Such stuff as dreams are made on

Do the old have more dreams than the young? I don’t mean dreams-for-the-future kind of episodes, but, you know, night dreams -remembered only because the old had to get up for one reason or another? I began to wonder about it last night during one of those reasons, and couldn’t get back to sleep.

I’ve been dreaming a lot lately, and if they’d dissolved the moment my eyes opened like they used to do, I wouldn’t have thought any more about them. But they don’t disappear as quickly anymore, and it occurred to me that maybe I’d had a mix-up in one of my neural circuits, or developed a bunch of plaque in there, or something. You have to admit it would be hard for anybody to get back to sleep once they started worrying about neurotangles and Tau protein buildup. Anyway, it got me thinking about the type of dreams I’ve been having lately. They no longer seem to be the old confusion-of-responsibility variety, the getting lost dreams, or the I-forgot-I-have-an-exam-tomorrow-and-haven’t-studied-for-it kind of dreams that mean I’m still engaged in important things that might go wrong.

Now, in the dreams, nobody’s asking for my advice anymore; I’m just a face in the crowd, or maybe only eyes watching the crowd through a window. No more imposter-syndrome to overcome -I’m often not even included in the discussion; not even recognized as an important face. It should be easier to get back to sleep when you’re not in danger of being recognized, but it’s not.

I suppose most people yearn for their moment on the lectern, rapt audience heads nodding approval, and then applause, but I’m usually content to live with the recognition of smiles and eyes that twinkle silently in my direction. I’d kind of like to be somebody whose presence would be missed but only occasionally required except perhaps for reassurance. I’m not getting that in my dreams, though; I’m wondering if Covid has a hand in it now that I’m not getting attention in real life either.

And, aren’t dreams supposed to be colourful, or at least make you wonder about them when you wake up? Mine aren’t vivid anymore, I’m afraid: no snakes slithering over my fleeing feet, or being locked in a room with strangers (or was that Sartre’s Hui Clos? I get mixed up with things I’ve read). Anyway, they have no plots that I could write about, or scenes sufficiently memorable to be of interest to foreign neurons. One thing that I have noticed, though, is that not only are my dreams rather banal, but so are the colours. They’re often reduced to sepia browns and greys -much like their contents. In fact, one of them was devoid of colour entirely, I think: black and white… or, rather grey and a kind of not-quite-white. Anyway, drab stuff like that. Everybody I tell about them, rolls their eyes and changes the subject. Nobody has any interest in non-issues -especially when it comes to dreams; if there’s no sex, or no horror, there’s no audience.

Dreams are also usually interpretable, aren’t they? They’re alleged to mirror what have been the pervading themes, the unresolved problems in our lives, I think. But mine seem to have wandered off the path and are poking around in the leaf litter like robins looking for worms. They seem to be throwbacks to my childhood household’s black and white TV that fuzzed up if you moved -or even touched– the little rabbit-ear aerials sitting on the cabinet above the screen near the ashtray.

So, what am I doing  wrong?

It seemed reasonable to investigate cause and effect: at first, I blamed what I had consumed before I went to bed; the timing didn’t entirely escape me either. My older brother had long ago decided to eat his main meal midday; he didn’t tell me why, but I thought maybe it was something genetic: maybe our family had a programmed age-exaptation in some organ or other, so I tried meat and potatoes for lunch. That didn’t last; I found I was still as hungry as usual around dinner time.

I broke it down further. I considered whether, like Scrooge wondered when he saw Marley’s ghost, perhaps the culprit was an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato… But, alas, changing (briefly) to an entirely vegan diet only gave me cramp-dreams. And anyway, the cabbage and lentils gave me gas and, well, waft dreams from under the covers are in an entirely different Magisterium than what I had come to expect of a night-awakening.

And, of course, there are the cake-dreams in which the sugar racing around in my body gives me throbbing headaches. I eliminated those, years ago by having the cake for lunch, however.

And then, someone told me he had begun having leather dreams as soon as he had started to wear a mouth-guard at night so he stopped wearing it. I forget most of the details, but he’s no longer with his wife, apparently. Fortunately, I live alone, though.

But now that I think about it, I did have a rather leathery episode as well, when I first started wearing my dental guard -around the time I began noticing the washed out dream colours, in fact. I thought at the time that they were probably accurate recaps of the days I was spending digging in the garden: accomplishment dreams, I figured. I liked the idea; I hated the guard.

Still, you have to expect that learning to sleep with a bit in your mouth would have consequences, eh? It was my dental technician who first alerted me to the damage that grinding at night was having on my teeth, and warned me that I was in danger of waking up one morning with only sharpened stumps sticking out of my gums like rotting pilings on a beach. She is prone to exaggeration at times, so I folded my arms over my chest and suggested that her nose would grow really long if she wasn’t careful. She glared at me, I remember, and then let me look at my filed-down teeth with her little mirror just before she got out the sharp thing. 

Anyway, now I wear a tooth guard, and worry about my dreams. I read somewhere that the gradually changing routines that are so necessary in old Age, slip like shadows across a pond leaving no ripples. Now I’m not so sure…

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