A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 183

 Mystic, vegetarian, and dream diarist Emanuel Swedenborg.

Wednesday, December 30

On Twitter, I found out that a group of British psychoanalysis researchers have been attempting to track and analyze humans’ apparently rising number of dreams during the lockdown. You can discover some of their activity at @LockdownDreams or at their website.

The researchers solicit play-by-play accounts of dreams, and lots of people from across the globe have apparently responded. But the shrinks don’t give the rest of us much access to these accounts. On a recent Zoom chat, they kept remarking how interesting the whole phenomenon is, and they read a bit from Sigmund Freud’s speculations about dreams. Hey, I don’t want the contributors’ names and addresses, just a little bit of what they are dreaming. (There’s more to be found on Twitter at the hashtag #LockdownDreams but it’s hard to know how seriously to take the comments there.)

Picking up on this theme, The Guardian says all this dreaming may relate to our experience of “financial hardship, social isolation, loss of our normal roles, and, for some, loss of loved ones. These stresses are real and present, others are feared or existential. Uncertainty and unpredictability dominate our experience.”

I gather that people dream a lot about airports or other forms of travel. Maybe they are seeking some means of escape—or maybe, as I suspect, they simply experience some form of motion while sleeping and that, in turn, prompts a memory of travel.

I have been having an increased number of dreams for several years, possibly as a result of a prescription drug. What I am noticing now, though, is a greater level of dread that seems present irrespective of the content of a dream. I think it is tied to the pandemic, fear of death, and the very dark winter nights—darker by far than winter nights in the street-lit city.

There’s a very amusing rumination on dreaming available on the BBC. Essayist Ian Sansom describes his own frequent-dreaming experience and that of author Graham Greene, who published a dream diary, which he’d kept for decades, called A World of My Own.

Sansom admits to keeping some notes about his dreams but not a formal dream diary: He says it’s the creepy types—Kafka, William Burroughs, and Emanuel Swedenborg—who have kept dream diaries. Then Sansom describes how he has been dreaming a lot lately—prompting his mother to ask “are you secretly eating a lot of cheese?” She’s always been suspicious of cheese, he admits. He describes a backyard barbecue dream, with a horse present, and a vivid supermarket dream, in which he makes love to a beautiful sometimes-French, sometimes-Italian woman in the bread aisle. 

In contrast to such quotidian stuff, Graham Greene’s dreams are like “little movie pitches,” featuring the likes of Nikita Khrushchev, Francois Mitterrand, authors Robert Graves and T.S. Eliot, and several popes. 

Sansom concludes that perhaps the reason we’re dreaming so much is that with the state and lockdown authorities being so intrusive, dreams are the only place left for us to hide—”unexplored territories of the self.” 

Dinner: Tonight we’ll again have the Middle Eastern egg dish shakshuka with feta cheese and a salad. On New Year’s, we’ll have pork chops sautéed with apples and the Southern must-haves hoppin’ john (black-eyed peas and rice) plus garlicky Swiss chard as a stand-in for collard greens.

Entertainment: Episodes of the 1982 BBC adaptation of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 118

Marcello floats in 8 1/2.

Wednesday, July 22

“And might it not be… that we have appointments to keep in the past, in what has gone before and is for the most part extinguished…?”

—W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz

And might it not be that we keep such appointments via our dreams?

“One may be born with the potential for a prodigious memory, but one is not born with a disposition to recollect; this comes only with changes and separations in life—separations from people, from places, from events and situations… It is, thus, discontinuities, the great discontinuities in life that we seek to bridge.

—Oliver Sacks, An Anthropologist on Mars

In a dream, it is night and I am with my mother (who died in 2005) at the Memphis house where I grew up. Distantly, I hear her say something like “I’ll be right back.” And she disappears. I search for her in the dark, calling “Geneva” out the back door, then up into the attic via a closet that contains the furnace, then out the front door into the darkness. There is no response. I look out the front and just see the grassy lawn—no one is around.

Freud says all dreams are attempts at wish fulfillment. So maybe this was an attempt to get my mother to return. But my dreams are quite varied and only a few can be interpreted as wish fulfillment.

Places that often appear in my dreams: my grandmother’s dark old house, my childhood home, Macy’s department store and its quaint old wooden-stair escalator, jazz and classical music concerts, and trains—particularly subways both in Boston and New York. What’s with the trains? Is there a sense of movement in sleep, as with Marcello Mastroianni’s floating in the air at the beginning of Fellini’s 8 1/2? And what’s with Macy’s??

It is not unusual for me to make angry, incoherent noises in my sleep—and for Emily to wake me up. In a recent case, I dreamed I was asleep, stretched out somehow inside a car—probably my mother’s Plymouth Valiant. The covers are comfy—then somebody breaks into the car and snatches away the blanket. I begin shouting for this person to bring back the covers. 

Another such case: I dream there is an intruder. I see him standing in the living room, turned in profile to me, and behind him I can see the oval, gold-framed mirror that stood on the wall at my childhood home. I can also see Emily in the next room, lying in bed asleep. Angry and afraid, I begin to shout at the man, and to throw things at him, including lightweight barbells. My shouts cause Emily to wake me up.

And yet another night terror: At our house on Long Island, I am looking out the side door. It is dark, but I can see that the trees are filled with large, threatening birds, flapping their wings and cawing ominously. I begin yelling at them to go away. Wake up, Hardy, says Emily.

She says that in such circumstances, she isn’t sure what to do. Should she wake me—or will that just frighten me more?

Not all of my dreams are terrors. Here’s another, peaceful reverie.

I go for a walk after dark, accompanied by a dog and a cat. I give the dog a pat on its belly. But I realize that the duo wants to go home, so we go back. Almost immediately, I see the cat on the bed alongside another cat, both fast asleep. The dog has disappeared, perhaps gone to an adjoining room. I am not sleepy, so I stay awake, content to watch.

Dinner: cold pasta salad with snap peas, roasted red peppers, grilled onions, Kalamata olives, cucumbers, and parsley.

Entertainment: More episodes of Rebus on Britbox.