Not all dreams are this sweet.
Not long ago I went to the post office in my nightgown. It’s not as bad as it sounds. I was also wearing a man’s 3X fleece shirt, a silk padded jacket, a baseball cap, and some velour trousers because I had started to get properly dressed before I got distracted and then thought of getting the mail. It was the opposite of going down the street with nothing on. Normally, I try to comb my hair, wash my face and even remove my lady whiskers as well as lining my eyes. (I’m allergic to mascara or I’d use that as well.) I doubt anyone notices.
When I forget some parts of clothing or footware, I’m reminded by the environment: a cold breeze or sharp gravel. But I’m interested in why I forgot. The postmaster (a woman) tells me that people come to the post office wearing almost anything -- bedroom slippers are common. We’re an aging town and like to be comfortable. But we’re very proper and so far no one has shown up bare.
I’ve begun to occasionally forget to turn off stove burners. Less seriously, I forget to take my meds. Or maybe that IS serious and I ought to be keeping a chart, except that I would forget to fill it out anyway. I’ve stopped buying coffee beans to grind because once in a while I put the whole beans in the paper filter and don’t realize it until I’ve poured hot water on them. And occasionally I forget to turn ON stove burners and after a half-hour or so wonder why I don’t hear boiling or see steam. I tried an automatic coffee maker but forgot I had it and went back to my old filter cone. I hate whistling teakettles, esp. first thing in the morning.
Most of this is not madness but rather a failure to keep my attention on the task at hand. If you follow this blog, you will know two things: one is that the “working brain” can only handle maybe a half-dozen big ideas (chunked up into complexes by putting together small issues) and the other is that my brain is a seething mass of ideas at any given moment. When I go to sleep, they transform into “felt concepts” and when I wake up, the words begin to form, but the constant stream, the mental thalwag, is not interrupted.
Not long ago I dreamt that I was looking for a l’Oreal lipstick in a red case. It was an actual lipstick, my preaching lipstick, a kind of red with gold flecks in it that was flattering and glamorous. I once attended a women’s conference on spirituality at which we were urged to “surrender” three objects of vanity, precious to us and symbolic. I put up my lipstick and a porcelain doorknob that I had picked out of the ruined remains of an old house on the way home from my undergrad years at Northwestern. The lipstick disappeared forever and I never found that color again. But another woman slipped the doorknob back to me as I left. She said she thought I had not really meant to give it up.
So I know what some of these symbols are. Not the conventional Freudian things. (Lips.) The lipstick stands for my brief and mismanaged ministry career -- too many things I didn’t understand that were about speaking, intimacy, and community. I was presenting my best ideas, which I hoped would be life-changing or at least meaningful to the congregation, and they were sitting out there wondering what the name of the lipstick color was or whether they could get me to be personal friends apart from all the others. (At this point men will be going “huh?” Or maybe not.) It was about gender, not sex. You don’t wear lipstick during sex. It’s about presentation, not deep meaning. So I dreamt that I found the tube, but it was empty. At the same time there had recently been something in a TV movie about the lid coming off a lipstick so that everything in the purse was smeared red. So it was about blood money, too.
I have been working with old family photos. One cousin in California used to wear bright orange lipstick. Another one, quite a bit older, wore purple lipstick. All through my youth I wore Revlon “Persian Melon”, which I was startled to see in a makeup display not long ago.
My premise is that I was not demented to wear my nightgown to the post office, but heavily distracted -- thinking about so many things that there was no room left over for daily habits. Usually habits are pretty hard to displace because they are embedded in muscles and in the environment. But I live alone and there are so many small habits that I tend to miss some of them. For instance, I’m supposed to check all containers before using them, esp. dishes and esp. this time of year, the way one gives one’s shoes a sharp rap upside down when getting up in the jungle -- scorpions, you know. This morning it was a small beetle in my coffee cup, but I didn’t see it -- just felt it bump my lips when I began to drink. I’m still squeamish enough that I poured the coffee down the drain. I suppose when I lose squeamishness so much that I just drink the beetle, then I will be demented because part of the point of sanity is to guard against things that are risky, like ingesting bugs.
Most of what we do is not conscious and our conscious thoughts are just cover-ups for what we are really thinking and believing way back in the dark. My mother-in-law was convinced that when people were drunk they said what they really meant. She was right in that the pre-frontal cortex behind the forehead is the most recently evolving part of the brain, the most “rational” part and it is in large part a matter of restraint -- recognizing that it would be more judicious and tactful not to tell or do what might make a lot of trouble. And it’s true that alcohol can allow expressions that are rude, actions that are stupid. But she never had any insight into her own hidden ideas, sometimes malicious and destructive. Or childish. She NEVER got drunk. Good thing.
My own mother knew there was more going on in her mind than she had conscious access to but she knew something was going on while she slept. The old “dream book” by her bed was almost worn out beyond usefulness by the time she gave it up. It was full of 19th century symbols: rivers, trees, trips, horses. Mostly the advice was about “luck.” Love was about luck.
If I remember a particularly vivid dream, I sometimes write it out into a short squib and file it in the computer. There’s no particular message. They’re usually like a YouTube video full of images and movement. Once in a while, years later, I’ll run across a half-page, read it, and realize (make real) what it meant. By then I’ve acted on it or maybe not.
I wonder why I write so little fiction, which is what women are supposed to be obsessed with, and I think it is because I’m more interested in how things work, where dreams come from and how the brain chooses the symbols as image instead of word. If I can only consider less than ten “chunks” of idea at a time, where are the ones that got bumped off because there was no room to think about them? Were they more meaningful than what I kept? Can I call them back?