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Dreamed 2014/3/15 by Rustling Leaves
I must go into the Southern sprawl tomorrow morning to meet a social obligation, but in the early afternoon I need to be in the East Hills suburbs to see a doctor (in service of transition-related medical hoop-jumping). Swamped by tasks, I can barely find the time to focus or concentrate. I'm out doing work in the yard when the troubles begin.
There's a bird feeder I hang on the chimney by a nail--a mesh bag full of acorns, with holes big enough that the woodpeckers can get them out one at a time and carry them off. I love acorn woodpeckers, so I make sure they're always supplied. Recently it's been visited by some positively huge ones--sort of crest-less Pileated-like birds, but the size of large hawks. That afternoon, something I instinctively called a "flicker" lands. It's quite unlike a real one though; another colossal woodpecker richly colored, red all over with fuschia highlights. Strange bird! It approaches the bag, and tears it right off the nail, before trying clumsily to fly away. It soon gives up, and throws the bag disdainfully onto the neighbors' roof.
I groan in dismay, but there's nothing to be done for it now. It's evening, the sun will set soon, and I'm simply too tired to tell the neighbors what happened, or go clambering up onto their house and try to remove the bag. I resolve to tell them in the next morning, and put the tools away hastily before going inside, where my grandmother is. (This grandmother died about a year ago, as it happens, but seems to be alive if not exactly well in the dream...)
Sometime around dinner, I notice that the large red bird from before has gotten into the house. It's flying around erratically, occasionally smashing things, and very successfully evading my attempts at capture. I'm scared to even approach a bird that large, but what else can I do? Several hours of mostly futile chasing ensue. I notice it's staying upstairs now, and resolve to collect myself, have a snack and then go back to it with a little more energy. My grandmother is sitting on the couch this whole time, too stunned to speak or act.
That's when I realize we're not alone.
There's another bird in the house now, a marabou stork as tall as myself, stinking of carrion and out for blood. It's trying to stalk me from around the corners, and if it can't get me it'll happily go after grandma. The huge woodpecker is still flapping around and making a mess, the stork won't let me get a moment's rest and I'm stressed out beyond all capacity for thought, too numb to even be afraid for my life. My heart is racing!
So I negotiate. I know on some level the stork isn't real (although the danger it poses is), and I am trapped with it until I find a way to respond. But if it's not a real monster, it must be special effects. Which means it has off-camera vulnerabilities! So all I have to do is...reach around behind the frame of my own vision, and...twist in the right spot...
It works! The marabou stork has been subdued, and falls apart, revealed for a complicated, electronic armature. I spare another thought to render the woodpecker smaller, pinker and more shy, and then cup it gingerly in my hands and release it out the open door, which I slam. Shuddering but with relief-adrenaline, I walk into the living room where my grandmother is putting on a DVD of Breaking Bad. I note the clock; it's 2am, and if she tries to watch one episode she'll marathon the whole disc before passing out on the couch. I gently remind her to be careful not to stay up all night, even as I know it's probably hopeless and she'll almost certainly stay up out of sheer inertia. Whatever. I'm too tired. The mess can wait, and while she'll be sore and cranky if she wakes up like that, what else can I do? You can't make someone sleep. I go to bed.
It sort of works. I wake with the sun, or nearly so. It's much too early, but the cat wants fed anyway, and I'm unspeakably haggard from last night, so I feed her and go outside into the garden. Someone has begun harvesting early vegetables (possibly I am too tired to recognize the efforts of my own past self!), with a huge bright yellow carrot and some gorgeous corn, squashes and tomatoes tempting me on to do some more work. I do it mindlessly, pulling and picking and scrubbing the soil off as I think idly about my commitments for the day. Doctor's office, social obligation. Two suburbs at extremes, and it's just barely possible to do both things. So...
I don't. I scrub clean the carrots until the brilliant yellow and purple beauties almost glow in the sunlight, and then with a sense of resignation, I get up and go back to sleep. I stir some hours later, thinking of the vegetables and what uses I'll put them to. It occurs to me it's now much too late to meet any of my commitments for the day, but I am literally too tired to care. As the sun sets again, I go back to sleep.
NOTES NEXT MORNING
- This dream was set in a doppelganger of Portland, Oregon (a place where I grew up, with many conflicted memories). I've had several dreams set there in the past six months, and all of them were distressing or unpleasant. My dreams are often set in the twisted twins of real places that I've left behind--their salient features changed, amplified or embellished, yet similar enough to be unmistakably that place.
- Social & medical obligations:
What's the solution here? I have to be able to cope better, but am barely keeping things together lately.
