Sunday, March 1, 2015

Life Stage Dreams

Dear George,
They say that dreams are a window to one’s soul.  I’m not so sure I agree with that precise wording, but I do think that dreams tap into one’s deepest feelings and concerns.  I’m also struck by how dreams change systematically over the course of one’s life.  I don’t remember much about my childhood dreams except that they were scary and involved monsters or being chased and murdered by evil beings.  The first recurrent dream that I clearly recall is one that I had during high school after I’d begun driving .  I dreamt that I was driving our family car across the Hattie St. Bridge which ran between my home town of Menominee and its twin city, Marinette.  The Hattie St. Bridge crosses the Menominee River next to the paper mill dam.  As I approached the middle of the bridge I suddenly saw that its midsection had completely collapsed.  I hit the brakes but, too late to stop, I plunged to death  in the whitewater rapids below.  The dream was very real and terrifying.  Years later I decided that this was a dream about the life transition that I was facing.  Menominee was my familiar, safe hometown, while Marinette felt like a more threatening, alien place to me.  I interpreted my dream as an expression of anxiety about my perilous journey from adolescence to  adulthood and the fear that I would never  be able to make it to the other side.

When I went to college, my bridge dream was quickly replaced by a chronic academic nightmare that I learned was shared by just about everybody I knew.  In the typical version, the academic term was coming to an end, and I suddenly discovered that I was registered for a difficult course that I’d never attended.  It was too late to drop the class, and the final exam was scheduled in minutes.  My emotional reaction was one of apprehension and panic.  I continued this dream into graduate school, and even today I have some version of it every now and then.  When I finished grad school, though, and began a teaching career, the content of the dream changed.  Now I suddenly discovered in my dream that it was the first day of classes, and I had been assigned to teach a difficult course that I knew absolutely nothing about.  Not only that but I was late for class, and I didn’t know where the room was.  I hadn’t ordered a textbook, and I had no idea what to say to the students.  I was so late arriving for class that by the time I finally got there all the students had walked out in disgust.  All these academic dreams have to do with pressures of being evaluated, being unprepared, self-doubts about competence, and a felt inability to control what was happening to me. These were very stressful dreams, and I’d say that were connected to real-life anxieties about academic life, whether taking exams as a student or teaching classes. 

Later, when I began to feel more established and comfortable in my  job, I started having more pleasant dreams.  Many of them were about flying.  I would flap my arms, and I’d slowly lift off the floor, then drift around near the ceiling .  People would look up and be astonished by my remarkable flying capacity.  Sometimes I’d do the same thing out on the street, flying hundred of yards up in the air.   Later flying was replaced by a  “long jumping” dream in which I’d run at a fast pace for ten or twenty yards, then jump off the ground, and glide effortlessly through the air for a city block or more.  Passersby were amazed.  In my dream I decided that I would enter the Olympics and that I would set all the records for the Olympics long jump, even though I was forty or fifty years old.  These dreams also felt very real and had an eerie, pleasurable feeling about them -- none of the distressing feelings of my earlier academic nightmares. 

In recent years my dreams reflect a “mature adulthood life stage.”  My most frequent dream involves my returning to a fancy hotel room that I’d rented many months before and where I’d stored all of my books and other possessions.  I’d forgetten I’d even rented the room.  I hadn’t paid the hotel bill when I left, and the bill now had mounted up to many thousands of dollars.  I was trying frantically to pack of all my books and other possessions in boxes before the noon checkout time, but the task was overwhelming, and I realized I could never meet the deadline.  I decided to flee the situation and forsake all my belongings.  This dream too has a kernel of truth.  I think of it as a clutter dream.  We have so much accumulated stuff in our basement and attic, I can’t conceive of what to do about it.  While I know we should start disposing of things, the task seems insurmountable, and I simply put it off from one year to the next.

For the most part, my dreams seem to be fueled by anxiety, though the source and content of anxiety changes in meaningful ways from one life stage to the next.  I enjoyed the dreams about flying and long-jumping, though I haven’t had one for a while.  Now I’m eager to see if I ever get that hotel room cleaned out.  But if I do, what dream is going to come next? 

G-mail Comments
-Donna D (3-1)  So good david.  I must try to remember my dreams and get u to interpret them.  Ur so good at it!

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