About Dreams

Keying off the previous post, I was fascinated by Gottschall’s comments about dreams, how they often focus on important or threatening things in life. I’ve noticed certain themes in my own dreams, in that they invariably involve some problem, a few kinds of problems repeated in different settings. That they’re hardly life-threatening problems indicates, I suppose, the relative security of modern life, or at least my own life situation. Here are some of my recurring themes:

  • I’ve come out of my office building, or perhaps a shopping mall, and can’t find my car, in the lot or the structure. Has it been stolen? Did I park it in a different lot?
  • I’m in a large office building, or manufacturing plant, and I know I’ve been here before but now I can’t find my way to the exit.
    • Moreover, such searches for the exit usually involve bizarre interior constructions: ramps where steps should be, steps that lead to blank walls, mazes of corridors.
  • I’m in some family setting, in a house with various family members bustling about, myself typically off in a corner doing my own thing, until someone arrives, or needs to leave, or there is some commotion outside that everyone responds to.

The distinctive thing about these dreams, like those about office buildings and parking lots, is that the settings are never exactly places I’ve never been before, but are instead loose replicas of such places, variations on their themes. I can realize as I wake up (when I remember the dream at all, of course), that, oh, that was at a version of the Apple Valley house, albeit surrounded by taller buildings and along a gully; or that shopping mall was vaguely like the one in Illinois we went to often. Yet, paradoxically, sometimes the exact same dream location turns up in a later dream. Inside the dream I even realize, here we are back at that shopping mall again, or it that same used bookshop in the enormous dusty attic. Or is my dream memory fooling itself?

I don’t think I’ve discussed my dreams before and am not inclined to expand on it, except to note that I find Gottschall’s speculations about them plausible. On the other hand, frankly I worry about my house burning down in a huge California fire, not so much because I’d lose my house, but because I’d lose the 10,000 books I’ve gathered and carefully tended over five decades, which would be irreplaceable. But I *never* dream about house fires. (I do dream about bookstores, though, especially large used bookstores full of aisles of dusty books… One in particular, the one in the dusty attic, seems like an extrapolation of the tiny narrow attic in my grandfather’s house in Cambridge, Illinois.)

I confess I find dream scenes in fiction, or by Facebook friends recounting their dreams, boring, and pass over them. Because they seems completely arbitrary. Knowing from my own case that the subject matter of my dreams is tangent at best to my wide-awake values and interests, I can’t work up much interest in other people’s dreams.

In my own dreams I do find two significant these things. First, that I’m highly sensitive to *place*, houses I’ve lived in and large structures (office buildings, malls) I’ve explored; and this is why I yearn for those places, especially the houses where I grew up. And second, that my affinity for family life is mixed: in dreams I imagine myself in a house-full of relatives, perhaps extended family or perhaps cousins (but never, again, never any precisely recognizable individuals) – I want to belong and feel I’m at home with them — while at the same time conscious and concerned about getting my own work done, pursuing the interests none of the rest of them understand, which are just as important.

…Actually, I’ve kept a text file log of especially memorable dreams for the past 5 years, and an older log going back farther, back to 2006, and a quick glance at that first shows another recurrent theme:

  • Being at science fiction conventions. Typically in big hotels; milling in the lobby; trying to find the dealers’ room, looking for the elevator, looking for someone to have dinner with, and so on. Again, in any particular dream, some kind of problem.

So perhaps I will review those logs more closely and see if I can come to any other conclusions about my nocturnal preoccupations, though I doubt they would be of interest to anyone but me. Yet perhaps I could learn from myself.

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