- I've been pursuing bottom surgery (hi, I'm trans) because my school's health plan ostensibly covers it. This has turned into a nightmare and a half, and unleashed a lot of demons from my subconscious that were either being suppressed or dissociated away as coping mechanisms. Between depression and abuse and a lifelong pattern of fairly bad luck, I am having trouble maintaining any optimism, even as my focus and productivity are going reasonably well.
- School is keeping me very busy, and I am unused to that. It's challenging (I grasp the material, but the social, communication and sensory side plus chronic pain and various mental health blahs will do that).
- Several friends and loved ones have had or are about to have surgery. The main salient difference between us? They're not struggling on a fixed income. They're disabled or neuro-atypical or dealing with other stresses around it, but at least money's not a major obstacle. I am literally just making this up as I go, hoping that some combination of squirrelled-away savings and generous help from folks will enable it to happen. I shouldn't be bitter or envious of them, but all too frequently I am. I feel abandonment anxiety, and the alienation from my body and the pain that causes have never been more intense. I can barely talk to half the people I know on any given day without risking a serious emotional breakdown because I'm just that annoyingly sensitive. Can't cut myself off from them, even temporarily--some of these folks are living with me, or vital to my everyday wellbeing. They also happen to like and care about me, so...
- The woodpeckers:
- I have forgotten to keep the suet dispenser filled recently. The neighborhood Downy Woodpeckers are going unfed! Feel guilty for neglecting them; perhaps that explains some of the bird troubles.
- I also had a fight with a friend shortly before going to sleep. Well, not a fight exactly, but the communication wires definitely got crossed in a bad way, and I strongly associate the color red with her. Might be a connection there.
- The marabou stork: I don't know what it's doing there. I don't fear marabous especially; I've only seen them in zoos. They're interesting birds and a little intimidating, but that's all. In retrospect it feels like a generic stressor, as though I was simply too agitated and uneasy in sleep and something had to be summoned to account for it.
- Grandma: She's been dead a year. She spent her last couple of years terrified of losing her autonomy, but with failing health, in a system where her family and friends could no longer provide for her. In her desperation, she manipulated and hurt some of them, so when things finally ran out, she had no recourse left. Eventually, the state intervened and declared her unfit to exercise control over her own health care, and she was placed into a program of some sort. She didn't survive long after that; her health declined even faster and after being transferred to hospice, she died perhaps a month later. I was spared the worst of caring for her, by my distance from the rest of the family (I'm sorry to say that it's a cultivated and necessary distance, at this point), so it's not like I suffered through as much of that as others. She's not the first person I think of, when I think of burdensome but valued people to whom I have obligations... Her presence in the dream is unusual, and I'm at a loss to explain it. She'd never have had the slightest interest in Breaking Bad (nor do I; I am not even sure what it's about), and I can't really see her staying up all night with a DVD. Or sitting quietly, albeit in alarm, as a horrible stork tried to do us both in.
- Metanarrative to solve my problems: The trick with the stork is pretty standard for me. I am capable of attaining lucidity, but sustaining it is hard--usually I wake up soon, shedding immersive depth like a bubble ascending from the sea floor. And working through rough spots in dreams can be important; when you can do anything with the mental space, it takes discipline and preparedness to use it well, two things I'm not great at cultivating purposefully. So I've developed techniques for merely bending the flow of troublesome dreams, smoothing out the narrative (even if the result is jarring to waking analysis) to prevent either wakeup or full lucidity. The vaguely postmodern, smart-alecky trick of selectively exploiting the irreality of dream elements is easy for my subconscious to use. As long as the justification obeys some sort of familiar logic, I can apply it selectively without disrupting the surrounding events.
Or it's standing in for magic or something. No clue.
- The vegetables: food's become work. It's hard to find food that won't make me feel ill. I just feel tired of food, of its sheer perceived necessary-ness. Courting an eating disorder? Oh, absolutely--I've all but proposed to it:
- I have difficulty with milk products.
- Large quantities of raw vegetables haven't been sitting any easier. And the produce here in the Midwest isn't as good as on the coast where I was raised. Every time I go home for a visit, the quality and variety astound me. Even our co-op's offerings are mostly brought in from other places (California, or South America for fruits), because there is no other option in our climate.
- I've recently been unable to voluntarily consume fish, short of playing tricks on myself (hiding small pieces of meat in spiced sauce and veggies and swallowing them whole works, but it's also tiresome and the resulting meals don't sit entirely well). Eating fish every single day is hard for me. I was raised doing that, and enjoy it--but it's harder here in the Midwest than where I grew up, where fresh catch was always available. And you do have to watch the mercury.
- I need to stop eating so much carbohydrate... I need to shed a significant fraction of my body mass (prerequisite for the surgery I'm seeking).
