Dream state

In my dreams, I can fly.

When I was younger, this manifested itself less as flying and more as floating, always with very great concentration and at a very low height. I would scrunch my eyes and curl up like a baby, focusing all my energy on hovering about 6 inches above the ground. I was so exhilarated at being able to do this, I didn’t even care that such “flying” gained me very little — not a better view, nor the thrill of soaring. I was overjoyed I could do it at all.

Later, when I was in college, I had a dream where I could soar. I was flying, swooping around high up in the atmosphere, watching others do the same. We were free as birds, but we also knew there were perils in going too high. We’d heard that doing so put one in danger of popping through the invisible membrane separating the atmosphere from outer space, and that once you breached that line, you could never get back.

I flew and flew, higher and higher, looking around at my fellow fliers in excitement. Then, with a gentle “pop,” I burst through the invisible wall. In reality, freed from the Earth’s atmosphere and gravity, I suppose you’d float away endlessly into outer space. In my dream, I skidded about eight feet beyond the barrier, sliding to a stop as though outer space were made of whipped cream.

I was suspended, hovering just above the atmosphere, where I could see the other, smarter fliers continuing to swoop and soar below me, just out of reach. But I was stuck. Forever. Because I had insisted on going too high.

It’s not hard to figure out what that dream signified: I was just beginning to explore relationships with women, and clearly I felt that if I let myself go too far, or enjoy myself too much, disaster would follow. The dream was incredibly vivid; I can still see myself suspended above the other fliers, my arms and legs hovering uselessly, desperate to get back to the safety where I’d come from — but unable to do so.

I don’t fly much in dreams anymore, but I can still breathe underwater. This is another dream skill I’ve had since childhood, and it’s always the same whether I’m in danger of drowning or simply goofing around in the water. I open my mouth, and to my great surprise, I can selectively suck the oxygen out and stay under indefinitely. I’m delighted at this discovery every time, and almost every time, I still believe I can do it even after I’ve woken up. It’s so real, I sometimes think about it when I’m in a pool or the ocean.

Lately, though, my recurring dreams have been less fantastic. I keep seeing the same sprawling hotel, for example, in precisely the same detail. I might be dreaming about having a meeting, or rushing to make a flight, or finish a project, or going out for a drink — or all of the above, if I’m experiencing a stress dream — but somehow the action always revolves around this same hotel complex. The elevator, the floors, the view over the balcony into the lobby area — they’re the same every time.

It’s not a hotel I’ve ever seen in real life. I think if I ever walked into it, for real, I’d probably faint. Where did it come from? And why does my subconscious keep dredging it up, over and over?

My dreams are often easy to read. During spells of self-doubt, when I worry I’ve bitten off more than I can chew on a project, or fear that someone I like will discover a weakness I have, I’ve dreamt that I killed someone — either accidentally, or because I was in danger, though those extenuating circumstances don’t keep me from completely freaking out that I’ll be discovered. And when I feel overwhelmed by some task or personal circumstance, I’ll dream about rushing to catch a plane, leaving the tickets at home, going to the wrong airport, running to the gate on legs that suddenly won’t function. That kind of thing.

A couple of nights ago, I had a typically easy-to-interpret dream. I was driving the Satanvertible through a town in South Carolina (the place I got my first speeding ticket, at age 15, with my dad asleep in the passenger seat). The two-lane road got narrower and narrower, and rose until it was elevated above a ditch filled with water, to the right. The curves became more pronounced even as the other cars sped up. I had a car right on my tail, and traffic whizzed by in the other direction.

I sped up as much as I could, trying to hug the center line, but eventually, inevitably, I lost control and my car began to careen off the road. The Satanvertible plunged downward into the ditch, and all I could think was, My insurance company is going to dump me for sure. Crap.

I next found myself at a diner nearby, where everyone in the place agreed with me that yes, that road is too high up, too narrow, and in need of guardrails. “You wouldn’t believe how many accidents there are on that road!” one old-timer barked. But there was nothing I could do — I couldn’t sue the state for having a dangerous road. And my car was now in a watery ditch. But it wasn’t my fault! It wasn’t my fault!

And then I woke up.

19 responses to “Dream state”

  1. PB says:

    LP – I always love how your writing feels so effortess and yet so pristine, like iceskating with words.

    My stress dreams: I am pregnant and have no idea how (really, this was my nightmare as a squeaky clean teen with Catholic inclinations), I show up and there is a test that I did not study for, I move to a new apartment that is crumbling and unstable but spacious, I shout at people and their hair blows back. Hmmmmm, I always try and attribute these to life events with mixed Freudian results.

    I need more flying dreams.

  2. I was overjoyed I could do it at all.

    Well naturally — who wouldn’t be? I love the image of you scrunching and curling and focusing on your ability to float.

    once you breached that line, you could never get back

    No no, the big thing to watch out for in that scenario is that you fly to close to the sun and the wax melts.

    I’m a big fan of dream narration, though I’ve had mixed results with it myself. Check out W.S. Burroughs’ My Education to see a master doing it. Some of my efforts here.

