‘All right,’ said the Cat; and this time it vanished quite slowly, beginning with the end of the tail, and ending with the grin, which remained some time after the rest of it had gone.
‘Well! I’ve often seen a cat without a grin,’ thought Alice; ‘but a grin without a cat! It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in my life!
– Lewis Carrol, Alice in Wonderland
Dreams can be complex and confusing things, not bound by the rules of logic or waking life. When I wake up slowly from a dream-filled sleep the transition can be gradual, as the elements of the vision scatter and fade before the onslaught of rational thought that (usually) marks my waking hours. Sometimes, however, there remains a last vestige, like the Cheshire Cat’s grin. Like a grin without a cat, it can certainly be an odd scrap of thought.
Take yesterday morning, for instance. I rose out of grand and extended dreams, up through layers of consciousness into the waking world, shedding the bizarre until only a single phrase remained:
This morning I awoke abruptly to the beeping of an alarm clock. There ought to be a law. The annoying sound chased away the dream I was having; my sweetie and I had gone to the moon and we were setting up in a nice little house. I was trying to figure out how to take a video to prove we were there, one that couldn’t be faked. As the beeper beeped I was trying to juggle in low gravity. It wasn’t going well.
Six minutes later, as the snooze alarm tried to convince us that yes, it really was time to get up, I was turning down the opportunity to be a drug distributor in Prague.
Six minutes after that… Let’s just say that there was a lot of snoozing this morning.
I slept poorly last night, and elected to keep trying to get a few quality z’s long after the sun was up. I was not entirely successful, but I did spend time drifting through a half-sleeping state. There are dreams of a sort to be found at this level of consciousness, different (I think) from deep-sleep dreams, more tied to possibility and the world we know, stories we whisper to ourselves while we snooze.
This morning more than once I awoke from these mental muddled ramblings feeling annoyed. There had been a continuity problem with the dream, and I had wanted to go back and re-dream the previous part to fix it. I wanted to edit the first draft of my dream. Naturally I couldn’t do that, and the frustration brought me back to full wakefulness. I know that with a little work it could have been a much more compelling dream.
I woke up through a dream this morning, which gave me a chuckle that lasted all day. I think I called him Cassius in a previous episode, but that doesn’t matter; those who know this character get an extra bonus chuckle. The dream unfolded like this:
A buddy and I were visiting Cassius, who was looking after an orbital space habitat while the owners were away. It turns out there’s not much to do when you’re just revolving around the Earth like that, but we were hanging out, having a beer or two, and generally enjoying ourselves. We were playing some game that involved throwing things when the garbage lady showed up.
The garbage lady was a hillbilly-looking girl in stained overalls, her blonde hair was long and unwashed. A grubby baseball cap was pulled down over her eyes. She didn’t say much, just went about performing a perfunctory garbage-collection job. I felt a cold draft. I looked, and sure enough she hadn’t closed the hatch all the way, and our air was escaping out into space.
“Um… hello?” Cassius said to the garbage lady, “Yeah, I’m going to be here for another eight months, and that oxygen is going to come in real handy. Thanks.”
There are many theories about why people dream and what significance (if any) those dreams have. This morning I had a dream that may shed some insight into the field. (Incidentally, this week’s Piker Press has a story that ponders this question as well.)
This morning I had a dream in which I was in a busy office, waiting my turn to talk to the overworked woman sitting behind a desk. I overheard two Americans in Prague (incidentally, I think they were executives at a company I used to work for, but that’s neither here nor there) having the following conversation:
American in Prague 1: How’s it going?
American in Prague 2: Not bad. Last night I went running. It’s been a long time, but it felt great!
My new favorite theory about dreams is that they are to help you accept all the bizarre things you see in your daily life. Dreams are often really crazy because frequently you have to make sense of the most bizarre events in the waking world. Take the above dream, for instance. It was in no doubt a response to a frightning, downright unsettling thing I saw last night. I saw someone running.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen people run here in the past. Sometimes it can be quite comical — those little old ladies can really move when they need to — but in general if you show you’re making an effort the tram driver will wait for you.
But last night was different. There was no tram nearby, no bus stop. The person was dressed in sweats and was cruising through my neighborhood at a measured pace. I accepted this image as something beyond my comprehension; perhaps somewhere the dream part of my brain was telling the waking part “don’t worry, I’ll come up with something later” so that the waking brain could continue to function. How many times does the dream brain make that promise each day?
So then the dream. The most important part of the explanation: the runner was American. There aren’t many of them in this neighborhood, but it explains the rest. Dream brain came through once again.
