"Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream..."
This is what happens every night. Objects are arranged and rearranged. On various sets, perhaps simultaneously, actors deliver their lines in different ways, sometimes making up new lines. Scenes are rehearsed out of order. Sometimes, I myself restart a scene based on new specifications—I want to be young, say, or have the leading man look more like Javier Bardem—but mostly scenes play out against my will and I have no choice but to endure them.
I've never talked to anyone about this. Every night our dreams are under construction, but it's not what we had supposed. The meaningless, random firing of neurons? Nah. A little taste of the collective unconscious? Getting warmer. A message in a bottle? Yes, maybe something like an SOS or an answer. But who sends the message and why so cryptic?
I stumbled onto my dream construction site by accident, when a car alarm startled me awake in the middle of the night. When I woke up, I recalled the dream and its construction simultaneously. Like a director who has spliced and edited, I had the finished product before me—the story I could smoothly narrate, with a plot, beginning, middle, and end—but I was also able to recall the messy attempts that had taken place completely out of sequence, not intended for a viewing audience. It was like a really bad first draft. I woke up feeling that something had gone wrong: I saw what had never been intended for my eyes.
At first I thought, "How interesting, this may be a great discovery in the science of dreams, or...maybe no one will believe me and I'll get locked up."
My fascination was replaced by deep unease.
It might be fine if I were a Buddhist, always ready to accept the concept of no-self, to awaken to my new role as voyeur to the hidden machinations of my psyche. But how do I rid myself of that nagging sense that an intruder is afoot—and who am I now, the intruder or the other guy? We enter our private boudoir and sense something amiss, but find everything in its place and untouched. Except the window has been pried open and the curtains billow.
Like all of us, I have plenty of other, more practical matters on my mind, problems to solve, dire situations over which I have long since lost the illusion of control. No wonder we have nightmares. No wonder we send out an SOS now and then.
I don't want to waste our time questioning whether this is, in fact, how memory works. That leads to no place of comfort, just wormholes, time travel, and parallel universes. But still, we all secretly agree that we construct meaning out of chaos on a daily basis and rewrite endings to suit our fancy. What if we construct reality according to the whims and ideals of someone else—some petty director who hides behind his work?
By the time The Wizard of Oz mutters, "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain," we no longer believe the lie. And though we've never been formally introduced, I am already convinced my petty director bears a striking resemblance to Danny DeVito. Who the hell made that up? Me or him?
Maybe I'm the stranger. Science would back me up; if all of our cells are renewed every 7-10 years, than I'm really not who I was, and neither are you.
I haven't blundered onto the dream set lately, but I do feel like maybe I've been dreaming someone else's dreams.
For example, last night I drove at breakneck speed to catch the ferry to Martha's Vineyard—my familiar island dream oasis—but then it's like I just drive right onto someone else's dream set.
Instead of parking on the stand-by line at the Steamship Authority in Woods Hole, I pull up to onto a patch of dead grass that reaches out to all horizons. I'm parked between pick-up trucks near some cowboys who are kicking up the dust with their boots cause the rodeo's been canceled. They're pissed off.
Meanwhile, I can't start my car, so I get out to take pictures of the lifesaver that's mounted in a glass box directly in front of me like a work of art. In case of emergency, break glass. The lifesaver is imprinted with a single word and I want to remember it, so I take picture after picture, but each image is blurry. When I wake up I'm annoyed that I can't remember the word. Pissed that I didn't break the glass.
I post the dream as a Facebook status and wait for my petty director to reveal himself, but no one steps forward.
Later on, when I remember the word, I'm too ashamed to post it.
In fancy, embroidered script, the word Love decorates the top right edge of the lifesaver. It reminds me of the old sitcom "Laverne & Shirley," how all of Laverne's outfits had a kitschy 'L' embroidered above her left boob, over her heart.
Love saves us. I couldn't have said it better.