Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Stranded on foreign planet. Send translator.

This morning I had another strange dream. Most of it has disappeared, but I remember that a bunch of adults—including myself and my ex-husband—had returned to an elementary school class as students. We weren't being punished; it wasn't remedial education, it was more like a reminder of what being a kid was like. We had a vocabulary test of some sort, in a bright, cheerful room with a blackboard at the front, a smiling teacher, and colorful cartoon animals on the walls. We sat in little chairs with attached desks, and miraculously we fit. For the test, we had to come up with five different words containing the word "comfort." I went into my usual competitive-thinking mode, coming up with "comfortless," "comfortable," "comforting," "discomfort," and "comforter." 

My ex-husband could not come up with a single word. (This is unfair to his character. He was in fact an excellent storyteller, with a real ear for language and a talent for onomatopoiea.) He was forced to play a game of charades with the teacher, telling her about some little cushioned objects they used at his construction job, trying to work his way to—what? Comforter? Watching, I felt both smug and embarrassed. And then my alarm clock made its pinball sound and I woke up, silently mouthing words to myself as I swam into consciousness: Comfortable. Comfortless. Comforting.

I wonder whether this dream has anything to do with my mild aphasia. Although it might come as a surprise to anybody who reads my writing, I'm often stumped for words and names when I'm speaking. An old-fashioned pencil sharpener becomes "That thing, you know, with the handle. That turns." Or I come up with the wrong word altogether: "Put your dirty clothes in the dishwasher. I mean the oven. I mean the washing machine!" At my last internship, I told my supervisor that my brain was like a room full of filing cabinets that were stuck shut. All the information was in there, but some of the doors were jammed. If I had a particularly nonverbal day, I could tell her that my filing cabinets were locked, and she would know what I meant.

My husband, however, is special because he can read my mind. Early on in our relationship, I was trying to tell him about a movie I had seen. I couldn't remember the title, so I decided to list the actors. This also failed. "It had, you know, that guy, the weird one. He dances in that music video?" That was all it took. Derek said, "Christopher Walken." From that moment, I knew we were meant to be together. He was my translator!

Perhaps the dream expresses my sadness at being distanced from my translator, my companion, my comforter. In New York during the week, I watch myself flail around, miming a life. Everybody else has all the words. I stay busy, eat alone, and dream.

1 comment:

  1. School dreams are pretty common, and I think they often are generalized anxiety dreams, i.e., dreams that sort of express a backlog of anxiety that was unexpressed during the waking day. But I don't think that's the case here, mainly because there's very little anxiety within the dream. The classroom is a cheerful place, the teacher is nice, and somehow you fit in the desks. So I think some other symbology is at work, perhaps something to do with growth and maturation. You didn't go back to a high-school or college classroom; you went all the way back to elementary school, it seems. You are explicitly revisiting childhood, and not just childhood but the school of childhood, a place where the main task is to learn, develop, and grow. So the dream itself may be some sort of growth task for you.

    In this post, and in your previous dream post, you write poignantly of your sense of isolation in New York, so it would make sense for "comfort" to be a salient notion for you. Yet, even as you long for comfortable, comforting, and comforter, you are daily presented with discomfort and comfortless. The notions that are the opposite of comfort are perhaps even more salient than comfort itself, right now. This part of your dream reminds me of a section in Freud's The Uncanny where he shows etymologically how the German word heimlich changed meaning over time from "homely," i.e., comforting and familiar, to "uncanny," i.e., discomforting and unfamiliar. Freud said that what makes the uncanny uncanny, instead of merely scary, is that it contains a thread of the familiar and known, which makes it frightening in a different way from the completely unfamiliar.

    So in that light I think of your ex-husband and your current husband. It's interesting that it was your ex-husband in the dream with you and not your current husband; perhaps because you were in a place that recreated immaturity, the elementary-school classroom, and your ex may represent something you've now grown beyond. His inability to think of a word actually looks like a projection of your own aphasia onto him, which could account for the embarrassed part of your reaction to his poor performance. "Everybody else has all the words," you write. Perhaps your dream illustrates a wish that you had grown beyond your aphasia, too.

    These are some really rich dreams you're having. I think you're going through a lot right now, some of it on deeper levels, and I think it would be a good idea to give yourself plenty of space to go through whatever it is you're going through, and dream whatever it is you dream.

    P.S. Lovely writing!