Travels with Myself

A Journal of Discovery and Transition
Doug Jordan, Author

21-16. Dreams 3

                 Since I ran out of space in my last post about what’s the point of dreams I thought I would spend a little more time offering my views on that theme in this post, expose myself as it were (the naked dream?). Recall, my aim is to entertain, possibly to inform.

One Monday morning this not so August month, I woke up at 6:01 a.m. (I reflexively checked the time on my iPhone – is it really morning already?); I had been dreaming, a typically jumbled dream, though it was certainly a new dream to me. (I think the trazodone I’ve been taking lately to attenuate symptoms of my mensis tristis (August, previously referred to as my mensis horribilis but relabeled now in my determination not to let it dominate my life) is playing havoc with my limbic system.) 6:01 was too early for me to get up so I rolled over and, amazingly, went back to sleep, and, apparently, went right back to the same dream. I next awoke at 7:26, the same dream still fresh on my mind. I don’t know whether I had been dreaming this dream continuously since before 6 o’clock (doubtful) or whether I had just returned to the dream after 90 minutes’ more sleep and re-emerging from another round of REM and into awakeness. (I prefer the term awake to conscious because, as you may have noted from my previous rambles, I’m not sure what consciousness is, or even if there is consciousness.) Anyway, that’s not the point of this essay just now, (and I’m sure you’re wishing I would get to the point). The point of this essay is, what, and perhaps why, is the brain trying to do what it does when in REM? What triggers dreaming and what is the result?

So, as I woke up the second time with the same dream I was able to piece together quite a lot of it, and then try to make some sense of it. I had the presence of mind to jot down as many details as I could still recall upon waking.  I had been dreaming that Marlene and I were at a conference somewhere (somewhere, a confused set of somewheres, the Delta Ottawa Hotel but located in Bermuda or some resort place). Bizarrely, my old corporate boss at Mitel and his wife were also major players in this dream. I rarely dream about Marlene[1], and very very rarely dream about WT, my old boss, but there you are. The events in the dream went on and on, mostly around the bar and the pool. Marlene was her usual socially serene self but I knew she would rather be somewhere else. I myself was very uncomfortable because I never liked WT much, the weasel, and being social took a lot of energy; the weasel was trying to be magnanimous but also display his authority; his nameless wife, who didn’t appear to be the wife I had met before, (younger, second wife?) was mostly in the background. After a seemingly interminable time WT conversationally reported that his wife had breast cancer but they were hopeful that she would have a good outcome, to which I said, Marlene had had cancer, but she had died. I then had a moment of lucid incongruity. I turned to Marlene in the dream and wondered, how could Marlene be with me at this resort but she has died? 

Okay, all you Freudian dream interpreters, go to town. Maybe I should add this factoid for those who don’t know: August has been my mensis horribilis filled as it is with past significant life events which have hijacked my state of mind since Marlene died in 2017. August 8 was Marlene and my 52nd Wedding Anniversary, 2017 August 19 was the date of her death, and 2018 August 20 was well, awful for other reasons; August 27 is my birthday and August 30 Marlene’s birthday. That might explain Marlene’s presence in my dream but why the hell was WT and his wife disturbing my peace?

I rarely have pleasant dreams, or if I do those are not the dreams that wake me up and so I don’t remember them. Even the ‘pleasant’ dreams I do recall usually end badly as I wake up. These are usually in the romantic love/erotic genre. I know, I know, Herr Doktor Freud would have a field day with my subconscious sexual frustration, or failed love interests as well.

Do you recall Roy Orbison’s tier two hit song, In Dreams? (Probably not, but it’s a beautiful song.) It starts as a fantasy, of a lucid hopeful future; but true to form, it ends badly. I think that’s the main point of dreaming, to reconcile our internal conflicts. (Roy must have had a depressing life – almost all his hits are sad songs full of doubt.)

It seems you can’t decide what to dream. You are a spectator of a film not of your choosing. You can’t select a dream dvd and put it in the dream slot, watch what you want. Your brain is busy doing its processing work independent of you, and incidentally send ‘you’ images of what it’s playing with. Quite apart from the dualist problem of separating ‘you’ from your brain, (who is the ‘you’ ‘watching’ the dream in your Cartesian theatre?) who decided what reel to run? Was Roy Orbison really able to order up a dream about rejoining his lover? but then, why did he remind himself of his reality as he woke up. 

Many people have reported of being able to direct their dreams. They may not have loaded the reel but once running they claim they can direct the action in the manner they want. This is called ‘lucid dreaming’ though such dreams are really no more ‘lucid’ than regular dreams, i.e., they are not very clear, despite the label. Until recently, lucid dreams were dismissed as post factum justification of the dream the person had just experienced, or even more significantly, just explained to his or her therapist, or hypnotist. But modern neuroscientists with the help of fMRI devices are beginning to think that some sort of direction is going on in these lucid dreamers minds (or brains). But that still begs the question, who is doing the directing?

I’ve never experienced lucid dreaming. I wish to god I had, in which case I would redirect those terror dreams, and bring that sex dream to a happier ending[2]

I find as I enter my penultimate years, and hopefully the end of my years of transition, most of those ‘failure dreams’ are becoming less frequent, the identity conflicts have been reconciled, the REM stress less stressful. I’m finding I’m less and less frequently dreaming about law school or business school, waking up with relief that in reality I did earn that MBA from Queen’s. I find dreams of my fading days in Mitel and AECL (always strangely melded) are fading. I haven’t had the naked dream for ages, (except recently – somehow I’d been in the gym and have showered but my clothes are missing and I have a meeting to go to; amazingly, nobody at the meeting seems to notice – not sure what may have triggered that one). I won’t burden you with my sexual frustration dreams but they have been a long time gone, 3-4 years anyway. 

I’m still dreaming, a lot, but my dreams now are unfamiliar, a new plot and scene almost every night. They don’t cause anxiety (I leave that for the wakeful moments!) but they surely represent new circumstances in my life. Often the dream regurgitates some plot line or wording issue I have been wrestling with in my novel, or in these blogs. (This is the value of having a notepad beside the bed so that when you wake up from a confused dream, but with the germ of an idea, jot it down before it evaporates.) The previous identity conflicts seem to have receded, replaced now by dreams of my new identity –  obscure writer.

I wonder if this pattern of identity conflict dreaming afflicts everyone in my age group who are or recently have transitioned to ‘retirement’ or otherwise a new status or identity. Is dreaming the brain’s way of sorting out change in our lives? I must consult William Bridges on that.

Doug Jordan, reporting to you from Kanata Ontario

© Douglas Jordan & AFS Publishing

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[1] In the years of Marlene’s illness, and then in the 1-2 years of my struggle with grief, I dreamed often of her and our lives together, the unresolved conflict, my impotence in being unable to save her from dying. (I had a lot of those voiceless scream dreams during this time.)

[2] And that brings up another thought: a common coming of age problem for teenage boys is nocturnal emissions, which presumably occur during REM dreaming. You have to wonder what was happening in those pubescent dreams.

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