Dreaming Of the City That Never Sleeps

vanishingny Dreaming Of the City That Never Sleeps

New York nightlife: it isn’t all bars and clubs and insomniacs. (emmastory, flickr)

In his happier dreams, Jeremiah Moss sees the city as it was, the vanished New York, and he rushes around, digital camera in hand, trying to capture everything. In less happy dreams, he sees the city as it is, the vanishing New York, the one that he documents by day on his blog Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, a.k.a. the Book of Lamentations: A Bitterly Nostalgic Look at a City in the Process of Going Extinct.

It is said that we what cannot resolve in our waking lives haunts our dreams, and this seems particularly true for the pseudonymous Mr. Moss. But rather than despairing, Mr. Moss has decided to magnify the effect. Now he posts his dreams, and the dreams of other New Yorkers similarly inclined to bitter nostalgia even in their sleep, on a quiet side blog: Dreams of the Vanishing New York.

“I noticed that I’d been having dreams about the themes of Vanishing New York. I think it’s the obsessive way I do the blog; it’s in my head a lot,” Mr. Moss told The Observer when we spoke with him about the project. “I thought it would be interesting over time to see if we could see something in the collective unconscious. It’s not a blog that I’d be doing every day, but it would kind of be a repository for these dreams.”

So far, Mr. Moss has received a handful of submissions, which he has been posting on something close to a weekly basis since starting the blog in April.

So what do people dream about when they dream about New York?

“Most of the dreams express anxiety about losing parts of the city or longing for lost parts of the city,” said Mr. Moss, who admits that his readers might be more inclined to have anxious dreams about an urban landscape that is being remade than the general population (and to feel alienated, rather than delighted, by the hyper-gentrification that the Bloomberg administration has wrought).

“I think loss is a big anxiety in most people’s dreams. Maybe in New York, we’re choosing things like the Chelsea Hotel to symbolize that when we’re sleeping,” he noted. “Or maybe it’s a genre of New York dreaming, like the dream we all have about the hidden room in their apartment.”

The Observer tried to recall if we had ever had such a sweet dream.

So far, the dream locations are filled with the detritus of everyday life—gas stations, basements, bars, Tompkins Square Park—rather than iconic locations like the Empire State building.

And it turns out that a fair number of people dream about Mr. Moss himself, and his peregrinations through the city. Or at least the kind of people who read his blog religiously dream about him. Despite his mysterious visage, he’s made appearances in several dreams: once as a tall, thin young man with long dreds, a beautiful bandana and magenta/deep purple lipstick and in another, as a master xeroxer living in a dingy, windowless room in the cellar of NYU.

But what about boredom of wading through the submissions?, we wondered. Had he never been subjected to someone’s byzantine and deeply boring dream retelling?

Having to write a dream down, or at least writing a dream that will be posted on a blog, seems to offer the recounting a shape they often lack spoken, Mr. Moss said, as people feel compelled to make a story out of the jumble of sleep. At the very least, they delete the “and thens” that so often plague verbal accounts.

And what had Mr. Moss learned about the collective unconscious of New Yorkers so far?

“There is this sense of powerlessness as the city is being radically changed around them and the things they love about it are being taken away,” Mr. Moss said. “There’s this anxiety about being discarded. A lot of the dreams have to do with destruction and the fear of destruction, but there’s also a wish for destruction. I think underneath the anxiety, is the thought that if the thing you fear happens, then you don’t fear it anymore.”

kvelsey@observer.com