Category Archives: dreams

Memories! You’re Talking About Memories. Or Dreams.

A story can never end with a simple image. I take that back. Yes, it can. The writer gives her story the potency to be what it will. A weak writer may not endow it with enough power to live on its own without a respirator or feeding tube. That’s the trouble with humans playing God. We’re not shams exactly; we’re made in the image of, and all that. But where does that leave us? We aren’t mini-gods. I don’t need a biological or theological or theoretical education to know this truth in the core of my being. I’m not a god–so why do I play one as the author of my mini worlds? Yes, I know, they appear epic after the word count climbs over 90,000, but they’re tiny enough to slip into my braincells as places and people and adventures already visited, worlds already put to rest.

In my dreams, I see buildings–tall thin ones that scrape the sky, narrow oblongs that rest directionally to the horizon, and two-storied places with pitched roofs that cry for families. My rooms are inevitably messy. I’m a mess internally, so this isn’t surprising. Sometimes these buildings are hybrids, places whose windows I climb from, only to reenter again into dark basements. When I add, combine, and quantify, the dwelling I love the best is the one with the pitched roof like a spring sky. Blue roof–white shutters–yellow siding. This is the atmosphere of spring. And spring is meant to bring new life, as the agricultural world affirms–one could call it the scientific world, even if it does dwell down on the farm–and the religious world confirms spring’s delivery, as well, in its rites of cyclical death and rebirth. As a Christian, I recognize the fulfilment of my rebirth through Jesus’ death and resurrection. What that says about my interior spaces and their lack of order may or may not be unrelated because I’m a believer in Jesus, not spring cleaning.

I am a house. My rooms are messy. I have a blue roof, a slate roof, a red roof. My outside is composed of solid timbers, and timbers that are as frail as old, flaked paint. Sometimes, I live on an air-gasping, head-woozy floor in a tiny apartment filled with borrowed objects. Elevators and escalators send me up and bring me back down. At my workplace, I descend into the basement to drop my child in a womb-safe daycare, and then travel up and up to my small office, inside a larger office, inside a complex of offices in a building that was designed for medical offices. Up here, on this floor with a swooning view, I feel safe knowing my child is tucked away in the basement. On with the paperwork–or whatever it is I’m hired here to do.

The papers tucked away, I remember the house with the slate roof. That’s the one where my colleague and I–this time we’re medical examiners–climbed from a first-floor window, from that hinged, old-fashioned kind, onto the rain-soaked grass. We were frightened to be there; I can’t recall why. Memory creates an illusory image when attached to emotion. Or, I should say, memories are more vividly remembered when attached to strong emotions, but the cause and effect may be lost in the recall, such that the emotion and incident combine in the flash of a moment–a photograph left out of its packet. There’s no context, in other words, until another flash occurs, revealing another image connected to fear. Something is chasing us, and we’re ducking down in the shadows, where we can smell the mud of the grass and the dank, catty smell of the basement, and we lower ourselves through an unlatched screen back into the very same house we have just escaped.

It’s dark down here. Empty boxes sit stacked by our entrance route (and possibly our only escape route). My colleague insists we’ll be safe here, and he pulls me into a mesh box, and pushes me to a crouched position in the corner of the box. We hear a click, and it’s too late. The fear–the concept of shadow–is manifest. It has locked us in a cage of our own choice, our own hiding place. We peer out. How disconcerting. A single bulb swings above us, haloing a woman and a man in lab coats, holding clipboards. They’re examining us. We’re the specimens.

I should leave you with the spring house, rather than this cage deep inside the bowels of an old one. I should leave you with its hope, but I don’t yet know how. The last time I entered the house with the blue roof and yellow exterior and stark white shutters, it was littered with the detritus of guests–dirty plates and bulbous glasses settled with sweet wine. For now, it’s a house only the swallows will find, and they’ll build their mud houses up under the eaves. That’s a lovely image, but it’s not where I’m at.

I’m in a basement. Trust me when I insist that this is not only the proper way to end this–whatever this godlike creation of fictional worlds is–but it’s also the way to begin. Beginning on an upper floor is absurd, to say the least. No one can begin there. So I’ll start at the deepest place my dwelling dips. I’ll start at the beginning and end at whatever floor I manage to climb to before the story’s over.

