Some people say they don’t dream. Others claim they don’t see color when they nod off.
I’ve dreamed in vivid color and 3-D surround sound for as long as I can remember.
The first dream I recall had me standing in the charred remains of a building when I was four or five. The terror of the fire woke me, and I barged into my parents’ bedroom, begging to be let into their bed.
Another day, I can remember bounding into the kitchen early in the morning, regaling my mother with an adventure I’d had during the night. She burst my sleep travel bubble by telling me it was only a dream.
In high school, I had a dream that’s as vivid now as when I waltzed in hooped skirts through a majestic house with 57 rooms. It was my first dream that made me want to go back to sleep and slip back into that magical world where I’d been happier than I can ever recall.
I made my first foray into therapy when I was referred to a Freudian psychiatrist.
He introduced me to dream analysis. They were windows into the soul, he said. Forgive me for being impressed at the cliche. What did I know? I was twenty-seven years old and had more denial going on in my naive soul than all the rivers in Egypt.
In the first dream I brought to him, I was leaning over the skeleton of a man who had stainless steel bones. After probing for meaning, I threw up my hands. He’d asked me what I thought it meant. I came up with bupkis.
He suggested he was the skeleton, and I saw him as rigid and cold because he presented an impassive demeanor, and I was someone who valued emotion.
My mouth hung open. He saw all that in a dream?
Over time, I explored dreams in books, classes, lectures, therapy, and my own amateur attempts at analysis. I was looking, I admit, for messages from my soul, detours around the rough spots in the road. Ways I could make my lot in life easier, some wisdom that eluded me in my waking life.
In time, I discovered patterns. It seemed I often dreamed of babies, deciding they represented my creativity. And houses popped up a lot. Security? A way forward?
I worked hard at lucid dreaming for a time, the ability to become aware of your dream state and control your dreams.
But I loved my dreams. I loved the act of dreaming. My loved ones populated my dreams of course, and then I read that as you got older you dreamed about the departed as a way of preparing for your death.
When my late friends and family began showing up in my dreams, I feared the reaper was sending me a message. Then I realized that, of course, I was dreaming about dead people. My peeps were dying in real life. But in my dreams, they were alive and well as ever.
The only premonition I’ve ever had in a dream occurred months before my mother died. I dreamed of my deceased father at his funeral, one far different from the one we’d actually held for him. He got out of his casket and said to his grieving sisters, “Don’t worry. Death is fine. Don’t be sad.” This occurred thirteen years after he passed away.
My mother died suddenly two months later. At her funeral, I realized so many details in the room had appeared in the dream of my father. It was as if he had spoken to me, telling me not to fear death, preparing me for her passing.
In recent times, and by that, I mean several decades ago, perhaps before some of you were even born, but a blink away in terms of my life, I let go of dreams.
Of course, I still dream as vividly and often as ever. But when I wake, I might mull them over if something about them appealed to me in the moment. But I’m no longer looking for clues about the future.
If dreams are a message from the psyche, and they may well be, I’m not sure I’m good at deciphering them. Except I‘m inclined to think my father was trying to give me some comfort for the impending death of my mother.
I mean, I know babies showed up in my dreams a lot. But instead of a signal of my creativity, maybe my psyche was just saying, oh, she likes babies. Let’s load up some more babies into her dream train. And houses. She grooves on houses, dudes. Got anymore houses for her tonight?
I mean, if babies meant my creativity, why didn’t those dreams come with the plot to the Great American Novel or a screenplay for a stupidly successful TV show that would go into reruns to keep me in style in my dotage?
I never made a conscious decision to discount dreams or to stop looking for meanings in my nocturnal meanderings.
Rather, at some point, I think I’ve decided to take life as it came to me rather than looking for shortcuts in dream analysis, or astrology, or some other peek into the cosmic toy box, as intriguing as all that is to me.
I’ve had psychic readings that have left me dumbfounded with information the reader could not have known. Names of dead siblings, for instance. But if I’ve ever gotten any tips on a shortcut to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, I’ve been too dumb to recognize them or too lazy to do the dance.
And so, I relegated dream analysis to my psychic toolbox of the past.
Until the dream I had last night.
A few dots for those who’d care to connect them.
Forty or so years ago, I was introduced to the Greek plays by a man who also was responsible for awakening my belief in writing.
My first fiction was a story based on the wives of Henry VIII. This same man was the first to read a snippet. His appreciation gave me the encouragement I needed to turn it into a novel (as yet unfinished).
Some years after that, I wanted to write a story based on one of the Greek plays, but I didn’t have the ability to tackle such a huge project.
Fast forward to the present. I’ve pursued learning my craft with a white-hot passion, and I’ve written many books. Yet, I’ve not finished the one based on Henry VIII or the Greek story.
My self-published books include a mix of literary novels and books in genres designed to make money. I love them all but lately have felt a hunger to write something deep and serious. I’ve worried I’ve let too much time lapse. Now I’m just too old, without the energy to tackle a big literary project again.
In fact, since the pandemic, as I’ve written here, I’ve struggled to keep up any kind of writing discipline at all.
But I have been reading and listening to fantastic writers on audiotapes. Almost obsessively so.
Saturday morning, one of these writers prompted an opening to a novel in his voice that I wrote out just for fun. My take was a female noir character. I read it to my writing group during our Zoom session and we had a laugh before turning to their serious books.
That night, I watched a few episodes of a Netflix show called Behind Your Eyes.
Two of the characters are plagued with nightmares, and the show films their dreams. I found myself emotionally moved, though actually the story was a bit predictable and shallow.
I turned out the light and dreamed of my early writing supporter delivering our baby or possibly our grandchild to me. I was a very old woman (I actually am a VOW, but refuse to see myself that way) on my deathbed. I was very comfortable in the bed and very happy to see him, the baby, and the woman who was with him. The decor was Rennaissance England.
When they put the baby in my arms, I was overcome with joy.
Of course, as dreams go, many subplots zig-zagged through the action.
After I woke up, I was overcome with emotion. I couldn’t let the dream go. I felt a surge of love for the man; I longed for the baby. Who was the woman? What did it all mean?
I was back trying to figure out what message my psyche had sent me while I slept.
And bit by bit, it came to me.
Suddenly, the piece I had written the day before came to me with the force of a sledgehammer. It was a tongue-in-cheek spin on a character that the author had used to both entertain while making important observations about life and society, the hallmarks of a literary novel.
All of a sudden, I saw how I could transform those few paragraphs of mine, that I had facetiously modeled on this literary detective, into the figure in the Greek play that had been percolating in the back of my mind for forty years.
It would take a few changes to turn my opening paragraphs into the beginning of a literary novel I’m not sure I have the energy or time left to write. But now I have the structure.
And it all came to me in that dream. It used the elements of my life to piece together a puzzle that has been gnawing at me for forty years.
It bubbled to the surface most recently in my desire to write something deeper than my genre novels, as much as I love them. This yearning has come forward now that I have more skill to tackle the complex project. And now the dream makes sense.
The man who was my early supporter handed me a baby, a symbol of my creativity, surrounded by symbols of Henry VIII, the first piece of fiction I ever showed him. The woman? The play I’d like to use as the basis of my story is Medea.
I think my late psychiatrist would have been proud of my new-found ability at dream analysis.
I just want a word for my psyche pulling strings on my dream life.
Where the hell were you thirty years ago when I had the stamina to pull off this parlor trick? Now that you’ve shown me how to do it, are you going to give me another lifetime to get the damn thing written?
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