Electric Dreams

The Calling to Be a
Super Hero

Linda Lane Magallón

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Magallón, Linda Lane (2006 March). The Calling to Be a Super Hero. Electric Dreams 13(3).

Somewhere after midnight
In my wildest fantasies
Somewhere just beyond my reach
Is someone reaching back for me
Racing in the thunder
And rising with the heat
It's going to take a Superman
To sweep me off my feet

I need a hero
I'm holding out for a hero
'Til the end of the night
He's gotta be strong
And he's gotta be fast
And he's gotta be fresh from the fight

(Steinman/Pitchford: Holding Out For A Hero)

"Lois Lane?" they'd ask, with eyebrows raised, eyes sparkling, voices full of expectation.

"No, Linda Lane," I'd reply emphatically. Cripes, did I look like a Lois Lane? Same dark hair, maybe, but the woman was a wimp. No super powers at all. Linda Lane was my maiden name. Being misidentified as "Lois" while a child was the start of my affinity with the Superman mythos. Reading the DC comics had left me intrigued, but not any more than my contemporaries.

Superman came to television about the same year my family purchased our first black-and-white TV. I vividly remember the impact the program had on me. Suddenly, Superman was no frozen snapshot of a flying person, but a living, moving being. It didn't matter that, when she went to Los Angeles for a convention and movie studio tour, my mother reported that the special effects were just an optical illusion. For me, the visual image was real.

With a rush of emotion, I was no longer watching an image on the screen. I could reach out and feel my feet hit the floor. One, two, three steps, feet together, bend knees, bring arms up, push off legs, throw arms out and stretch into the infinity of sky.

The feeling propelled me forward in a huge wave, sending my heart soaring just as surely as Superman launched himself out the open window of the Daily Planet. Each time I watched the program, energy would course through me like an electric current. I would grit my teeth, grip the chair or drive my fingernails into the palms of my hands, hoping against hope that my brothers and parents would not see what was happening to me.

Sometimes the experience was too much to keep in. On the pretext of going to the bathroom, I'd get up and leave the living room. But I'd soon sneak back and peek around the corner to watch the rest of the show, at least until another flying scene occurred. Then I'd twist from the doorway and lean against the wall until my breathing and heartbeat had returned to normal.

The most opaque sharing of my interest in flying or super heroes brought blank looks and, if pushed, derision. I was quite convinced that if I really let people know my experience, I would have been laughed at, ridiculed, ex-communicated, bound and taken in a straight-jacket by white-clothed men to be tossed into a deep, dark dungeon with the key thrown away. Given what I know now about the rigidities of the psychology, religion and culture of the 1950's, I was probably smart to keep my mouth shut. Given the dynamics of my birth family, I felt I had no choice.

Sympathy springs from the desire to put oneself into someone else's shoes, to be drawn into their world. This happened to me when I watched movies or TV. It could also happen in daily life. First hand, I would experience the wrath and disdain of my parents. But second hand, I could identify with my younger siblings every time they bore the brunt of parental anger and emotional manipulation. My brothers and I recall being in tears most every day. Feelings of painful anguish and utter helplessness were common to all of us. They welled up and overflowed into the land of dreams. As a result, my dreaming world was a nocturnal hell. My sleeping repertoire included not a single positive or uplifting example. Instead, I had a chilling number of Titanic nightmares, including the repetitious variety.

I am running, running, pushing, forcing, faster, faster. It's so hard to move myself! I am pursued by the Mafioso. The Men In Black are running, leering after me. As I press my head and torso ahead, my legs lift behind me. In time, I become airborne. I am spread flat on the air, trying to get ahead through the thick atmosphere. But it's like pressing my body through molasses. I can never get higher than the Mafioso's outstretched arms. They grab for my ankles...

Yes, in dreams I could fly, but this super power did me no good. I was neither fast enough nor high enough to avoid the Mafioso. Sometimes the Men in Black actually managed to grasp my feet. More often, the nightmare ended before they could do so. Now I realize that I had dreamt a perfect symbol of criminal family energy, times two. These Italian godfathers with black clothes and dark hats represented double trouble: my birth family and the Roman Catholic Church. Many years later my sisters would tell me that each had the same nightmare. But I didn't know this while we were children. Sharing dreams just wasn't done. So, each of us suffered in sleep, alone.

When I left my abused childhood behind, I became partner to my husband and mother to my own two children. After more than a decade of home-bound child care, night school and part-time jobs, I had achieved an advanced academic degree and begun a full time career. This newfound activity gave me the confidence to consider divorcing my parents and leaving the religion of my youth. But whatever success I experienced in waking life made zero impact on my dreams. There, the Titanic themes were just as alive and terrifying as they had been when I was young. They kept up an unrelenting pounding on my psyche. I tried my best to avoid them. A successful night was when I remembered no dreams.

