Dream motifs ~

In my September 7 post titled Working forever for free, or, why I’m so tired, I wrote about a particularly disturbing work-related dream motif. My brain has a whole library of recurring dream motifs, and I assumed everyone else’s brain did too, until I asked a friend of mine. He looked at me as if there were something wrong with me. Hmmm.

In my post I mentioned that I’d never had a tooth dream. Having written that, I promptly had my first one ever. It hasn’t repeated, and I suspect it won’t.

One oddity about my dreams is this: I never have pleasant ones. They’re all at least somewhat disturbing and they tend to involve a lot of work. Elevators and entire buildings are never where I thought they were, staircases turn into ledges and ladders, offices turn out to be unfindable, and so forth. On the other hand, I don’t have full-out nightmares very often, the kind with monsters or gunfire. Is that a good tradeoff? I’m not sure.

At any rate, I sort of promised readers that I’d share more of my dream motifs. Some of these are quite common. Others…who knows? By sharing them I may be unwittingly revealing embarrassing things about my character or personality. Alternatively, I may be revealing how thoroughly boring I am. But here goes:

  • The dissertation dream: I need to get going on my doctoral program, but I can’t think of what I want to specialize in or what I’d like to write my dissertation on. If I can’t figure it out, how am I going to eventually get a job and make a living? (No, I have no plans to enter a doctoral program.)
  • The elusive-master’s-degree dream: I’m not absolutely certain that I’ve finished my master’s degree, and try as I might, I can’t find the proper office on campus that could answer this question for me. (I finished my master’s degree 31 years ago. I have the damn diploma.)
  • The forgotten-class dream: I realize I’ve been enrolled in a class that I haven’t attended since the beginning of the semester. I can’t locate my course schedule and don’t know the time or location of the class. Help! (This is a very common dream, I understand. I have it a lot. For some reason, it’s usually a French class that I’ve ignored. Sometimes, in a horrifyingly clean sweep, I’ve ignored all of my classes.)
  • The gone-too-far dream: I’ve traveled hundreds of miles across country and suddenly realize I need to retrace all of that territory in one day in order to get back to work. I’ve never gone east, always west (my favorite direction). Usually I’m in some remote location in the far Great Plains.
  • The can’t-get-home dream: I’ve walked or bicycled a long distance to a neighboring town and realize I probably don’t have the stamina to get back. Sometimes instead of walking I’m riding a funny, quirky little electric scooter-type thing in these dreams. Let’s just say it isn’t reliable transportation.
  • The bad-legs dream: I’m trying to walk on campus, but my legs will scarcely move. It’s like trying to walk through molasses. Sometimes I try hopping or walking sideways, but I still can’t make much progress. These dreams were so convincing that sometimes I still have to stop and ponder whether I ever had this physical problem. (This dream motif hasn’t recurred since I retired.)
  • The tornado dream: I’ve never seen a tornado, and for years I frequently had dreams in which I saw one for the first time. The tornado never would get close enough to be really threatening, and I was never really scared. Always in these dreams I thought to myself, “I really have seen one this time! It isn’t a dream!” Oddly enough, since I moved into a house without a basement (and thus little tornado protection), this dream hasn’t made a single appearance.
  • The horrible-bathroom dream: Every toilet in a public restroom is dirty or is constructed in some bizarre, virtually unusable configuration. (My mother had this dream a lot too.) I’ve read some interpretations of this common dream that seem pretty far-fetched—for example, that it indicates you need to eliminate a relationship from your life. Other interpretations cast aspersions on one’s character and hang-ups. I prefer my Occam’s Razor explanation: this dream prevents you from wetting the bed when you really, really have to pee but you’re asleep.
  • The horrible-laundromat dream: I’ve got to do laundry, but the only open washers I can find have something wrong with them. (I haven’t had to use a laundromat since 1984. Back when I needed and used laundromats, I never had this dream.)
  • The weird-apartment dream: I must find a place to live, but where I end up, or where I’m staying in the interim, has certain physical peculiarities that make getting into it an exercise in acrobatics and/or detective work.
  • The leaky-roof dream: Sometimes there isn’t much left of the roof at all in these dreams. Sometimes the entire house has been saturated and is about to fall down. This motif may simply derive from too much real-life traumatic experience with leaky roofs. Thankfully, I’m having this dream somewhat less often since I moved from a leaky-roof house that bore me a massive grudge into a non-leaky-roof house that seems to like me okay.
         My late husband and I once had an incredibly lucky break with a leaky roof. The room with the leak housed our computer and printer. In between those two pieces of equipment was a big stack of copy paper—and that’s where the water dripped, with near-surgical precision. There wasn’t even anything to mop up, since the paper simply absorbed all the water.
  • The unshaved-legs dream: In real life I can no longer wear dresses or skirts or shorts or swimsuits, so there isn’t much incentive to shave. In this dream, I simply realize with a shock of embarrassment that whatever I’m wearing reveals my hairy legs.
         I think I occasionally have this dream because this happened to me when I began my freshman year of high school. I had been attending a public school in the city, where dress codes were still in play. (Girls weren’t allowed to wear pants until I was in the 7th grade, for example.) The ’70s were happening down the street at the high school, where there were bomb threats, but the city elementary schools were stuck in the early ’60s.
         The summer after 8th grade my family moved to an apartment in the farthest reaches of the suburbs. I showed up at the bus stop on the first day in a goody-two-shoes polyester dress, my legs white and hairy and pantyhose-less. As soon as kids started getting on the bus, I realized I was in a different world where nothing was off-limits: hot pants, jeans shorts, bell bottoms, halter tops, absolutely nothing polyester. Uh oh. Out here it was the ’70s full-blown (the smell of pot perfumed the school bathrooms), and every girl’s legs were neatly shaved.
         That morning on the bus my heart crumpled into something the size and consistency of a spitball and tumbled into my stomach. Bullying commenced almost immediately and continued every day of freshman year, even though I scrambled to conform. Mom didn’t want me to shave my legs. She warned me, “Once you start doing it, you can never stop.” Well, as an adult, I’ve proved that wrong. Hey Mom! It grows back, just as thick and ugly as ever!
  • The mangled-clown dream. Actually, I don’t have mangled-clown dreams. I just made that up because the rest of the list seems pretty unremarkable, now that I read it over. It is true, however, that I dislike clowns and never have seen the point of them. My sister detests clowns. I’m sure she would happily mangle any number of them if she could get away with it. If she could, she’d probably stomp out the entire clown tradition all the way back to its origins in—what?—jester figures, I suppose, which perhaps grew out of the trickster figures that seem to be common to all aboriginal cultures. (This is all speculation. I don’t want to Google it because I don’t even want to read about clowns.)

