Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Geography of Dreams

They've built an amusement park in my subconscious. By "they" of course, I mean "me." Or at least the sleeping, night time unconscious version of me.

I visited the place again in my dream last night. I've been there a few times before, but only now have I realized how vast it is. It's a crowded, noisy midway filled with flashing lights, spinning mechanical rides, throngs of strangers pushing strollers, merchants selling trinkets, booths where you can buy hot pretzels, Italian sausages, or fried dough.

It's the size of a city. It has its own train station. It has lighting displays to rival Las Vegas. It has the smells of every county fair I've ever been to and the soundtrack of a thousand video game arcades. Apparently, it has beach frontage on what seems to be the Pacific Ocean.

If you know me, you know that this description is the epitome of the kind of loud, bright, hectic environment that I usually try to avoid. Yet somehow, in the dream, I seem to know my way around. When I woke up this morning, I lay there for a while thinking that it was a real place and trying to remember when I had been there. It took a few minutes to figure out that I knew it from other dreams, where I had visited other parts of the place.

Do you have dream locations that you visit over and over again in your dreams? Or motifs that keep repeating themselves? If so, you probably understand how odd it is for such a gigantic---and totally alien---place to develop in my subconscious without my noticing it.

I'm sure it has to do with how stressful, busy, and multifaceted my days have become lately as I try to accomplish all the various tasks necessary to keep this farm afloat. I only want a quiet, peaceful life, yet right now the life seems overwhelming.

The interesting part is that in the dream I seem to be fairly confident about where I'm going. I don't get lost amid the maze of rides, booths, and lights. Even though it's not the type of place I normally see myself, in the dream I know that the place belongs to me. I take that as a good sign for my waking life.

I guess the new dream location is just symbolic of this new phase of my life that I'm in. Naturally, I've noticed that the motifs in my dreams do evolve over time. When I was younger, my "stress" dream was that I was missing the school bus. Until I was in my mid-twenties, every time I was stressed out, I would dream about missing the school bus. Eventually, one night I dreamed that the bus crashed into the lake without me on it, and after that I didn't dream about the school bus anymore.

Then I would dream I was trying to get to school in my car. Sometimes the car wouldn't start, or the brakes or steering wouldn't work properly. Or sometimes I'd parked it somewhere and couldn't find it.

Lots of times, I've dreamed that I got to school, but it was now much bigger than it ever had been in real life. All the hallways were different, I couldn't remember my locker number, I couldn't find my books, and I had no idea where my classroom was.

I like to imagine that my disorientation in these dreams was caused by my dreaming self actually flying back to my real high school, which has been expanded and completely renovated since I graduated. So I probably wouldn't be able to find my way around even if I went there when I was awake!

When things are going well in my life, I often dream that I make it to my class and am ready to start my lesson. Clearly there is a huge "learning" theme in my dream motifs.

One of the longest-running dream motifs I ever experienced was the "scary bathroom" motif. For years, I had unpleasant dreams about bathrooms. Sometimes I'd be trying to go and people would burst in and keep trying to talk to me, and I couldn't get them to go away. Or it would be this huge, cavernous public bathroom with no doors on the stalls and every toilet overflowing until the place was ankle-deep in filth. One time, I dreamed that some tough, urban teens cornered me in a bathroom stall, squirted lighter fluid on me, and lit a match.

These dreams happened fairly regularly for years. It got to the point where I started to believe I had some kind of weird, repressed phobia that I didn't recognize. Certainly I had never had a bad experience in a bathroom, and I wasn't afraid of public bathrooms in my waking life. I couldn't figure it out, and still the dreams continued.

Finally, one night I had another terrible bathroom dream that woke me up out of a sound sleep. When I woke up, I realized that I really, really needed to pee, so I got up and went to the... BATHROOM.

Oh! Finally, the light dawned. This whole time, literally for YEARS, all those bathroom dreams were just my subconscious trying to wake me up so I would go pee. When I wouldn't wake up, my subconscious just made the dreams more and more unpleasant, trying to make them bad enough that I would wake up.

I laughed so hard---and felt so stupid---that it had taken me that many years to decode such a simple message. After that, I have never had a scary bathroom dream again.

I’m not the kind of person who has nightmares very often, anyway. My subconscious and I have pretty much come to an understanding. I’m open to listening to messages from the dreamworld, and it, for the most part, doesn’t feel compelled to scare the daylights out of me.

Actually, my subconscious seems to have a rather dry sense of humor, which manifests in my dream symbolism often being comically obvious---often involving a pun or a riddle that makes me groan at the joke when I finally get what the dream meant.

It's kind of funny to imagine my subconscious as a separate entity or person who is slipping me coded messages across the borders of sleep. But the technology is archaic, and the messages hard to decode. Sometimes it’s like when you were a kid and you played “telephone” by fastening tin cans to the ends of a piece of string and talking into them so your voice carried on the vibration of the string. The messages get through, but they’re fuzzy.

One time I had a dream in which I actually saw the dream-person who had been sending all these messages. He was very small, and was yelling very loud to try to get through to me. It was all very “Horton Hears a Who” except that the person trying to get my attention was a tiny little man, all dressed in black, like a mime, and wearing a beret. What was he shouting over and over? Faintly, I managed to make it out: “We are not a mime!” except that, with his French accent, it came out as “We are not a meme!”

When I woke up, with this startling announcement ringing in my ears, I went into fits of giggles. What did it say about me that my subconscious would produce this comical image of a personified meme (for what else is he, if not that?) in a beret and mime outfit using the royal “we” and declaring himself not to be exactly what he is?

1 comment:

farmer, vet and feeder of all animals said...

Ahhhh your "bad" dreams are better than mine I have to say---mine are psycho dreams. Like the movie and with other people as the victims. Ick. So how screwed up am I doc? :-D