Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What dreams have come

Something a little different on the blog today. Normally my posts are rife with links and quotes, letting people far smarter and informed than me tell you what's what. This time, though, it's just me wibbling on about remembering dreams -- a post I've been meaning to write for some time. If that sounds interesting, read on past the jump. If not, check back later as it's an international week so this place will be heavy on soccer.

In something of a role reversal, a building is haunting me. It probably doesn’t exist – it most likely can’t, in fact – but the very sight of it in my mind’s eye still fills me with dread. “Cool,” a rarely heard-from part of my brain says, and that’s the galling thing – it kinda is.

The building in question isn’t the Burj Khalifa, Taipei 101, the Empire State Building or any other structure in existence. Familiarity would strip away some of the awe and dread I feel as I see this towering edifice in my dreams. Its most striking feature is its height – its stunning, almost ridiculous height. My dream self can barely take in the immensity of it all. In fact, when I focus on the top of the building, which sits high among the clouds, I find my dream self not doing this building justice. Still more stories sit above the clouds, and it takes me several more tries before I’m able to adjust my vision and glimpse the very top of the building. It’s such an effort I feel myself losing my balance and struggling to stay upright, even though at the moment I’m comfortably ensconced in a recliner. Atop this colossal structure sit what look like weather stations and blue signs with white lettering that appears to be katakana. I say “appears to be” because either it is garbled dream text I’m not supposed to be able to read or I just don’t know my katakana well enough. In truth, it’s probably both.

Unlike H.P. Lovecraft, I’m no architecture buff. I think I took a course on architecture at some point during my childhood, but if I did, it has long since left my brain. No, this building’s sheer size alone allows it to live on in my memory – or rather, the dread which its sheer size inspires in me. I can feel my stomach turning queasy and my breath getting short just thinking about it. This building has appeared in my dreams a few times, but I can only recall entering it once. I was moving into a surprisingly small yet well-appointed apartment close to, but not at, the very top of the structure. Not surprisingly, the swaying was a problem. It almost made me feel bad for being spooked when the reverberations from a nearby earthquake hit Jakarta while I was in my 20th-floor apartment. That’s just me here in reality, too – what about the poor workers who had to build the damn thing? There’s not enough hazard pay in the world to convince someone to do that job, is there? They’d have been better off on the Death Star.

What is it about dreams that allow them to stick around long after we’re awake? Apparently there is research indicating that people forget 90 percent of a dream’s content 10 minutes after it ends. Two semesters of psychology courses aren’t quite enough to render me an expert, but if I had to venture a guess, I’d say it’s either the strong emotions left over from the dream or just its sheer weirdness. Whatever it is, I’m clearly susceptible to it as a handful of dreams have stuck in my brain for years, some even for decades.

My earliest recollections of dreams are also among the strangest. When I was about 5 or 6, I had these dreams where I was paralyzed by some unseen force and drawn out into the hallway, where I was pulled through some sort of portal into a hall of horrors. If you remember the boat going through the tunnel in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” it was a lot like that – being surrounded on all sides by images of snakes, spiders and other things scary to children of that age. This dream happened several times, with the portal being the door to my parents’ room at home and the small closet next to my grandma’s room when I stayed at her house. Another peculiar dream I had at that age was being stuck in a K-Mart that had closed for the night. That wouldn’t have been such a concern if not for the many tigers roaming the aisles, apparently in search of a late-night snack. Making matters worse, all I had to defend myself were my wits and a squirt gun. Thankfully, I managed to take shelter atop some of the displays and woke up before things got too messy.

Later, during my brief stay at UNO, I had a dream that blended real-life memories and bits of media that were lingering in my brain. It was set at Old Walnut – a building that used to house Walnut Junior High and, until recently, was the main performance stage for the Grand Island Little Theater. There was a performance going on at the start of the dream and I was taking it in from the back of the auditorium. I soon heard a rumbling sound and, upon turning toward the source of the noise, saw a horde of strange-looking people charging the entrance to the theater. The attackers were numerous, pale and fairly dirty, but as they were running at a full sprint I was pretty sure they weren’t zombies (“28 Days Later” came out right around this time). The performance must have been spellbinding as no one else in the audience noticed the growing cacophony in the back – they were still fixated on the stage when the attackers crashed through the glass panes at the entrance. Even slipping out a side door to elude the invaders was not enough to provide a respite from the weirdness. An exit that should’ve led to one of the school’s main hallways instead took me to a bright, green clearing dotted with several fountains. The (presumably ongoing) attack seemed a world away as there was no one else around and the only signs of life were some birds chirping in the surrounding trees. Even so, I could hear faint whispers on the wind, something about a plague being spread. The dream ended before I could make hide or hair of what was happening.

Then there was what might have been a fever dream during my stay in Hilo, Hawaii. It was so odd that I felt the need to jot it all down minutes after waking up from it. This is the entry in its entirety, from January 30, 2008:

Something interesting happened to me on the way to the Land of Nod, and I felt like I should share it with you fine folks.