Last night I did something I used to do often, but it’s been months. I lit some candles, put on some directionless electronic music, disconnected the Internet, snuggled up to the radiator, and got some writing done. Back in the day this ritual would almost automatically put my head in a good place for connecting abstract symbols into meaningful (and, occasionally, interesting) prose.
It didn’t work so well last night. I’m out of practice, I suppose. I popped from one project to another, considering some fragments for posting here, thought about where next to submit my finished works, and in general got some tidying-up done, but the night wore on, the candles burned lower, and magic wasn’t happening.
Flash forward to this morning, about an hour ago. I woke up eager to finish the story I started late last night. It was a good story, tight and compact, like a steel spring, with three good characters. (Usually I only manage two.) It’s good to wake up with that feeling.
The only problem was, I hadn’t written anything like that last night. I had dreamt the whole story. Even as I lay there for a while, trying to recover details of this story, the memory of it scattered under the assault of the well-ordered thoughts of the waking world. It’s gone now, but it’s kind of comforting to know that for a while at least it was there, and that some residue might remain to inform my next masterpiece.
I helped the woman with her coat. “Diky,” she said. Thanks.
I didn’t answer. By then I was awake enough to know she wasn’t real. Not in the same way I’m real anyway (or someone’s totally yanking my chain). One thing about real people, something that sets us apart from the dark-haired Czech-speaking girl of my dreams, is that while we’re doing all this existing we have a location that we exist at.
Enter the first problem of the morning. I had no idea where I was.
This happens often enough to me (all that time on the road, I suppose), that I sometimes make a little game of it. I lie with eyes still closed as I drift back home from the Land of Nod, and try to work out just where I might be. Not a game, I guess, because at the time it is very important for me to know where I am, and sometimes opening my eyes doesn’t seem to help at all.
This morning, I was quite surprised when I eventually worked out that I was home, in Prague, enduring the Curiously Uncomfortable Couch. What the hell am I doing here? I asked myself.
Fully awake now, I’m still not sure how to answer that.
I went to bed early last night. I just hit a point where I didn’t want to start anything, and the book I picked up was boring. So I punted on the whole idea of being conscious, put on some gentle tunes, and drifted off to the Land of Nod.
Naturally, since I went to bed early, I also woke up early. I thought about all the things I could do; a few last changes to the upcoming release of Jer’s Novel Writer, a way to iron out a part in Dark War, odds and ends like that. I also realized I was thirsty. I got up, drank a bunch of water, then made my way back through the darkness to my still-warm bed. I went back to sleep. Take that, to-do list!
So it was that I didn’t get up until some thirteen hours after I went to sleep, with only a brief interruption.
I feel good.
During my supplemental slumber I had a dream. It seems like an allegory, but it was only a dream. In this dream I was in a little workshop where an old man and a middle-aged woman were weaving a rug. They were at opposite ends of the loom; the old man was in charge of working the yarn, while the woman was singing a song. In the song were the instructions for making the rug, the pattern was determined by the music. “Ah, yes,” I remembered, “Native American cultures used songs to memorize the complex patterns of their rugs.”
She finished her song, but the rug was incomplete. There was a big section right in the middle still unwoven. Neither the woman nor the old man seemed terribly bothered by this; the old man seemed unaware that there was a problem, while the woman just looked things over and nodded. “I know what I can do,” she said, but I never learned what that was.
This morning as I drifted in and out of consciousness, I had a series of dreams. (I started to say strange dreams, but that would imply that there is another sort.) At one point in a dream I was getting increasingly embarrassed by a chain of events and the people responsible for them. I was starting to wake up, I suppose, because the idea that this was a dream started to make sense. I calmed myself. Only a dream. “Maybe,” I thought, “But they don’t know that!”
I awoke lazily this morning, enjoying slipping back and forth between sleep and semi-wakefulness. While I lay there I thought of how much fun I’d had in the Bohemian Quarter recently, exploring it’s twisty-turny streets, the architecture from an earlier era, and the carnival atmosphere. I remembered being lost and stumbling into a small amusement park. I had to wander the streets of the quarter for quite some time before finally getting a feeling for the layout of the place, using a monument in a little square as my anchor point.
That memory was followed by a moment of confusion as I realized that Prague has no Bohemian Quarter. Still my memory of the place was so complete (new details easily recalled, emotional resonances, a seamless whole rather than a framework of invention), and my experiences there so varied, that I cast about trying to figure out where the real Bohemian Quarter is. I can’t find it, and the only place left to look is in a story I haven’t written yet.