- Final thoughts: Still mulling it over. No synthesis is jumping out at me, but perhaps that's merely my own lack of practice at dream work. The individual elements are largely explicable, or at least resonant with something from waking context. It is very disorienting, however, to wake up from a dream in which you have already gone to sleep, woken up, gone back to sleep, woken up again, and then finally gone to sleep once more before waking up for real.
I see a big contrast between the simplicity of the dream and the complexity of your notes--and life. The dream's proposed solution seems direct to me: when tired, rest. Quit trying. Disappoint 'em (it's not like you ever satisfy 'em anyway). Your life's complex problems have honed powerful juggling skills, but master jugglers rest up between acts. When you let go of obligation, beauty flares up. The vegs glow. The doors of perception are cleansed.
I think you underrate your dream-skills (maybe other skills too. Fat equals stupid and poor equals stupid squared, right? ) It's rare to achieve the restrained lucidity that lets you merely tweak the dream, not either grossly reshape it or just wake up as so many overenthused lucid dreamers do. But restraint can go too far. I used to have what I called underhand lucid dreams--I refused to change nightmares, grimly trying to learn from them.
- Grandma: maybe she doesn't mean "the burden of loved ones I'm obliged to"--what she was to you--but rather your empathy for her situation: you too need autonomy and fear you'll get helped to death by well-meaning idiots. (Each feeble, but lo, their name is Legion...)
- Marabou: If I'd read your dream an hour earlier, I'd have pounced on the obvious pun here--you're being storked! Irresistible. But one hour before I read your dream, my friend Patagia had showed me her rough draft of a poem about a marabou stork who drops out of the carrion race and moves to San Francisco to drive a webcab. Swear to God--the first time in my life "marabou" had any meaning for me beyond a dictionary definition. Comic synchronicity! So I pass it on, in the spirit of Jung--your marabou might just mean dropping out, flippin' responsibility the bird...
- Tweak the intruder: what if you'd tweaked yourself instead? Become a marabou and pecked your annoying guest out? Or had a little squawk talk. Maybe the marabou is just grumpiness and came to make you feel your own frustrations so you'd get blunter with idiots. Or it wants you to eat delicious yummy carrion--hmm, maybe not. But I do feel it's prompting you to change your viewpoint or redefine a problem. Ann Faraday's The Dream Game has a whole chapter on scary-looking intruders who are frustrated underdogs wanting to be heard, and offering help if you do.
- The pileated bird feels friendly to me. If you run into this bird again, you could try tweaking yourself lucidly to become a similar bird and see if you can have a talk. (Of course my stuck-record advice "become a bird yourself" may be unconscious influence--my friend Patagia tends to dream she's a bird, and the ghost of Jung seems to be forcing you two together in my mind...)
Consider a spectrum of lucid dreamers, from...
I grew up an extreme stoic, but crept to the center as I learned my chronic health problems worsened if I felt too much pain; these days I rest more and have less patience with stalkers or frustration dreams. I'd call you stoic, though not as extreme: you spend hours frustrated, but eventually do what you have to to get some rest.
- Happiness junkies: pain-averse, impatient with difficulty... in the past, these folks often ignored dreams. But today, some want to learn lucidity and treat their dreams as cheap vacations (or drug trips). Others learn one interpretive system (preferably New Age) and use that to wall out all the shadows they should be learning from. In the end such dreamers' dreams are dull.
- Dreamers who like challenges: they recognize some pain and frustration is inherent in growth, but won't stand for abuse and see frustration dreams and nightmares as signs they're doing something wrong. Dreams here in the middle tend to be adventures--and educational.
- Nightmare sufferers: trapped in repeated warnings they can't act on effectively (may not know how to read the warnings, or may lack the resources to act, or are pain junkies, or only feel virtuous when suffering). But scattered among these trapped souls are some stoics who could change their dreams but just won't. These dreamers mine for insight and expect prospecting to be rough. Most of this group are severely gifted.
Do I advise heading for the middle? Yes. Not to sappiness (America so needs more big spoiled babies). But indulge your feelings more. Your waking life is complex, and solving its problems forces you toward stoicism just to get through; your dreams reflect that restraint, I think, when they can and should be a lab where you're free to practice drastic un-stoicism. I'm unsure what that shadow side of you might be--irascible or surreal or whimsical or simple or lazy...
Resting when tired.
LISTS AND LINKS:
birds in general -
giving and generosity -
house and home -
fears and anxieties -
lucid dreams -
dream puns -
fruits and vegs -
workaholism and burnout -
false waking and nested dreams - more by Rustling Leaves:
The Mountain, The Magpie, and the Road -
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