I’m in a cage in a basement. That’s my simple image, and its potency relies solely on the hope of spring and its ability to unclasp locked doors.


Memoirs Made of Dreams: The Contrarian’s Nightmare

Life was happy and, somehow, bland in the oasis of the university campus. Green lawns cascaded toward buildings colored like desert mountains: tile red, yarrow, grays and greens and dusky-sunset blues. But that’s simply to set the scape of the dream, where imagination creates, not mere desert willows, but willows that enliven their narrow leaves and pink blooms, whose pods rattle wildly in the brush of hot wind.

The blandness bled from my mind. This was my life, my dream world: children, husband, and extended family sought comfort in numbers while they tossed bread to absurdly mean geese stampeding around the campus pond. No, this wasn’t the life I had always dreamed of, but the life that filled me when asleep, which is an important distinction to make.

In due time, my father-in-law spotted the name of the game show painted down the sides of the vans, all parked together near our vehicle. We were thus enlightened to the actual purpose of my dream: The Traveling Debate Show, a PBS venture, had finally found its way to the back cactus acres off the NM I 25, and hoards of hopeful locals gathered. They were the best, the brightest, or simply wanted a stab at a TV appearance.

Dad, Dad-in-Law, and Husband mocked the show. The debaters consisted of three groups–the Default Show-Host plants, the Intellectual Elites, and the average citizenry who occasionally conquered the debates, to the chagrin of the PhDs. The three men in my life mocked the show for its falseness, claiming it was an unreality show meant to subvert average people, to convince them they weren’t capable of rational debate, even though average people stuck to arguing the established positions. And still they lost, unless the directors needed to push forward a smart Joe or sassy Nancy to further entrap the viewing audience into watching again and again, rooting for Nancy-Joe-Junior-Jones-Smith-Chavez.

“I want to sign up,” I said.

“You’d better get in line quick, then.” Husband’s voice stung me with its dry skepticism.

Feeling small and silly, I joined the throngs and added my name to the list: — In my sleeping world, I’m an unnamed individual, a blank scrawl on a signature line. With every last drop of sweat-born courage [it was June or July and HOT], I informed the registrar that I chose to enter as an oppositional debater. I would take the Contrarian position, rather than the mainstream one.

“You don’t want to do that,” the registrar said. “Average people don’t sign up for the oppositional position. The only people who win that side are the PhDs.”

Inside, my heart quailed, but on the outside, I insisted. The Contrarian was my archetype. I couldn’t play any role but that one. Being perversely obstinate came naturally to me.

“O.K.,” the registrar said, and he put pen to paper and signed me up, directed me to my debate table where I filled out a myriad of disclaimers while my Default Show-Host waited, bored.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked. “Average people aren’t usually capable of debating the opposite viewpoint.”

I stared at him–at his clear eyes, brown hair, at the honest and instinctual appearance of his face. At essence, he was the archetypal image of Husband. No, I wasn’t sure at all that I wanted to do this. But I would carry on with it for the perverseness of the venture.

“They’ll bring us our topics in a few minutes. We may or may not get on camera,” he warned.

My contradictory nature couldn’t decide whether being on camera would be a negative or a positive. As my gut cramped, my mind warred between I want to be famous! and I want to be anonymous! Eventually, a harried woman in a lavender suit brought us two slips of paper with our debate topics. No cameraman or equipment appeared, and that fulfilled my expectations, at least. Average No-Name with Default Show-Host weren’t where the action was at.

Much to my non-surprise, the slips of paper were both blank and bore our topics at the same time. I knew as I stared at the little words not written there that I didn’t stand a chance of winning as a Contrarian. I couldn’t debate against these topics. How could I? They were too ordinary, and I would appear a fool.

