The Most Disturbing Dream I’ve Ever Had

by James Wallace Harris, 8/9/21

Last night I awoke from a dream that was so disturbing I didn’t want to go back to sleep. I was afraid I’d end up dreaming it again. I used reading Facebook on my phone so I wouldn’t fall back asleep.

The dream began when I was walking down a sidewalk. I saw people up ahead and didn’t know them. When I got up to them they asked me who I was and I couldn’t tell them. They asked where I lived and I said at the other end of the block. I told them I only walked to the end of the block and returned because I’d forget where I lived. But when I turned around to walk back home I couldn’t find it.

I kept walking through suburban streets looking for a street sign name I knew, but none of them made sense to me. Eventually, I realized I was in an urban area with traffic. I kept thinking if only I could find the main street I could walk home by following familiar streets.

As I got more disturbed people would stop me. I couldn’t tell what they wanted. I started becoming afraid of people. I thought people were hitting me and I was blacking out. Whenever I came to I was someplace else. I kept having more and more blackouts. I felt people were hurting me, even molesting me. I wanted to find home so badly.

The last scene I remembered was pushing a car door open. I was trying to run away from the people in the car. I got out of the car and ran, but everywhere was so strange. Then I woke up.

This dream was so unpleasant. I went and sat on the commode for a while thinking about it. A dream can meaning anything, but my first thought was I was suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s in the dream.

Eventually, I went back to bed, but I got out my phone and read things off of Facebook. I remember now I wanted to see names and places I knew. Sometime after that I fell asleep. Luckily I didn’t have that dream again.

I hope I never do.

JWH

As a Kid, Where Did Science Fiction Make You Want to Go?

by James Wallace Harris, Sunday, January 20, 2019

Growing up, I wanted to go to Mars. I assume the original seed of that desire came from watching science fiction movies as a little kid in the 1950s before I learned to read. When I could read, I loved reading about humans colonizing Mars. Red Planet by Robert A. Heinlein was the first SF novel I can remember reading about humans living on Mars. After that, I discovered Ray Bradbury and Edgar Rice Burroughs. But the allure of Mars came way before reading science fiction. I believe I saw a copy of The Exploration of Mars by Willy Ley, Wernher von Braun, and illustrated by Chesley Bonestell before I started reading science fiction. I began searching nonfiction books about space travel when I was in the fourth grade, right after Alan Shepard’s first ride into space.

Knowing what Mars is like now, I don’t want to travel there anymore. I’m old and hate the cold, and Mars is a very frigid place. Although my agoraphobic ways would make me perfectly suitable for living in a tiny Martian habitat, and its low gravity would probably ease the pains in my back. And I love the idea of being stranded alone on Mars like the old film Robinson Crusoe on Mars or the book and film The Martian by Andy Weir.

robinson-crusoe-on-mars

The unfortunate reality is there’s not much on Mars beside radiation, rocks, and robots. I suppose visiting the landing site of Viking 1 might make a great tourist destination, but there’s not a whole lot on Mars to see unless you’re a geologist.  Of course, sometimes the appeal of getting away from this planet makes the utopian nowhere of Ares seem very attractive.

Why does science fiction make us want to leave Earth? Where did it make you want to go as a kid? Were they real places like Ganymede or Mars, or imaginary ones like Tatooine or Arrakis? Did you want to travel on interplanetary rockets or interstellar spaceships? Or maybe the past or future was your destination and you needed a time machine? Or was science fiction always just a cheap alternative to opium?

The book that describes my childhood mindset best is the 1958 Have Space Suit–Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein. As a kid, I read it straight, but I’m sure it was a pastiche on science fiction. The story is about Clifford “Kip” Russell who is dying to go to the Moon. He hates that other people can, either because they are in the military, are top scientists, or just filthy rich. As a senior in high school, Kip determines that’s he’s going to get to the Moon one way or another. He hopes to win an all-expenses-paid trip but instead gets kidnapped by a flying saucer. Not only does Kip get to the Moon, but Pluto, a planet orbiting Vega and another planet somewhere in the lesser Magellanic cloud.

f&sf-sept-1958

I believe Heinlein wrote this book because he knew kids dreamed of leaving Earth. At the time, only a very small number of Baby Boomer had this psychological weirdo affliction. Decades later, millions do. What does that say about us? Is the desire to go into space really that different of hoping to get to heaven?

I look back over my life and see I wasted a lot of time on these fantasies. Some people really do go into space, but there’s a reality to how they live that allows that. I was never realistic enough to become an astronaut. As I got older I transferred my personal hopes to humanity in general. I thought it would be great if anybody went to Mars.

The other day I reread “The Million-Year Picnic” by Ray Bradbury. It’s the final story in The Martian Chronicles. In this lovely tale, a man and his wife, with their three sons escape to Mars as civilization collapses on Earth. They hope another family with four daughters will also make it in their rocket. The dad keeps telling his boys he will show them Martians, and in the end, he shows the kids their reflection in a Martian canal. I love this story. It was nostalgic when it was first published in Planet Stories in 1946, and it now encapsulates all my nostalgia for the science fiction I read as a kid. However, the reality is something quite different. If travelers from Earth could look into a Martian canal they would see the real Martians.

mars rover

I’m not even sure we need to send people to Mars anymore. Aren’t robots our true descendants who will colonize space?

Or do you still want to go?

