Two weeks ago, a stunning dream visited me in a deep sleep.
In this dream, I get a call from one of my editors at the major newspaper where I freelanced for many years.
The editor says, “Yeah, so we were wondering if you could kill this dragon that’s been terrorizing everyone and file a story by five o’clock. Can you do that?”
(When you’re a freelancer, “no” is not a word in your vocabulary, unless there is a potential conflict of interest. A dragon is not a conflict of interest, apparently, to my subconscious.)
Cut to: Me standing outside as this dragon flaps its heavy leather wings through a street lined in brownstones I’ve never seen before in a city I do not know.
The air is the color of late afternoon. I know, and do not know, where I am at the same time. Only in dreams is this doubling of what is known and not known, possible.
People are running and yelling and ducking and dodging— which is exactly the thing you do when a dragon the size of a commercial aircraft dives down and stirs up the asphalt dust with the force of its wings, the way this one did in my dream?
And then this thing screams this banshee scream, a noise so loud I jump in surprise, but I do not run. I stare at this leathery, terrible thing from my vantage point on the sidewalk of this urban street in the city of my mind.
How do you kill a dragon? I think to myself. A crossbow?
The dragon curves around and swings back to make another pass over the people who are running in circles, such is their panic.
How do you kill a dragon? Still, I do not move. I am watching this lizard flip a parked car with an arced tip of its wing. A surface-to-air missile?
The dragon turns its head and considers me, whole. It knows what I’m thinking. Or does it? I stare back at this mythical creature. I gaze, unblinking, into its golden eye, round as a moon, ominous.
Boy, that thing is going to be angry when I kill it. It turns it’s head from me, focuses considerable energy into kicking over a VW Bug with a neat smash.
A woman shrieks, her terror snapping in the air like a curtain in an open window tossed by a wet wind.
The last thing I thought before waking is: I wonder if the Army Navy Surplus Store carries rocket launchers? Damn, I gotta hurry— my deadline is five o’clock.
I woke up.
I had knocked over my water glass in my sleep again, the second time in two weeks. The light of that particular morning stood still, diffused by clouds pregnant with rain.
I know exactly when my hand intersected with the glass. It was the moment when the dragon screamed the first time, ripping the air with sound, making my ears ring and ring.
I looked around the room. Everything but the water glass was exactly as I left it when I drifted into the nighttime world.
Oh, that golden rain-promising light illuminated everything in the room. The dogs considered me from the end of the bed. I sat forward. And I laughed. Their tails thumped the covers in tandem.
What in the world? Rocket launchers? Five o’clock deadlines? Dragons?
What is it that makes a dream, a dream, and a nightmare, a nightmare?
Is it anxiety that divides the two?
A sense of helplessness?
Remember that my dream did not feature any helplessness at all. It drew from my recent past of daily deadlines and fair-minded editors with straightforward questions: Kill the dragon. Five o’clock deadline. Yes?
Note also that I watched the dragon destroy objects, unnecessary objects, but it did not kill any people.
And remember I said the dragon was neither woman nor man— that indicates to me it is an idea. And like any strong idea, it wants to have its way and it will be loud about it.
Also, consider the following: I don’t know much about weapons. What I do know is specific to either an historical moment or thinly filtered through the news I read.
The last time I remember considering rocket launchers was when I watched Charlie Wilson’s War. Five years ago. (The brain’s filing system does interesting things when you dream. I wonder whether dreams are the re-categorization of your memories in their entirety?)
The rest, I do not know. I meet daily deadlines for my blog. A deadline is a known and familiar thing to me, as potent as an idea— and I have no problem imposing creative deadlines on myself either.
Give me a deadline, me, and I will have no fear.
As for the dreaming itself as an act, I am aficionada of those nighttime cinematic moments, the fabric of self unfurling into a three-part structure of a story— beginning, middle, end.
They are Technicolor, these dreams of mine, richer in tone than real life, more saturated in physical hues and texture than what I notice on most addlepated days.
Even with my childhood insomnia, I was a dreamer, a real dreamer, and my nighttime self went many places even my well-nourished imagination could not. I was not always myself— that was interesting. I woke to a story most mornings, which is not a bad way to find your way back into the sunlit world.
Dreaming proved the clearest way to try on new concepts and discard them as a writer, the way you might ill-fitting clothes in a dressing room. (In real life, I hang up what I try on and return it, but with dreams, I already own the things, so I toss what I do not need on the dreaming floor.)
And, as a child, I woke amazed daily to find myself in this world, and not the one I left so abruptly on the slow opening of my eyelids. I did this so often, that this, too, became part of the framework of myself as a person and a writer.
Here I am, an adult who dreams nightly. Here I am, an adult who laughs when she wakes in the morning. The dream surprises me. The day surprises me. How fine. How marvelous.
And, if you are a dreamer like me, you know that the passport of your nocturnal world is full of stamps and signs.
I never could put stock by those dream dictionaries and their list of interpretations. Cloud equals a new idea! Bird equals desire for freedom! Man in green trench coat holding grapefruit equals a quest for brotherly love!
Those dream tomes were too cheaply printed and too easy on the hard ideas. These gimme books by the cash register at the big box bookstores wanted to be as prolific as a tarot pack with its opaque but sincere matrices of symbolism.
Yet these things didn’t have the centuries, nor the stories, nor the cultural memory to back up their notions. (Dragon equals a fiery friend!)
All dream dictionaries invite a watered down imitation of the Jungian archetypal world.
The dreamers I know with fat nocturnal passports pass over dream dictionaries with a secret inward-facing smile. They know there is nothing good there, nothing as fine as the dream and the dreamer.
And you don’t want clumsy hands fumbling with your symbolism at the border between dreaming and waking.
The border guard that mans the post between waking and sleeping wears many uniforms, but you hope the one who will handle your night passport is a poet or a Jungian at heart.
One who knows the stamps. One who knows the signs. One who knows whether you will pass through into the waking world today with clear eyes and the pressed garments of a settled conscious mind.
Let whomever stands at the border between dreams and their interpretation not turn you away, nor confuse you.
Choose your interpreters carefully is what I suggest, or allow the dream to remain a dream, just as song sometimes is merely a song and not a representation of all that is.
Weeks slide between me and the dream of the deadline and the dragon the way a shoji screen will alter the dimensions of a room— and its purpose.
I remember this dream through the filter of the now and not the morning that I had the dream.
Time changes perception and perception changes the perceiver, the way the dream changes the dreamer and the dreamer alters the dream.
And in my dreams there are dragons—
Dragons that cut the atmosphere like sharp shears to silk fabric.
And in my dreams there are deadlines—
I know how to meet my deadlines.
*I accidentally took down Bluebird Blvd. tonight as I was trying to post a new story. Please forgive this one. last. reposted. story from March 8, 2012. Thank you so much for your patience— Courtenay Bluebird.