As dreams go, the actual debate, where the climax of the dream should have played out, was a blur. I lost. But the details of my failure were missing because it was the expected result. The topics didn’t matter, and neither did the syllogisms. After it was over, Default Show-Host pretended that we’d had a good fight to the finish. He practically patted me on the head–in fact, I think he did. He patted me on my golden blonde hair [my hair hasn’t been that blonde since childhood], and he reassured me: “Average people don’t ever win the contrary argument. You did fine.”

Of course, my dream self shrugged the loss aside and buried the smallness I felt. I shrank inside my Wal Mart clearance rack t-shirt and convinced myself that the topics were wrong, that going against an instinctual male would never merit me accolades, that I still possessed a deeply intelligent half to my psyche. I was still a true Contrarian.

As I write this account of my dream world, many obvious interpretations leap out at me. And yet, I wonder if the true meaning is hidden in the same way that the PhDs were hidden throughout. In my imagination, I’m able to conjure a vision of the Intellectual Elites, with their dry shirts and sharp, wicked eyes framed by wire glasses. But they aren’t in the scape. Nothing in my mind brings them to life–no rattles of pens or the shaking of paper leaves, or the seeds of oppositional knowledge meeting the desert wind.

At the finale, I left the debate show, and the extended family went off for barbecue, and I followed along behind them, unsettled. A piece of me is still left in that dream.


Resolving Complexity in Dreams

I’m the type of person who complexifies everything. I’m jealous of those who can see clearly enough to grab onto simple truths and explanations. Because of my nature, I never could succeed in school. I couldn’t ever think of the simple answers, and so most of the time, when put on the spot, I shut down and didn’t say anything–which was better than the reverse. Trust me. When teachers want answers, they want the right ones, not some long drawn-out explanation that makes no sense to anybody but the person giving it. In case you’re wondering, I did succeed in college, where complexity is often tolerated.

What bothered me as a child was a lack of facts combined with a lack of complete understanding of those facts. Now that I’m an adult, I can search out the facts and attempt a mature comprehension of said facts. But this ability doesn’t make my life any simpler. On the contrary, I tend to find myself suffering crises daily that most people would laugh at or, at the very least, cause them to bug out their eyes at me and reach for their cell phones and stealthily dial the local mental health officials.

For example, I recently had a shampoo crisis. If you live in a small town as I do, you’ll know that the variety of shampoos available at a local supermarket is actually quite large. What you may not know is that they are all the same. They all smell toxic in a way that I don’t remember synthetic fragrances smelling in my youth. They smell so hideous that they trigger migraines and make me want to put a clothes pin over my nose while showering. Sometimes, they make feel woozy, and I’m constantly in dread of passing out in the tub.

If you think it’s any easier to find a pure, sweet-smelling organic shampoo, you’re wrong. Organic shampoos use synthetic fragrances, as well. Add to that the propensity of health nuts to add allergenic ingredients such as soy and wheat in their products, and I’m no closer to discovering a suitable choice.

You see, having too much information is not good for day-to-day living. Why do I have to know what all the chemical names mean on the product label? Why do I have to know that using essential oils on your skin every day is dangerous? Did you know that? Did you even care that lavender and tea tree and rosemary contain estrogen-mimicking compounds that will almost certainly trigger your PMS and do funny things to your male offspring?

Why do I care? Why can’t I just buy a bottle of Pantene and be done with it?

I would be fine if my nutty search for information and facts stopped at shampoo. But it doesn’t. Most days, I feel frozen by simple acts like shopping for food or cooking or reading the news or educating my children.

Good God above, I need simple answers. And if it weren’t for my dream life, I wouldn’t have enough simple answers to do what I love most–writing. Somebody commented once (I think it was Tana Adams) that she wished she could dream plots. But, you see, my subconscious literally has to dream plots, or I would never, ever know what I want to write, let alone what I should write.

I’m a complete basket case. Forgive me. I wish I could dream the chemical formula of a perfect shampoo because, yes, I’ve tried to make it at home more than once. I guess I don’t need shampoo as much as I need to write. I guess I don’t need to fling my head about while a Frenchman in a black turtleneck cries salon!  Nope. I need my own dream-scape person to yell, ¡Escriba ya!

p.s. I tend to dream in Spanish. If I explained that one to you, you’d really think me neurotic, so I dare not.