An old friend, Tim, once said he envied me my dreams. Particularly since he himself always seemed to be much cooler in my dreams than his. An example: in university I dreamed that people were being pulled one by one into a shadowy alternate Earth. Upon arriving, I tried to find Tim, only to see him driving a car for a bunch of gang members, already sporting a backwards cap, sunglasses, a blinged-out necklace, and a huge smile. “Well,” I thought, “He seems fine.”
For those who don’t know the Reverend, it should be noted that Tim, currently a minister for the United church and one of the most pleasant people you’ll ever talk to, couldn’t get further from “gangsta” with a map and a mission statement.
Still, based on that snippet of dream, Tim was convinced my dreams are awesome. Well… not always. Let’s take a tour of the good, the bad, and the weird things that rattle around in my head at night.
My dreams often wake me up in the middle of the night, and not just the bad ones. Admittedly it was a bad dream that woke me up the other night. I dreamt that a good friend was sick. Very sick. Sick enough to scare me into waking up.
Actually it took a couple of tries. First I just “woke up” into a different dream, and the same friend was next to me on the couch. “I dreamed you were sick!” I said, and she was all “Yeah, I am, actually,” and then I woke the rest of the way up. Nice try, subconscious, but no cigar. Well, except for the “waking me up in the middle of the night” thing.
I got back to sleep, but it was still a throwing dream. And when I have a dream like that (typically about something bad happening to my dad), I often want to check in with the person in question just to reassure myself it was only a dream and everything’s fine. But it is always a little awkward telling someone you had a dream about them. It’s even more awkward to tell them “I had a dream about you, and you were really sick, and it scared me a little.” And it probably goes without saying that “And your skin was smooth like polished marble” just makes it all much, much worse.
(Oh, relax. It wasn’t you. Probably.)
That’s what bad dreams are for me lately. Something bad happens to someone I care about. Sometimes it’s my fault, sometimes it isn’t, in any event I wake up rattled. Sometimes rattled enough that going back to sleep is clearly not an option. Once I had multiple nightmares that someone I cared about deeply was in great trouble, gave up on sleep, and decided to clear my head before work by catching up on Doctor Who. Which episode was next in the queue? The hotel full of nightmares. THANKS. BIG HELP.
It’s enough to make me miss the nightmares of my youth. What was weird is that when I was a kid, nightmares would rarely be scary while I was having them. Chased by a four-story Frankenstein monster? I was just angry that out of all the kids at the zoo it picked me to snatch up. Zombie Fraggles? I’d just do my best Hulk impression and hurl them out of the bed. Freddy–
Yes I had a recurring nightmare about zombie Fraggles. Yes, RECURRING. Want to fight about it?
Where was I. Freddy freaking Krueger? The dream itself was just deathly boring. The devil shows up because I made an ill-advised wish after a big win by the Justice League because I figured they were on a roll, and thought fighting the source of all evil might be a good idea? Well, having second thoughts about it now, but here he comes, so better get to punching. None of them scared me until I woke up, my face flushed, my heart pounding.
When I was very young, there was a recurring nemesis to my dreams who could show up at any time, any place. Whatever the dream was about, I’d get hot, hear my heartbeat, and I’d know… he was here. He found me. And we had to run. Who was he? The Thing from Readalong.
Yes, Readalong. Yes, the kids’ show with the talking boot puppet that taught kids to read. Yes, the Thing was basically just a beaver that talked in growling sounds. When I was two or whatever, it was too scary to watch, scary enough to inspire nightmares. Like everything YOU were scared of before you started kindergarten makes sense.
Anyway, these days bad dreams aren’t typically the ones waking me up.
The fact is that while bad dreams can throw off my whole morning, good dreams are waking me up far more often. I think it comes down to a couple of things: my conscious mind’s resistance to good things happening, and my subconscious being a jerk.
Okay. This might get a bit gloomy for a paragraph or two, so here’s a baby numbat.
If a dream gets too happy I wake up right away, regardless of the time. If something good is happening to me in a dream, like, say, the TV series I’ve been pondering for years actually getting shot, it wakes me up like an air horn. It’s like my mind can’t wrap itself around something that good actually happening, realizes it’s all a dream, and rejects the dream by ending it. Seems like enough potentially good things in my life have turned out to be dead ends or traps (for example, the woman who comes to chat at the bar in Vegas is clearly a prostitute) that I jump right from “that would be amazing” to “where’s the catch,” and that reaction kills dreams dead.
But sometimes it is just my subconscious being a dick. It will wave some amazing place at me, some Shangri-La of good times, and then make it impossible to get there. Or in the dream I will know, for a fact, that I can fly, or shoot lightning, or something impressive, and then it won’t work. The dream will establish some manner in which I am awesome, and then turn it off. Oddly this doesn’t wake me up, it just turns everything into a battle of wills between me and the dream. I typically win, but this means I would not call myself a lucid dreamer. Lucid dreamers rarely talk about the dream fighting back.
But the oddest thing my subconscious has ever done to take back something good happened in junior high. Back then, in the late 80s, there was a game called Bubble Bobble. Those who know it, remember it fondly. Those who don’t, it was great and the premise isn’t important. The point is, I wanted Bubble Bobble to play at home, on my still cutting-edge original Nintendo. One night, in the summer of ’89, I dreamt that not only had I gotten Bubble Bobble, but I’d gotten an actual stand-up arcade game of Bubble Bobble. Even better than the Nintendo version.
“Oh man,” I said. “This is one of those dreams where I get what I want then lose it, isn’t it?”
“AND SO IT IS!” shouted a booming voice. “So let’s take it NOW!” At which point a tornado swept in, sucking away the game, the building, the surrounding countryside, and I woke up.
I am not making that up. Swear to god, this is what my brain does to me.
Even weirder? One night when I was a kid my dream went into a test pattern. A “Sorry, technical difficulties” test pattern. The dream ended and was replaced by a still image of my bedroom door with light peeking through the frame, and a voice or text crawl saying “Your dream will resume in a moment, please stand by.”
I have no idea where that came from, but years later I’d read a comic in which the main character is informed by Sandman (supposedly from the Neil Gaiman comic but dressed like the Justice Society member) that he’s blown his dream budget, and will now have to dream about seashores for the rest of the month. Made me wonder just a little.
Now, it’s far from terrible in my brain at night. Sometimes the dreams are fun. Sometimes I dream of an adventure that’s interesting enough to be worth remembering (as much as I can, dreams being difficult to hold in your memory), but not so fun that I mind waking up. I’ve gotten four scripts out of dreams, as we’ll learn when Danny G Writes Plays resumes.
And sometimes I dream that one of the whitest people I know is now the driver for a black gang in an alternate dimension, and having the time of his life. And at least he found that entertaining.