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Saturday, May 15, 2010

If you get stung in your dreams, can you go into anaphylactic shock in real life?

I've always been jealous of my wife's dreams. She gets scenes, characters, hell, entire plotlines. She wakes up and says, "I had this awesome dream! I have to write this!" Her plots seem to just come to her, while I have to work for mine.

Like most people, probably, I tend not to remember my dreams, and to think I didn't have any. I've read that everyone has dreams, and if you think you don't you're just not remembering them, but it's probably not unreasonable to suppose the fact that I get so little sleep plays a factor in either my frequency of dreaming or my ability to remember them. Maybe when I do sleep I have to sleep more deeply or something.

When I do remember my dreams, they're of the most pathetic and mundane variety. I kid you not, I dream I'm grading papers, or teaching, or driving my kids somewhere. Maybe I don't remember 'em because they're so damn unmemorable. I also get the universal stress dreams. My most frequent one seems to be of the oh-no-I-forgot-to-put-on-pants variety. (What's odd about that one is I'm always terrified that everyone's going to notice, but pretty much nobody ever does. I become a master of misdirection and hiding. Hmm. Maybe there's a story there.)

Once in a long while, like maybe every year or two, I have a truly awful dream, and I discovered years ago that I had kind of an interesting ability when it came to dreams like that.

The night before last, for example, I dreamt that I was doing some spring cleaning (see?!) and while I was cleaning an outdoor storage compartment (which we don't actually have) I disturbed an enormous hive of wasps. Now you have to understand that wasps fill me with the most unmanly terror. The worst thing about being an adult is that I can't run to someone else when I find a wasp's nest; being the one who has to face them down pretty much is my definition of being a grown-up.

Anyway, this nest seems to have been the deathstar of wasps, because I was being chased by dozens of them (I'm pretty sure bees congregate in numbers but wasps don't, but I didn't have time to argue with my dream logic, mmkay?) I was also dimly aware that I may have released other wasps into my home, but I had my own problems at the moment. In real life wasps aren't all that fast, and you can outrun them if you run ten or twenty feet or so, but these suckers were tenacious. I was sprinting (well, as best a two-hundred-and-mumblety pound guy can sprint, anyway) and each time I looked back, they were still on my tail. Most of them hadn't stung me yet, though two or three might have gotten me, but I knew that I didn't have a lot of endurance, and there was no way I'd be able to keep this up for long. Any second now, I would lose my steam and get stung by an epic number of angry wasps.

And then my brain did this strange thing it's done a handful of times in the past. As I was running, I had this moment of This isn't actually happening you know. This is a dream, and I don't have to accept this outcome. I can wake up.

So I did, and I lay there in the darkness with my heart pounding for a while before I decided to get up and get some grading done.

As I mentioned, this isn't the first time I've opted out of an unpleasant dream. I remember doing it once when I dreamt that my father was dying, and another time when I dreamt I was going to jail for something I didn't do. And other times I can't specifically recall. I always thought it was kind of cool that I could do that. I don't really know a thing about lucid dreaming, but this seemed to have that sort of quality of exercising control over your dreams.

As I was driving to work in the morning, it struck me that this "feature" had a downside. Maybe the reason I never dream storylines is because I can opt out of unpleasantness in my dreams. How can you have a story without unpleasantness? My wife's dreams have characters getting tortured, captured by enemies, accused of crimes, discovering they're clones. Hell, I wouldn't make it halfway through one of her dreams, and so I can't possibly make it to the cool resolution either!

I actually have gotten ideas from dreams from time to time, but they're always premises or things like that, not full blown plots with conflicts and resolutions.

I wonder if there's a way to train my brain to not wake up, but to work out the happy ending to whatever awful situation it generates.

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