My mother used to call me a dreamer -I imagine it was because she’d sometimes catch me staring out of the kitchen window just watching the snow slowly falling outside. That was Winnipeg in the 50ies, I hasten to add and I no longer do that very much anymore. Still, childhood habits persist, and now that I’m retired and older, I occasionally find myself dozing while I’m staring out of very different windows at the rain -Vancouver can do that to you.
I never used to think much about it, but I suppose I have more time now to ruminate. And it’s not like anything is open anyway. Pandemics seem perfectly designed for personal stock-taking -I almost said ‘leave-taking’, because maybe that’s what I’m doing: escaping, if not in person, then in spirit. At least in Japanese culture, my Ikiryō, is wandering around outside the boundaries of social distancing; mine tends to hug people, though, so I’m not sure how well received it is.
Or did I just dream about an Ikiryō? Lately some of my dreams have been trespassing on the blurred territory of my waking hours. I can still remember them in the shower, and sometimes even well enough to analyze them while I’m eating my bagel and peanut butter breakfast.
Like the one where I was the front desk clerk in my old office -don’t ask- and had to deal with a patient going into labour on the waiting room rug in front of the counter. Normally I would have called for my boss -a female obstetrician who had an uncanny resemblance to the usual receptionist- but I decided I could handle it. As it turned out, the real problem was that that I was no longer insured, and despite my admirable management of the resulting baby, I was terribly worried that my boss would sue me for damaging the rug.
But, thinking about the dream that morning over breakfast, shards of concern still clinging to me like painful lint, the only lasting worry that remained was why I was cast in a role wearing a different gender.
I don’t usually remember dreams, so I have no idea whether my testosterone-depleted subconscious had succumbed to some sort of elder gender-fluidity, but anyway, by the time I’d finished my second bagel, the details had pretty well dissolved. There are benefits to neural tangles, I guess.
And yet, that was not the only dream that lingered past its best-before date and dared to challenge the soporifity of my breakfast. Predictable patterns are what we come to depend on at my age, and any deviations become just that: deviant. Aberrance at any other age is simply that, too: a rose by another name. But when you age, there is always a threat that the executor may seize power. I suppose I never should have named one, but there you have it.
Still, I found myself strangely reassured by an article in the Smithsonian Magazine discussing the vivid dreams that seem to be occurring with the universal anxiety about the Covid-19 pandemic. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/insomnia-and-vivid-dreams-rise-pandemic-anxiety-180974726
The author, Theresa Machemer, a freelance writer based in Washington DC, describes some attempts to document these ‘lockdown dreams’ in various countries. Indeed, there is even a group of psychoanalysis students in London, called Lockdown Dreams. These are typical anxiety dreams according to Jake Roberts, a spokesperson for the students. “Everyone’s quite shocked by the fact that they’re having incredibly vivid dreams. That’s so interesting because our material waking lives have become, in a way, more dull.”
‘The London-based group is not the only research project tracking the pandemic’s parallel rise in strange dreams. In France, a group at the Lyon Neuroscience Research Center began a study on dreams and dream recall in March… [the] study has found a 35 percent increase in dream recall and a 15 percent increase in negative dreams. For people not on the front lines of healthcare and emergency response, fears of the novel coronavirus are projected onto threats like zombies, bugs, and shadowy figures, which represent the pandemic metaphorically… Anxiety and low activity during the day can make it harder to get a good night’s sleep, and frequently waking up during the night can increase the likelihood that dreams are remembered the next day.’
Bay Area resident Erin Gravley and her sister have begun a website called “i dream of covid” that asks visitors to share their recent dreams. “One of the earliest patterns that I noticed was people associating hugging with danger or menace,” says Gravley.
Of course, since ‘some people are doing less each day, their dreaming minds are digging deeper into their memories to come up with information to process.’ I suppose that’s good news for some of us, though, eh? I mean you read about old people forgetting stuff, so maybe this’ll be good for us in the long run.
Just last evening, for example… or was it last week?.. Anyway, whenever it was, I still remember a really vivid dream I had when I dozed off in the chair by the window: I had become a big orange flower in a meadow somewhere -the mountains, I think. I was really proud of my colour, and the fact that I was the most beautiful, biggest, and nicest smelling flower in the entire field. Everybody seemed attracted to me; I got by far the most bees, and even passing beetles looked up at me with admiration. I was monarch of the realm and basked in all of the attention until the thought occurred to me that I was attracting far too much notice to be safe. Out of the corner of one of my petals, I caught sight of something coming out of the trees. When I rotated my pistil slowly in its direction, I could see it was a deer intent on no good for the field.
I tried to turn away, but it’s difficult to do anything quickly when you’re a flower, and it saw me. Slowly -painfully slowly- it munched its way towards me, until it got so close I could feel its warm, moist breath and smell its fetid, waiting cud. I’m not sure what happened next, except that I suddenly awakened with my face buried in the blanket I’d piled over me.
I decided not to subject the dream to any sustained analysis for fear of actually discovering something about myself that I’d buried for a reason. But maybe my mother was right all along: “Don’t even think about going out there, young man,” she’d say, looking up from the meat-fritters she was preparing under the kitchen window. “You’ve got a room to tidy up.” Some things never change…