One function of dreams is to process daily events, to make sense of them, order them, file them away.
No doubt, that's why, after watching The Dark Knight, I dreamt swirls of insanity and violence, characterized by a ghastly white face.
Similarly, last night I dreamt over and over about a certain Alaskan governor, speaking to applauding throngs, perhaps trying to reconcile her uneven delivery of a partisan speech with the raving reviews of on-air commentators.
More often, my dreams are a little less obvious, a little further removed from the events and subjects that inspire them. For example, while I didn't have any Otakon-related dreams during the convention itself this year, I had several after the fact, most of them involving staff members combining forces to deal with unusual challenges.
While this continued for a couple nights, the only one I still recall is one in which we were trading notes on how to fend off a zombie invasion amongst Otakon members. In this case, the zombies were a little less terrifying than in many horror movies. They were not violent but simply mindless and shambling, difficult to corral into lines.
I have no trouble parsing this dream, for while we did not have to fight off zombies, we frequently contend with random badness at Otakon. Plus, every time I saw Doc the Stampede that weekend, he would pretend to be a zombie, hearkening back to the Blog Like It's the End of the World event earlier this year, where in his blog, at least, he became a zombie.
Sometimes, my dreams are a bit more pleasant, such as a recent dream I had after playing Arkham Horror with a group of friends. In the dream, I was part of a team intent on saving the world from a loosely-defined threat. This took place in the hallways of a very open, very dated-looking school, my brain's synthesis of both my high school and the engineering building on the Penn State campus where a group of friends used to play a Whitewolf LARP.
We were making efforts not to let anybody else know what was happening, so that there would be no panic. Despite the high stakes of our success, we were in good spirits, knowing that it was all just a game. Contrast this to my usual dreams that take place in a school. I frequently discover, several weeks into a semester, that I'm enrolled for, say, a physics class or an advanced math class, but I have not done any of the homework, nor studied for a big exam.
Perhaps I'll visit those halls less frequently now that I've finally found a way to enjoy it. The solution, perhaps, is to realize that even when I'm alone, in a setting that might normally be stressful, I can depend on my friends.
I revisited another familiar dream setting recently. In recent years, I've often dreamt of The Gryphon and I living in an apartment, in which the main living space is loosely based on the cramped, run-down apartment I had in my hometown before moving to the Philadelphia area. Sometimes, we would be out-of-town guests. Other times, we had recently moved in or would be planning to move out.
But in many of those cases, we would discover that there were rooms we did not use, rooms which were much nicer than the ones we inhabited. For example, there is often a spacious, apartment-sized loft with white walls, filled with tasteful furniture, glassware and knickknacks reminiscent of my paternal grandmother's furnishings. It also contains a nice television set and other modern conveniences. Occasionally, I've seen my grandmother in this room, even though I'm fully aware that she's dead. She greets us pleasantly and sometimes shares her thoughts on my current problems.
Sometimes, we simply discover alcoves and closets full of useful items we didn't know existed. Other times, we also have a top floor, usually entered from a hidden, narrow, twisting staircase. This is where the ghosts live.
These ghosts are ill-defined, characterized by a sense of foreboding. This ghost world has existed since I was a child and follows me from dream residence to dream residence. It used to be located and often still is in the dream version of my dad's apartment over his medical office, which is also where our family lived for the first five years of my life. Ironically, that apartment was itself the top floor of the building, with nothing above it but roof.
I almost never enter the ghost world, because these presences unnerve me. When I did walk through it in the past, it was furnished with perfectly nice, though unused pieces from the '70s, the time of my childhood. When I'm lucky, I simply pass through it with a pervading sense of dread. When I'm not so lucky, disembodied shapes swirl about me, telling me to leave. I've never stayed long enough to try to figure out who they are or what they mean. If I did, perhaps I could exorcise them.
Now that I've explained the setting, I'll tell you about my recent dream. The Gryphon and I were lying on our bed in what was essentially a large, sprawling efficiency. Our bed was tucked into one corner, and behind us were two doors: one leading to Grandma's quarters and the other to the ghost world. Our apartment had a dark shag carpet reminiscent of the one from our family room in the house that's currently my Mom's house, where I lived from the age of 5 until college. The walls were covered with dark paneling, which suggested both the family room and the apartment where I lived in my hometown for a couple years after my divorce.
It was night. We were trying to sleep. Or rather, The Gryphon was sleeping, and I was unable to. Strange things started to happen. A cloud appeared above my head, and a mirror image of myself glowered down, warning me that I would hurt The Gryphon in some horrible way, that it was inevitable. Far from being intimidated, I laughed at the vision, knowing that it was a manifestation of my fears.
Then, something even more disturbing: a headless dog walked up to the bed and stood next to me, staring at me with its absent face. I muttered aloud, "Is someone trying to frighten me?" Realizing that it was a dream, but not quite reaching the stage of lucidity where I could control the events around me, I marveled aloud: "You'd think I could come up with something better than that."
As I got up from the bed to use the bathroom, I resolved that The Gryphon and I should hold a dinner party and use those extra rooms. Immediately upon deciding this, I woke up. I have learned that often you wake up from a dream when you have accomplished what it is you had to accomplish. I think that perhaps, if you assume that this dream represented both a fear of the unknown and perhaps a fear of repeating the relationship patterns that led my parents to get divorced, then I accomplished what I needed to, facing both fears: laughing them off in one case, and planning to confront them in another.
It will be interesting to see if I revisit that space in the near future and if I remember my resolve to reclaim those ghostly rooms. If so, perhaps those dream spaces will join the ranks of the dreamscapes I no longer visit: dream versions of Chautauqua, the gated community in upstate New York where my family spent many happy summer vacations; or of Hartman Center, the United Church of Christ church camp where I spent time as both a camper and a counselor. Happy places, both, but I haven't visited them in years, either in reality or in my dreams.
I also haven't returned to the ruined dream village, overgrown with weeds, that used to haunt me with a feeling of loss. In more recent years, I'd visited to find it rebuilt, inhabited by happy residents. I haven't gone back since.
I guess I learned what I needed to from these places, which is why I no longer visit them. My subconscious no longer lives there. I'll move on to the next dreamscape, and the next, to learn what I can.
A headless dog is not nearly as frightening when you realize it's imaginary.