  3. Beth W says:

    last night I dreamt a whole bunch of snot came out of my nose.
    I have a cold.

  4. Rogan says:

    I share your flying and underwater breathing dreams from time to time. Your underwater breathing description is about perfect — I will find myself holding my breath, turning red in the face, about to burst, when finally my lungs give out, the rush of water pours in, and like magic, I am breathing underwater! Terror gives way to the ecstasy of weightlessness and exploration.

    Have you ever had someone else’s dream? I once dreamed a story so elaborate, and so foreign to my own life experience, that I woke with a strong sense of a mission that I had been called to share that story with the world. I rolled over, woke Susan, and recounted every detail before I could forget. I find this helps cement things, and by morning I can still remember the dream. To this very day I still feel a personal duty to develop this story, as a book or something, even though it doesn’t feel like mine.

  5. Tim says:

    For years and years I’ve dreamed repeatedly that I run into a guy I knew in high school whom I haven’t seen since. Invariably, I’ll say to him, “Wow! I’m so glad to see you because I’ve been dreaming about running into you for years. Finally it’s come true.” In the dream I’ll feel very relieved that at long last I’ve run into him. Then, I wake up and it was all just (another) dream.

  6. I often had flying dreams until some point in my teenage years; I would guess sixteen, but it could be fourteen. I always took off like a goose, with a field in front of me, running and flapping until I lifted off. Sometimes I had people chasing me and I needed to flee, but always, that was just the one way one could possibly fly. Something that was always significant was that I always had an obstacle in front of me that I had to get enough height to get over to avoid dying: telephone wires, a fence, a line of trees, a building. And once I was past that obstacle, I enjoyed adjusting my altitude by flapping my arms more or pointing downward. I always landed successfully and always enjoyed my time up in the air once I got there. And I don’t have flying dreams anymore.

  7. And Rogan, I too have dreams that feel like they should be written into a story or a book. They’re like reading the same book over and over; I have four or five complete sets of plot, character and setting that I dream. And while I dream it, it’s like reading a familiar book, too. “Oh, okay. This happens next. I remember.” The story never changes, yet it’s still a thrilling plot. And no, I haven’t managed to write them down. I remember them after I wake, but they’re like my private books that my subconscious has come up with.

  8. Rogan says:

    7. My own story-dream squares me up with that most stereotypical Los Angeleno cliche, the thirty-something with a screenplay that he will get written just as soon as he can find someone to write it. Dave? You busy?

  9. Marleyfan says:

    I too share the dream that I can breathe underwater.

    My favorite, is when I wake up from a good dream, want to go back into it, and can.

    I may have commented on this before, but I have dreams that then become reality, sometimes it can be spooky…

  10. Dave says:

    I used to have the flying dreams when I was a teenager. I was aware that I was dreaming, so I decided to try flying, and it worked. Really fun. After a number of weeks of this, I decided I was tired of controlling my dreams, so I sort of made myself unaware again. Now I wish I could get the lucid-dreaming power back.

  11. Jeremy Zitter says:

    I very rarely remember my dreams anymore. I wonder what that means.

    In the last dream I really remember vividly, I was tasked with putting a new stereo in a friend’s Lamborghini. But I couldn’t figure it out and ended up taking almost the entire car apart. And then being unable to put it back together. Stressful. Oh, and then there was this dream in which I was eating a delicious sandwich.

  12. Long Time Lurker says:

    Your dream reminds me of the conclusion of an older Great Whatsit post.

  13. Gale says:

    Loved this post. Do you ever have falling dreams? I had those growing up all the time, and would wake with a shudder thankful I was in one piece on the bed, rather than chunked out in little pieces, broken from the fall. Makes sense that accidents are dotting your dreamscape; if only your subconscious was your insurance agency – well, maybe it is.

  14. LP says:

    Hi, Lurker! You must be a serious lurker, or have an excellent memory, to bring back Superman circa 2006. Nice link.

    Gale: I have also had falling dreams, though now I tend to have stumbling dreams. This week I dreamt I tripped on the bricks in my back patio, and nearly threw myself out of bed.

    PB: I’ve had more “taking a test I didn’t study for” dreams than I can count, though they’ve dropped off in number over the years (thank god). How many times in my subconscious have I forgotten to drop a class, then taken the F and failed to graduate? How many more times must I do it?

    All in all, I’d rather dream of eating Jeremy’s sandwich.

    Trixie, that’s an opening for you.

  15. trixie says:

    that’s what she said

  16. Stella says:

    When reading Harry Potter books (remember him – wizarding school boy, big in the early 21st century?) I would frequently dream of flying on a broomstick and other magical experiences. It was magic.

  17. swells says:

    BTW, I thought trixie’s “that’s what she said” was in response to “that’s an opening for you.”

  18. 27: you mean, it’s not?

  19. trixie says:

    swells and kate: it was indeed in response to “that’s an opening for you”. i thought that was a fine place to say that.