Bronchitis tracked me down again, just about one year after it struck in La Grande. I don’t know if it’s actually that -- similar symptoms, onset, etc. -- but after a couple tries, I found a doctor who would take on a new patient. It’s the second time in the last six weeks I’ve been sick, which is unusually frequent for me, even though the first bug passed in 48 hours. Maybe it’s just my body’s third-base coach giving me the stop sign. Winter is always an intense season, especially here since the HHSAA hasn’t had to handle boys and girls basketball seasons at the same time before. Fall was no picnic, either, and the nine spring sports probably won’t allow for much of a break there.

Being sick, though, is just the capper on what was an already forgettable day. I got a letter from the Oregon DMV telling me my license is suspended (why?), we blew deadline, a potentially kick-ass feature on a soccer player who overcame a horrendous (and I’m not using hyperbole here) ATV accident to play her senior year wasn’t nearly as good as I’d hoped and my girls hoops game tipped off a half-hour late, necessitating a story with no quotes and a filler ad at the end of the hole. Not a great night at the HTH.

Needless to say, I poured myself into bed in a rather hateful mood. The fever that went away 36 hours ago came back with a vengeance, joining the ever-present coughing, hacking and phlegm running down the back of my throat. It wasn’t until about 3 a.m. that I approached something resembling sleep.

Then, in the midst of fitful sleep, the best feeling I’ve had since I got here overcame me. Normally when feelings wash over me, it involves a cold chill zipping up my spine and my curling into a ball. This time, though, it was different. A warm, seemingly benevolent feeling enveloped me, slowly building and spreading outward from my stomach instead of racing up my back. My fever departed, the coughing, hacking and sniffling ceased and, for the first time since early Friday, I felt like I could breathe.

What happened next was even better. I found myself on a whirlwind tour of Hilo, coming across scene after scene with each one having the same basic premise -- people helping people. Folks going out of their way to better the lives of others, and all just because they feel like it. With every scene I witnessed, I also saw a physical manifestation of that same feeling I had at the start of the experience -- a warm, orange-yellow glow emanating from both giver and recipient.

Makes you want to teach the world to sing and buy it a Coke, doesn’t it?

Of all the dreams I can recall, though, two are particularly seared into my memory – one for being eerily prescient and the other for instigating a huge swing in emotions. I forget when the former happened, though it was probably soon after high school. I call it eerily prescient because it gave an accurate summation of my work-life balance years before I became a full-time journalist. The dream takes place in a locker room – I’m not sure if it was a specific one, but being decked out in red and white, it may have been my conception at the time of the Nebraska football team’s locker room. I’m tucked away in a corner of the room with a female classmate (who will go unnamed to spare her the embarrassment) with whom I was friendly, if not necessarily friends. Unnoticed by the other people in the room, we both disrobe for the purpose of, um, expressing romance. Just before we begin, um, expressing romance, though, a commotion breaks out on the other side of the room, apparently because someone of note has graced us with their presence. I stand up (still naked, mind you), pick up a nearby pen and notepad and tell my now-annoyed partner, “I’ll be right back. I just need to get this quote,” before walking over to the scrum. Luckily for all involved, the scene ends there.

As for the latter of the two most memorable dreams, that came to me while I was working in the wilds of eastern Oregon. It took place in the church my family used to attend and – brace yourself – involved me getting married. I’m standing at the altar, decked out in typical groom-like fashion, when the doors at the back of the room swing open and reveal another former classmate (who, like the previous one, will go unnamed to spare her the embarrassment). I first met her in junior high and fell for her pretty quickly – she was smart, talented and pretty darn cute. While in real life my feelings went unrequited, there she was in my dream, walking down the aisle to marry me. This proved doubly surprising as I’d written off not only any shot of a relationship with said classmate but any chance of getting married at all, what with working long, strange hours and relocating frequently proving less than conducive to having a social life. To say I was pleased would be a gross understatement. It felt as though I was floating on air, and I was so proud I thought the buttons on my shirt were about to burst. I was so delighted I almost didn’t notice the bride getting five or six steps down the aisle before the bridal march actually started. Then, when she reached the altar … reality set in quite abruptly.

I awoke to find myself on the floor of my apartment. (Note: I’d taken to sleeping on the floor, mostly out of laziness, after my air mattress sprang a fatal leak.) I went from a euphoria I had never experienced before and have not matched since to the crushing reality of a nearly freezing, mostly empty one-bedroom apartment in the middle of nowhere – as though I needed a further reminder of everything I didn’t have in my life. Needless to say, I didn’t take it well. I let out a brief scream, my eyes welled up a bit and I punched the floor a couple times. I was so agitated I gave up on going back to sleep and went to the office at 3 a.m. to finish the day’s sports pages (being an afternoon paper, I usually went in around 7 a.m.). Then my jerk brain kicked in with full effect, reminding me that this was as close as I’d ever come to finding love or getting married. Much as I’d like to shrug off such suggestions, I’m having a hard time coming up with evidence to the contrary. 

A quick spin through Google suggests that being able to remember dreams indicates creativity, imagination and being prone to fantasy. That may or may not be true, but one thing it certainly indicates is that I suffer from Arnold J. Rimmer Syndrome and have a significant portion of my subconscious – if not the entire thing – working against me. Still, it could be worse – I could have a big, shiny H on my forehead and be stuck on a spaceship with an android, a mutant cat and a Scouser. Gotta take those small victories where you can find them.

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