Seventeen months? Well, there were issues. Also, the election cycle became increasingly alarming and dispiriting, although I won’t claim not to have been gobsmacked by the triumph of the short-fingered vulgarian. What I expected was that Clinton would prevail, and preside over a critically injured polity. The actual outcome was, of course, incomparably worse, but this is properly the subject of another post.)
A century ago, and certainly by the time I was born, Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams was considered canonical in many circles, although since that time, like Freud himself—these latter decades the object of some spirited iconoclasty—his take on these things has fallen out of favor. Even the “Viennese quack,” as Nabokov styled him, reportedly acknowledged that too much could be read into a cigar.
The modern thinking, I believe, is that our dreams consist largely of random imagery, albeit with a bias toward recent input and experience, and that to the extent we may draw conclusions from these regarding the psyche of the dreamer, it is properly from the narrative that the sleeping mind attempts to impose upon the farrago of pictures and situations it has spontaneously spewed forth. I regard this approach as generally plausible.
Most evenings my own dreams are as random, I suppose, as the next fellow’s, but certain scenarios, all of these in some measure of a stressful character, recur rather regularly, and I suspect that taken together they limn in broad outline a picture of my personal anxieties. In no particular order:
The Week of Reckoning
This one I apparently share with millions of others going back decades: I’m back in college. It’s finals week. I have barely attended class all quarter; have never cracked a textbook; have certainly not studied for the test. I’ve a day, if that, to make up all the neglected work, write the papers, master the subjects, pass the exams. I am not filled with optimism.
Oddly enough, I lived that dream back in 1971. It was notably less stressful in real life. Of course, I did flunk out of school (one professor told me shortly afterward that he regretted that the University of California did not provide for a grade lower than “F”).
Icarus Descending (not):
I prefer those dreams of flight in which I soar effortlessly, without even the occasional exertions of birds. Usually, though, my airborne course is a chore, like doing the breast stroke through a viscous, unforgiving medium. When finally I attain some ledge analogue, generally a narrow and unwelcoming perch, I linger to catch my breath and then find myself assailed by crippling doubts as to whether, once I leap back into the vast spaces above the unforgiving pavement, my aerial powers are to be entirely relied upon.
Drive, He Said
At—or near—the wheel of a motor vehicle, usually in highly inclement weather, usually at night, usually at high speed; in every scenario imperfectly in control of the said motor vehicle, sometimes even attempting to steer in from the passenger or even the back seat.
I quit smoking—well, a long time ago. I dream that I have taken it up again, and wake up with a sense of crushing disappointment in myself.
I retrieve my wallet in a retail environment and am appalled to realize that my last retail transaction returned to me several bills so nakedly counterfeit that they will not possibly pass muster here. The faux currency is always on coarse green newsprint, and resembles crudely printed retail coupons. Semi-related: I drop something of great value; am unable to locate it in the fog at my feet.
Room for More
I’ve lived here at The Crumbling Manse™ for eighteen years, longer than the second-place finisher among my residences (see below), and although I’m devoted to the place, it could frankly use a bit more space (or we could use a bit less in the way of inessential chattel, an issue I’m hoping to address in the coming months). The space I have in mind has nothing to do with this recurring dream, in which I am startled to discover two or three hitherto undiscovered, neglected and vaguely sinister rooms on one side of the house.
Home Again, Home Again
From 1977 until early 1993 I dwelt in a handsome craftsman bungalow, rather similar to this one, in Oakland’s then-affordable—though not at that time by me—Rockridge neighborhood. It was sold out from under me after 186 months, and I quit the premises with bitter regret in March 1993. I’ve never been back thereafter except in my dreams, but in my dreams I am a regular, panicked visitor: Shit! What the hell am I doing here? I need to get the fuck out before the real owners get back home!
Spouse Again, Spouse Again
I was married from 1976 to 1986—technically to 1988, but the domestic arrangements had fallen to flinders by this time in ’86—to a woman who’d first caught my eye in 1968, and whom I’d actively begun courting by the end of the following year. The endgame was dreadful, and the anguish considerable, and the wounds, on this end at least, still raw the last time I saw her over a quarter of a century ago. I like to think that I’ve moved on, but she certainly has maintained a claim in Freudland, appearing there at intervals overnight—sometimes cordially, oftener not. The recurring dream, though, is invariably framed as a memory: it is the early 1990s, and she has returned from Europe and announced that we are to be reconciled, and I, as I might very well have at that nadir of my spirits, readily consent. And then, in the dream-alternate, things go south very quickly. I wake from these, and they have the force and immediacy of a “recovered memory,” and I groggily think, “Wait, did we actually—” before I reassemble my world. I’m grateful that these visitations, formerly more frequent, are down to a couple of times a year.
Let There Be Light, Or Not
This actually does not relate to a specific series of dreams, but I find that electric lighting does not work in my dreams: when I attempt to engage one of these things it either does not work at all, or emits a flickering, useless glow. For many years I took this to be a peculiarity of my individual interior landscape until I happened upon an allusion to it in the film Waking Life. This remains a reliable indicator that one is dreaming; but its remains as well an indicator I reliably though not invariably fail to take into account on these occasions.
Piss Me Off
From time to time my dreams will steer me toward a public or private convenience in an irregular (sometimes gruesomely so) state of maintenance, but occasionally these facilities will present themselves as plausibly unobjectionable. I’ve trained myself to test these for reality in sleep, but as with the lights, above, it’s not infallible. Fortunately a number of factors, including a clogged prostate with hundreds of thousands of miles upon it, have thus far spared the bedsheets.
These then, are my anxiety dreams. And yours?