Dream a Little Dream

What is the purpose of dreams?
Not the “hopes and dreams” for your future kind of dreams or the “I have a dream” for the world kind of dreams, but those vivid illusions that visit you at night, possessing your subconscious and lifting you from your soft flannel sheets to the slopes of Mount Everest, the graveside of your grandparents, or the topsy-turvy kitchen of a Dr. Seuss story. The dreams that overtake your body. The ones from which you wake up twitching, crying, or talking to your pillow.As we sleep curious things happen in our brains. We process memories, we solidify facts, we work through the activities of the day gone by, weaving emotion with image and memory with desire. Freud linked the making of dreams with the creation of poems. More like a string of images than a logical narrative, dreams are the poems we tell ourselves at night. They reveal what wish would really happen. Also, I would posit, what we most fear might.

I have friends who claim they never dream at all, or at least that they do not remember if they do. I find that curious, as I am a vivid and detailed dreamer–creating all sorts of worlds and scenarios that string together my greatest fears, deepest desires, most recent conversations, and the latest episode of Downton Abbey. There have been nights on which I go to bed eagerly, hoping and wondering what might happen in my sleep. I have had encounters with my deceased grandparents. I have flown from the tops of mountains. I have hidden from dinosaurs beneath my parents’ bed. I have walked down many aisles and almost married a dozen or so men (none of whom I have actually known, which itself usually terrifying). I dreamed that Adam Troester was going to ask me to the prom. (He didn’t). I dreamed my great-grandmother was dying. (She was). I’ve dreamed that I was given permission to fish all of the coins from the small stone fountain inside Amigos family restaurant, and that in doing so I made a small fortune.

Dreams have been a sort of therapy, revealing fears I wasn’t aware of and teasing out desires I didn’t know I had. Some of my most frustrating, heart-wrenching dreams have involved missed communication. There have been letters that I can’t read, often penned by someone from whom I wish desperately to hear. I open an envelope or click on an e-mail, sometimes I can even see the script on the page or the words on the screen, but then there is a distraction or I wake up or I just plain cannot make sense of the words I have been given. And so I do not know what I do not know, what I wish so deeply I could know. Other times a person is speaking directly to me, often in a whisper, and though I yearn and strain with all of my subconscious energies, I cannot make out what he is saying.

And then there are the dreams where the communication is clear. Where I am affirmed and am loved. Where she says that she’s sorry. Where he reveals (as the music crescendos) that he dreams of me also, that it isn’t too late, that there is reason to hope. Sometimes we’re in the simple settings that have been stored in my brain that week–a parking garage, a BART station, on the street outside my apartment. Usually it doesn’t matter. I don’t dream for the setting. I dream for the statements.

When I was in high school I thought I could control my dreams by drinking milk and eating graham crackers before going to sleep (it worked twice, but never again). I wanted to fix the stories in my mind, to know what it felt like for life to happen the way I wished it would. But that is one of the tricky things about the experience of dreaming (even when you can control it, which is rare). No matter how much real hope and desire your fabricated world is made of, it is still a fabricated world. What happens in your dreams does indeed happen in your mind, but it doesn’t happen in reality, not for the rest of the world.

And so in this sense, my dreams are also a sort of enemy. So real, so tangible, so very much like life that I’m not sure which side of sleep is the world I really live in (or want to live in for that matter). They promise me so much. So much that I wish were true, that I can’t believe didn’t really happen. Sometimes I will be hours into my day when a person, an object, a word triggers the memory of a dream I had the night before. I freeze for a moment, mentally moving the dream file in my brain from reality to fantasy, offering a sigh of relief or resignation, depending on the content of the dream in question.

How often, I wonder, do I do the same sort of re-filing of my daydreams–the dreams that I do control, hopes that I choose to entertain or ignore. Nine-year-old Amanda’s dream of becoming an actress? Fantasy. Pursuing a career as a writer? Reality. Twelve-year-old Amanda’s plans to marry at 21? Fantasy. Eight-year-old Amanda’s hopes for a puppy? Reality. Pursuing a master’s degree? Reality. Falling in love and sharing the rest of my life with someone?…How do we even categorize dreams that depend so much on what is completely out of our control? It’s like praying for snow on Christmas. In Texas.

Which is not to say that some dreams–be they the creations of our sleeping subconscious or the realizations of hard work and persistence–cannot come true. They can. They do. I see it happen. Rather it is to ask what the purpose is of dreaming and desiring what may very well never come to pass?

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