Monday, January 19, 2009

Empty Tents & Barrel Rolls: A 20-Year Dream

The third Monday in January is a day honoring the life and labor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., African-American civil rights leader and proponent of non-violent direct action. The 31 Dreamers have much in common with the late Dr. King in that we are known for kicking things off with the words, "I Have A Dream." Thank you MLK for making this blog (among other things) possible.

A couple weeks back, a dreamer named Megan sent in this dream from her childhood in Michigan:
As a kid I had a recurring nightmare
about this vast, open, desolate field,
horizon to horizon—no hills, no trees,
nothing grew as far as my eyes could see.
There were huge, hulking, rotting windmills
spinning so slowly in the breeze.
There was also a giant white circus tent,
glowing yellowish white.
Inside there was nothing,
just empty space.
I told Megan that dreams from a long time ago are difficult to read and asked that she send a more recent dream. The other day she submitted this one, dreamt in Philadelphia:
I'm in a airplane with my sister and my mom
and a bunch of other people I don't know.
It has seats but no overhead luggage compartments,
So it has a high rounded ceiling.
The plane slowly turns upside down
kind of like an amusement park ride.
Folks are strapped into their seats
but I slip out and am hanging upside down,
holding onto the armrest. I'm not scared.
The plane rights itself. I settle back into my seat.
I'm sitting next to my sister, but she is 9 years old—
the age she was when I moved out (in reality she is 22).
We are both wearing oversized white t-shirts as dresses,
like you would wear to the beach.
I've got a protective arm around her.
Oh yeah . . . my mom is much younger too.
Two dreams from one dreamer, dreamt decades apart. They are very different from each other but also have a lot in common, being from someone who has grown and changed over time. If a person's waking life is one continuous story, interrupted by dreams, then isn't a person's dreaming life one continuous story, interrupted by periods of being awake? Y'all can weigh in on the comments section. I need to talk to our dreamer for a minute.

Megan, your recurring childhood dream didn't present many options on what looks like the flat, Midwestern cornfield without the corn. You were a child, and the apparatuses of the world seemed so huge and mechanical and ponderous in their workings. In the middle of these doldrums sat a beacon of hope—a place to explore where marvelous things would be happening. But when you get there it was empty. Bummer. No circus today. No circus tomorrow. Maybe never any circus ever. But that was long ago. Since then you've learned that if you want a circus to happen, sometimes you just need to make your own. 

As a kid that dream felt like a nightmare because the empty tent presented you with a question: "Well?" And you didn't know the answer. Years later you'd learn that an empty circus tent presents endless opportunities. But no time for that now because you're on a plane, flying high above and away from the bleak horizons of your childhood, moving through life with your fam and that anonymous throng we so often meet in dreams. Everyone's strapped in but you just hang loose (quite literally) when the pilot decides to show off his aerial stuntology. You're cool with that. I sense that everyone else made themselves so snug in their seats because if they went all topsy-turvy without a safety belt, they'd freak the heck out. But not you. You're used to life's upsets and can settle back into a normal routine more easily. 

However, this aeriel spin is a mixed metaphor and there you are looking at your mother and sister of 13 years ago, from a time of transition when you set forth in the world to leave the windmills and circus tents of childhood behind. You and little sis are unified in your youth, wearing the generic attire sported by so many youngsters (newsflash Megan: giant white T's aren't just for beaches anymore!) You're arm around her is you saying, "It's okay. Sometimes life spins you around but if you just relax and take in stride, nothing can set you back. Look at me: I made this far." She's lucky that she has you to look to. Maybe you wish you'd had that when you were 9 or 18 or 22 or whatever your age is now. Moms are no substitute for the wisdom of big sisters.

I'm noticing a couple of subtle threads running throughout your dreams. One is a circular theme: the windmills and airplane spinning, the circus tent being presumably circular, and the cycle of repetition in your recurring nightmare bends time itself into a circle. It gives your whole dreamworld a carnivalesque feel with its pavillions and plane stunts that are "like an amusement park ride." I even imagine that a little carpentry could turn the windmills of yore could ferris wheels. Another theme is the sky as a prominent fixture in these dreams, as an expansive and intimidating backdrop in one, and something that you travel through in the other. 

Our human relationship to the skies has also had a carny sort of spin to it for centuries. I was reading this book called The Invention of Clouds that tells of early ballooneers and parachutists who drew crowds of tens of thousands with their nutty stunts—stuff so death-defying and made only more remarkable in that no one had ever done them before. Even the ground-bound amateur science buffs ran lectures like grandiose sideshows that had people gasping flabbergastedly on the edge of their seats. Can you imagine? A lecture about clouds receiving that sort of reaction from people today? Megan, I think it should. The world is such a vast and wonderful place. And next time you enter into an empty circus tent, you'll know just what to do.

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