on Amazon Prime Video), 'cept here, it didn't end in the toilet bowl. I was exposed, but even in my state of shock and horror at having my privacy infringed, I tried not to get any pee on the people outside. How considerate of me.
Venezia: Oh wow
Lihong: I banged the door shut but the mob kept banging the door and i was fucking panicked. I forced my pee to stop and ran out. Forgot to mention that we were in our bikinis too. I manage to put that incident behind (doesn't even make sense) and lie down on the deck chair with you. When no one's looking, when you're off to get us some drinks, I defiantly pee. Not secretly while in the pool, but openly, angrily. I sway from left to right, watching my pee stream move in a graceful arc. But someone sees me, and I am shocked that I reflexively want to hide in shame. I realise my defiance was a false confidence. I desperately beg them not to expose me
Venezia: This is a really intense dream. Sounds super stressful.
And there are two parts to it : one where you are exposed by someone else, and the other where you expose yourself
Dream analysis found on the web
One of the most common scenarios with bathroom dreams is needing to pee or poop and not being able to find a suitable place and/or using the restroom in an unusual, normally public place. Embarrassment, shame, and anxiety often come up here. Perhaps you ended up peeing somewhere you would never pee in real life, making you feel exposed and vulnerable.
A good place to start as you feel into the visceral experience of the dream is to ask yourself, are the feelings in the dream familiar? And not just the feeling of needing to pee—but on a more symbolic level, when do you feel this way—anxious, urgent, searching for somewhere to let go, desperate for some privacy?
On a societal level, the cloud of shame that hovers over going to the bathroom is everywhere. Ever seen a commercial for “poo-pourri”? We are all socialized to believe their completely natural behaviors of farting, pooping, burping, and peeing are gross and disgusting—things we have to hide from others. It makes a certain kind of sense—pee and poop are waste, we are supposed to dispose of it. But that doesn’t mean we are bad just because we have it at all
The metaphor is common enough—our ‘shit’…being in ‘our shit’…dealing with other peoples ‘shit’…meaning the places where we get caught in our own illusions, act out, feel heavy or weighed or burdened, stuck or confused or lost or in despair. It’s not to say that we should embrace these states—but when we are too anxious or embarrassed and feel we have to hide this shit from everyone around us, how can we ever release it? The shit is not the problem—it’s a natural part of the cycle—and our bodies naturally dispose of it. It’s the shame we attach to it that makes it so hard for us to feel like we have the space we need to let it go.
Our conversation flows into talking about how we felt a little strange about some of the traumatic experiences we've made into "art". Venezia felt it cheapened the experienced firstly in that she was able to make it into art, and secondly, that she was able to show it to people she hasn't yet made a connection with. I was reminded of the piece about my experience with eating disorder that I had completed not long ago. Making this piece had required me to dig into that experience and part of it was a little painful to confront. When I showed it to someone close to me, the response "it's a little heavy" made me pretty upset, but it took a while for me to understand why. This person did not realise how vulnerable I felt showing this side of myself to the world, after having hidden it for so long, and even when I talked about it, it was in a reflective, detached manner. I've been conditioned to make it sound like it was no big deal.
At which point do we draw a line and say, enough. We are not going to keep making art out of out traumas? How easy it is to exploit our traumas and make them into entertainment. Only, we are not our traumas. And when we entertain people with our traumas, sometimes we have to tell only part of the story, because that's more entertaining, funnier, as Hannah Gadsby puts it. We don't get to talk about the rest of the story that is the long suffering we put up with, the shame we felt and how low our self worth was. Because that's too heavy. No one wants to hear about your trauma, unless it's to make them laugh. Everyone's got their own traumas.
In Nanette (only the best standup comedy special I've watched ever), Hannah says that she has to stop doing comedy because it's preventing her from telling her story properly. According to her, a joke only requires two parts: the setup and the punchline. The setup is when she creates the tension, when she inseminates the question into the audience's mind, makes them sit on the edge of their seats in anticipation. The punchline breaks the tension. The real story has 3 parts, and the 3rd part doesn't get told because it's not funny. In silencing ourselves to perform for others, are we hindering our own healing?
"Punchlines need trauma, because punchlines need tension and tension feeds trauma. I didn’t come out to my grandmother last year because I’m still ashamed of who I am. Not intellectually, but right here [points to heart], I still have shame. You learn from the part of the story you focus on. I need to tell my story properly. " - Hannah Gadsby
I reflected on the one time I did a stand up set at the Merry Lion, when I joked about my severe myopia and the comical situations it's led to. I made people laugh. But I don't tell them about the fear that's always at the back of my mind that because of the severity of the myopia, I have a much much higher risk for retinal detachment. I don't tell them how I try to forget the anxiety when I'm surrounded by beautiful nature (and I love nature), in a rural area, because if I have a retinal detachment and can't get medical attention quickly enough, I might go blind. I don't talk about the anger and frustration I feel at the opticians from my childhood who have misprescribed ever higher corrections that locked my eyes in a vicious positive feedback loop, making them ever more myopic, instead of prescribing more sustainable long term solutions. I don't know if they didn't know their craft well enough, or if they simply wanted this regular business. Like clockwork, every year, my mother would bring me and my sisters to them and we'd need a stronger prescription. I don't say how awful I feel inside when I feel like I have to make people laugh at my myopia (how many fingers is this?) to trick myself into feeling better about it.
I read in a book a few days ago:
Art is not only the desire to tell one's secret; it is the desire to tell it and hide it at the same time.
This might be the eternal torment we have to struggle with if we are to make art out of our shame and suffering.
Yes, it is tiring to have to edit yourself, and present yourself on other people's terms because otherwise it's too much work. I used to just shut up and not say anything because I didn't want to have to explain and educate others. But then I just found friends and community I didn't have to explain any of it to. They got it. They gave me space. And they helped me explain to other people what I was too tired to explain. And now I have the responsibility to return that favour for others, to share the burden of education with those who have to live with the tension every minute of their lives.