Do you keep a dream journal?
I started as a teenager, and continue on-and-off.
Sometimes I can’t tell the difference between a dream and a memory. Does this happen to you? Or am I confessing to something strange and pathological? Where is the line between pathology and creativity?
For example: when I was an undergraduate I developed an obsessive crush and things didn’t work out so well. Not so unusual, right? My dream boy was an eccentric redheaded deadhead, athletically gifted but short like me (perhaps 5’4”), possessed of a strange combination of stiffness and grace, a moderate talent for acting, gifted with insight but not quite comfortable with words. For months, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. (Let’s call him Cameron.)
I met Cam’s folks just once, shortly before he went to study abroad. They were nice, but we didn’t make a strong impression on one another.
But then came the dream, many years later, while in therapy. It went like this: after Cameron was out of my life, I went to visit his parents’ home, someplace in northern California, and befriended them. They rented me a room and I stayed there for months, becoming close friends with his father, especially. We would have long talks about life, and often talked about an absent Cameron, with his father never suspecting the friendship had ended. In short, I was a dream stalker.
Now, this sounds fairly innocuous. I’m sure plenty of people have wish fulfillment dreams (or some such) involving some kind of association with a former lover. But what made this dream so striking was that I was seriously confused whether it was a dream or a memory. I wondered aloud to my therapist if I actually had, at some point in the past, made such a visit and formed such a relationship. Is that possible? A dream so real it conflates with memory? Is this part of what it means to be creative?
This one’s stranger: I was working at a challenging job, back when I was a schoolteacher. On this assignment, I wasn’t doing well, and I worried I was going to get canned. Here’s the dream, recollected years later, without benefit of notes.
It takes place in a large, abandoned building, through which I wander. I vaguely sense someone is after me. I go up and down some dark stairways, eventually finding myself in a small room with a dead body. I realize I’m the murderer and I’m overwhelmed with a terrible fear of discovery. I examine the body to make sure there are no clues that could lead to me. Then I make my way back to the “normal” world (although this is still in the dream). In the “normal” world I am being questioned about this body that has been found, and suddenly, I have a terrible realization. I left my business card embedded in the flesh of the corpse’s arm! I can visualize it with absolutely clarity, half in the rotting flesh of the arm and half out, as if its edge were a sharp blade that had penetrated the skin. My name was easily seen. I woke in a panic. For a few minutes, it seemed so real that I worried I had actually killed somebody, forgotten about it, and was being reminded in a dream. That concern subsided, but, still, for quite a while afterward, I had difficulty shaking the sensation I had done something truly terrible, and was unable to recall the specifics. It felt like original sin.
I’m trying to reflect here about the complexity of experience and memory. Who am I? Of what stuff is “The Storming Bohemian?” Am I mainly a conglomeration of genetics and experience, or also (even primarily) the sum of my dreams? Sometimes the imagined life, as stimulated by a great book, or the fantasy of a vivid dream, or a role in a play or a religious ritual, or a Shamanic journey, or the story found in a Tarot reading, seems the most real. In such states of mind, the world about me is like a pageant performed for my amusement and edification, a dance of shadows, of little significance.
Yet people are dying in Aleppo, and Donald Trump is our President-elect, and them big bad Russians are on the prowl again, and, yes, it is all too real and it is all too surreal, and it is not about me, and it is all about me.
This is a time, it seems, when the lines between reality and dream are going all blurry, and perhaps that is why I find myself writing about fantasies and the difficulty we all have separating the dream from the dreamer, the false from the true, the real from the surreal.
Perhaps, for America, ‘tis now the very witching time of night.
What a strange mood we’re in.
Rumpus original logo and artwork by James Lorenzato, aka Argyle C. Klopnick (ACK!).
“The Storming Bohemian Punks The Muse” was originally developed as a column under the editorship of Evan Karp at Litseen. An earlier incarnation of this work can be found there, along with many other interesting things.