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Dream a Little Dream

Just when I thought I needed it most, my brain up and left me.

In my free time—the hours I dedicate almost exclusively to reading or daydreaming—I would retreat to my imagination only to find that it had retreated before me. I turned to it for fancy and found only fretfulness. It’s quite a feat to banish my almost virtuosic gifts for self-deceit in the form of intellectual escapism, but paradoxically it had been effected by the most pedestrian events. I won’t bore you with the details; just gather up a grim selection from your own private rogues gallery—your bureaucratic bêtes noires, 9-to-5 nemeses, domestic devils, all your imperfectly secreted skeletons—then spark up the solipsism, shove your head up your ass and cue the Wagner. You’re performing a megalomaniac’s Götterdämmerung.

Everyday troubles had stranded my books on the shelves, left them straining at the edges of their roosts like young wives on seaward balconies awaiting the return of shipboard grooms. And mundane crises had impoverished my dreams, pillaged them of symbol and mystery and rendered them blatant. I didn’t have the focus or energy to read, and my dreams became stale.

That last was perhaps the most worrisome.

I had always counted myself lucky that I had never suffered through the standard running-getting-nowhere or the naked-and-late-to-test themes that are said to be common fabric of nightmares. In fact, with one notable—and likely chemically induced—exception, I didn’t suffer through nightmares at all. My dreams were odd, sometimes ugly, but always in a compelling way. I dreamed not in naked test, but Naked Lunch—or so I told myself.

I was never particularly knowledgeable about any of the established schools of dream interpretation, though I found the one-train-fits-every-tunnel approach of the Freudians unpromising and the Jungian notions of collective unconscious to lack sufficient emphasis on the wonderful unknowable deepness of me, me, me. But at some point, a friend mentioned the theory that dreams were the organism’s means of solving its problems in a symbolic language. While you slept, your brain composed poems of you; if you could decipher the dreams, you could learn truths—poetic truths—about yourself. Now, that was right up my street.

So, I began recording my dreams in a journal. I don’t know that I ever learned anything revelatory about myself, but there were some charming student-film images: I still vividly recall the one in which I’m trying to convince the driver of a traffic-stalled bus full of senior citizens that I’m on the wrong bus, when suddenly the cars around us burst their seams, transforming into a dense, glittering and seemingly endless school of opalescent fish that swarm over and around the bus. In the dream, it felt as if I was being bathed, scoured with vital light. My desperation at my failure to convince the driver was eliminated—as was the bus, the traffic jam and the very concept of motion bound by anything other than instinct.

The dream in which Cher and Eddie Murphy and I go to hell, where we must negotiate a series of tests and obstacles all under the watchful eyes of demons in human form wearing motorcycle leathers and helmets with opaque shields, however, was just silly.

But these recent dreams . . .

In one, some real-life acquaintances and I go to a rural liquor store on our way to an award ceremony at a small-town private college. It’s a formal affair, and after dinner we retire to a windowed room in a library and watch the well-dressed attendees strolling around the grounds. Our conversation goes something like this:

“Well, you look really sharp tonight. I’ve never seen you in a tux before.”

“Thanks. I don’t often wear one.”

“Do you own that, or did you rent it?”

Man, if I hadn’t already been asleep . . .

Thing is, my brain was doing me solid. My waking hours were so consumed with pettiness and drudgery that my unconscious kindly kicked in with the favor I had so aggressively been soliciting: It gave me a fucking break. It tripped its own release valve; it shoved the fictitious villains roaming my lobes—those ghouls of compressed and gnomic meaning—into convenient escape pods and shot ’em into the chilly distances of space. They went unwillingly, muttering curses and promises of grisly revenge, but they went.

I began to regard my newly dishwater dreams indulgently, like vaguely imbecilic children. And I approached chores of my waking life with that same bland indulgence. So what if my dreams were now more James Burrows than William Burroughs? What did it matter if I dreamt in network? So my gray matter was more suburban than subversive? What of it? I’d pay my bills, and renew my license on time, and I’d grocery shop, and I’d read Getting to Yes, and quit my job as a Ninja, and I’d go to law school, maybe, and Chandler and Ross and I would go play ball (Racquetball? Basketball? Foosball?) and the Nova Mob would have to fend for themselves . . .

Just the other night, though, I dreamed that I was crossing a rain-soaked field at night, toward a barn where I was to meet a woman. I didn’t know who the woman was, but in the dream it was a compulsion. The field was thick with turtles of various sizes, from pet-store cute to Galapagos monumental, and the exterior of the barn was covered in slugs and snails. I found the barn empty at first, and stood leaning against a beam angled severely from the dark above into the floor. Suddenly the barn filled with wheezy howls and high-pitched yips. Frightened, I scuttled up the beam hand-over-hand as the floor below me filled with foxes and feral dogs, who gathered in a circle with their heads raised to me. At once, they quieted and sat staring up at me, expectantly.

So, we meet again.

—John Rodat

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