I had an aid to this repression of nocturnal stress. It was fantasy. Fantasy served as a buffer between the chaos of the day and the desired dreamless sleep. I discovered I could "change channels," distract myself from the residue of mundane conflict and anxiety by substituting a more pleasing scenario for my mind to view as I drifted into stupor.

There was one special fantasy that had been playing in my mind theater for decades. Each night was a new chapter or, more likely, a rerun of a favorite scene. When I became an adult, I was so embarrassed about this childish pastime that I tried to repress it, too. Unfortunately, as soon as I did, the nightmares erupted again, full blast. Eventually, I gave up and decided to enjoy the reverie as a respite unrelated to waking life. It was okay, as long as I told no one. You see, my fantasy had its genesis in that Superman TV show.

Of course, it grew and changed as I did. The super crime fighter was discarded first. I was more interested in the simple thrill and finesse of flight. A solitary hero didn't appeal, either.

I liked the idea of a league of compatriots. Each decade of my waking life made its contribution. For instance, the civil rights movement of the 60's ensured our organization would be multiethnic. It soon became multinational and, then, multigalactic. Simple comic stories gave way to sophisticated science fiction. My characters used teleportation gates to visit other planets, ruled by transplanted humans who were dominated by an alien species that wanted to re-conquer Earth. My own character, who I named Casey, was intensely involved in liberating dictatorship in favor of democracy.

It would be with amazement and a chilling sense of deja vu that I watched the Star Gate series appear on TV. I discovered that my private reveries weren't so personal after all. Evidently, on the edge of sleep, I had tapped into some sort of group unconscious.

However, there was an important difference. Instead of war technology, the emphasis in my fantasy was on psychic skills. No space ships, but super flying. No electronic communication, but telepathy between companions. These skills were but beginning to appear among humans, a harbinger of evolutionary progress. Or so the story went. Much of the plot was incorporated from other people's books, movie screenplays and television shows, although I contributed my own ideas, too. Nighttime would come and I'd trade in my waking persona for Casey, then teleport out of physical reality into the domain of high ideals. And hope thereby I wouldn't be pulled down by the Men In Black into the depths of disturbed dreams.

It was as if I lived 3 separate lives: waking state, imagination...and nightmare. And then, one night, the barriers between all three crumbled. A character from the fantasy crossed over and showed up in my dreams. No, not Superman nor even his updated fantasy version. It was a black female I'd named Willie who delivered me from the nightmare, because she had the same capabilities as her fantasy counterpart: super strength and the ability to fly. She carried me away from danger, soaring through the sky. Fantasy was born into dream, quickly followed by waking consciousness. Because I recognized my rescuer as Willie of the fantasy, I went lucid. For the first time in my life.

Furthermore, Willie addressed me, not as Linda, but my fantasy name, Casey. Even though I'd become aware of the fact that I was dreaming, I did not conclude that an invitation was being extended for my waking consciousness to enter the dream: that was just a serendipitous side effect. Rather, it was my fantasy self who was being called to manifest in the dream state. She could be a super hero in her own domain, but what about the me-in-the-dream? I already knew my dreaming self could fly sluggishly and slow. Could she do better? Did she secretly have the super ability to stand up to nightmares? Did she actually have the potential to become Casey in the world of dreams? And, if so, could I join in her triumphs first hand? Live out my fantasy in a way much more compelling and immediate than in imagination?

The breakthrough dream was so powerful, I went out and bought a spiral notebook to record it. After reviewing what I had written, I thought, "Flying with Willie is neat, but I wish I could fly by myself." A few nights later my wish was granted. Now I was the flyer, soaring over a Spanish monastery, city streets, sea cliffs, marshlands and a beautiful valley colored in brilliant greens. Now I was the rescuer, transporting a young boy to a vividly red brick hospital. My nightmares had been in black and while, with rarely a tinge of color to relieve the monotony. Even in my breakthrough dream, the colors had been grayed out. But this dream! The colors and details were as sharp as any lucid dream I've had since then. Although I wasn't aware I was dreaming, I really felt like I was there, flying through a world as brilliant as the sunniest day in physical reality. Of course, I was there. Not as Linda, though. As Casey.

Manifesting as a strong and sturdy flyer had produced a bonus benefit: a change in the dreamscape. Not only was my dreaming self becoming more super, so was the entire dream. Flying had opened up a whole new vista in sleep. Just as Dorothy's cyclone had flown her from dull grey Kansas into multicolored Oz, so my body soaring through the air had transported me into a Technicolored land. But in the dream I had far more control than a house in a hurricane. No ruby red slippers for me -- I had super red boots.

(Dream Flights)