It’ll be interesting to see if I have a mangled-clown dream now that I’ve made it up. If so, I hope it won’t be too graphic. I don’t want to start getting into nightmare territory.

Working forever for free, or Why I’m so tired, part 2 ~

Talking about dreams is a chancy enterprise. Armchair dream analysts are a dime a dozen. I’ve always had lots of repeating dream motifs, like tornado dreams (relatively common, I’ve found), sliding-off-the-top-of-the-Gateway-Arch dreams (this motif from my childhood seems to be an original), and so forth. But who wants to unwittingly reveal something embarrassing, like the fact that they have the “teeth dream” motif? (Oddly, to my knowledge I’ve never experienced this. When I read what all the variants supposedly mean—see http://www.dreamdictionary.org/common/teeth-dreams—I’m surprised I don’t have this dream running like a tape loop in my head every night.)

So I figure it’s always dangerous to write about dreams. But people tell me to take more chances in life. And I do have a problem.

I worked as a writer, graphic designer, and webmaster for a research university. Since my early retirement in 2009, I have dreamed about work in some manner every night. Let me put that the way someone half my age would: Every. Single. Night.

One nightmare that, thankfully, doesn’t recur too often, and that long preceded my retirement, is the one in which the printer delivers a seriously flawed publication. In most cases I start paging through a sample copy and realize that I don’t recognize any of the material. Sometimes the material actually changes as I peruse it, becoming more and more unfamiliar and bizarre.

Given the inevitable problems with printers, this nightmare is pretty rational. In real life, I was once looking at a sample copy of our research magazine only to find that the ink had largely washed off one of the spreads. Another time I was paging through a copy delivered to my home, flipped by an illustration of a fish, and then a few pages later flipped by an illustration of the same fish. Wait. What? WHAT?! Indeed, the copy had one missing signature and one repeated signature. Because the campus’s mailing center got its shipment from Central Receiving before my office got ours, and because they had been exceptionally efficient, hundreds of copies had been mailed out before I had seen one. I spent a sleepless night not knowing if EVERY SINGLE COPY was screwed up. (Sleuthing later revealed that perhaps only a couple of hundred copies were, but those included copies delivered to legislators’ offices.)

If I had this dream every night I’d surely be in a mental institution by now. Fortunately, I only have it on occasion.

But back to retirement. Initially, for two years or so, I had dreams in which getting to my office was a labyrinthine exercise. Older readers will probably remember the overturned-ship disaster movie “The Poseidon Adventure,” where the floors became the ceilings and survivors had to negotiate upside-down staircases and improvised passageways. A great many of the dreams were like that.

Or I would find the office only to see that it was completely renovated in a confusing way. Or that my office had been moved to a bizarre place. Or that we had hired new people working in a far-off corridor whom I never saw and whose names I never learned. Each one of these motifs, plus a few others, made dozens of nightly appearances.

But the one that’s troubling my sleep the most over the past year or two is this: I’ve continued to work voluntarily, without pay, and I can’t stop because the research magazine is not quite done. It’s almost done—just a few more design editing changes to make—but I can’t get in touch with the designer. (In my job I did a multitude of publications and websites, most of which I designed myself. But in my dreams the reason for staying at work is always the research magazine, which took pride of place in real life and required collaboration with an honest-to-god, truly good designer.)

Until recently in these dreams I had worked voluntarily for a year or so, something that even my boss didn’t seem to recall. Lately—alarmingly—the time has increased to two years or even more. Sometimes my dream self wonders in a panic how I’m supposed to make a living when I’m not getting paid. Sometimes I wonder if I should lobby for a way to get paid retroactively, but I know this is impossible. Sometimes I remember that I can walk out the door any time I want without repercussions, because I’m not employed. But I always come back.

Clearly I feel I’ve lost my identity without my job. Clearly I feel I’m still needed. In fact, the publications portfolio I’d built up over the course of 20 years was largely dismantled after I left, and the research magazine is no more—ripe grounds for a sense of futility. You’d think that, since I understand what the dream means, it would stop. But no. Last night I had been working voluntarily for almost three years.

How long am I going to be slaving away when I’m supposed to be sleeping? I’ve done it for two years already. I’m 55; let’s suppose I make it to 60. Must I endure this dream 1,800 more times? Will it eventually reduce in frequency, like the others have? And if so, will something even more nightmarish come to the fore?

I can hear the advice most people would give: I should get myself to a shrink as soon as possible and exorcise this demon.

It would have to be pro bono, though. After all, I haven’t gotten paid for quite some time.