JWH

The Zen of Hanging On

By James Wallace Harris, Thursday, September 24, 2015

This essay will be one of those that my friends think I’m going a little squirrelly.  But anytime I point to something that can’t be touched, I do seem a little crazy. I’m actually trying to capture a fleeting feeling—a single emotion I felt when hearing an old song.

The conventional Zen wisdom is one of letting go. We are taught to be one with the moment and learn to quiet our chattering mind. The lesson being that we miss the Now because we’re not there. Our thoughts churn out virtual never-never-lands instead of focusing on the beauty of existence. We live in our heads instead of reality. Our souls are like a drop of water floating down a stream that passes through an ever changing landscape. We hang onto memories of past sceneries or imagine future sights, ignoring the current vista.

Becoming one with Now is a lovely way to exist in reality, but I’m going to be contrary here, and explore the virtues of hanging on. All animals live in the moment. For some reason reality decided to evolve Homo sapiens who are capable of stepping out of the Eternal Now. It’s impossible to paint the Sistine Chapel or the build the Curiosity Mars rover without being able to ignore the moment. It is true we throw most of lives away in mental delusions, but it’s also true that some of those air castles we build in our heads get erected in reality. But I’m not talking about that kind of hanging on.

This morning while I was doing my morning exercises “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes came on the stereo, a song that first imprinted on me fifty-two years ago. By conventional Zen wisdom I should just listen to Ronnie Spector and enjoy the song for what it is in the moment. The powerful feelings I experienced when I was eleven years old and “Be My Baby” was chemically etched in my neural pathways don’t exist anymore. Or do they? Is it possible to exist now and then?

Living in the moment is being a one-dimensional point traveling through a four dimensional reality. The Zen of hanging on is constructing a four dimensional being. Our awareness of reality lives in the moment. Time is an illusion. The past and future don’t exist. We build the past with memories and the future with speculations. One meditation technique is to watch our thoughts, usually with the goal of quieting them. Our thoughts appear to be constant chatter that dribbles out of our brain. But if your soul can step back far enough, that chatter reveals patterns. Our diarrhea of mental babble has it’s own hard reality.

The Zen of hanging on becomes one of seeing ourselves from the fourth dimension. Living in the moment is eternal. We can’t know birth or death. But we are a finite creature with a beginning and end. We can only see that by hanging on to the residue of past moments and the most rational extrapolations of what we might become.

I don’t know if any of this will make any sense, but I felt compelled to write it before I allowed myself breakfast. It’s merely an explanation of why I believe “Be My Baby” keeps something from the past existing in this moment. To hear the song now flicks on a chemical sequence in my head that shapes my sense of the moment. From that view, the past still doesn’t exist, and the song long ago hardwired something that my present self can always experience. On the other hand, does my fourth dimensional sense of self, using all those memories I’ve hung onto, sculpts a bigger view of myself that includes the past?

Another way to ask that: Is our past a complete illusion, or something we continually reconstruct in the moment with artifacts we’ve hung onto?  Yes, one kind of past no longer exists, but don’t we create another kind, that does have a reality in the moment? Aren’t the things we hang onto the colors in which we paint our personality?

JWH

Do You Dream About Dinosaur Attacks?

By James Wallace Harris, June 29, 2015 (Updated 5/9/21)

I hope this doesn’t reveal some sort of deep embarrassing Freudian complex, but my whole sleep last night was filled with dinosaur dreams.  Ever since I was about five years old I’ve had occasional dreams about dinosaurs.  They aren’t real common, but they happen now and then, and they vary in details.  Last night’s dreams were somewhat typical.  I’ll be with a bunch of other people, at home, school, work, outside in a city location, on a crosswalk, etc., and suddenly a dinosaur or dinosaurs would show up, and everyone panics.

dinosaur

In the dream we all know the way to avoid being eaten is to be lying down, don’t move, and be quiet.  But there’s always someone nearby that keeps blabbing or moving around that draws attention to the dinosaurs causing me to fear for my safety and makes me very annoyed at the noisemaker.   For some reason, the dinosaurs won’t notice us if we don’t move or make noise.  I never get eaten myself, or the people I know, but I’m always afraid some dumbass is going to get me, or us, killed.  I’m always annoyed in these dreams that other people are not freezing and shutting up.

The funny thing is I had these dreams all night long.  Even after I got up and went to pee, and went back to sleep.  Even very early in the morning when I was waking up over and over again, every time wondering if I should get up.  Each time I fell back asleep I had another dinosaur dream.  It was one scene after another, with different groups of people, in different locations, and in each scene, there was a dinosaur attack.  One scene involved my sister, and another my wife Susan, but it was always strangers causing trouble.  I don’t think I ever saw a dinosaur eat someone, but I knew they were in the distance, so the panic to hide was strong.  These dreams last night weren’t quite nightmares, but they did involve a kind of anxiety.

If dreams are sorting through the day’s events and filing long-term memories, what did I do yesterday to deserve dinosaur dreams last night?  And do other people have dinosaur dreams?  I hope these dreams don’t indicate some kind of weird psychological disorder.

When I was young, I guess around five, I had my first dinosaur dream.  I lived out in the country in South Carolina in an old two-story house.  My family didn’t use the second story, but my three-year-old sister and I would go up there to play, but it was creepy.  I would dream about those upstairs rooms as if they were evil.  That was one of my earliest reoccurring dreams, along with dreams of flying.  But it was during this time that I had my first dinosaur dream.  I and other people were working in this huge gravel pit, and we were slaves to dinosaurs and had to stand in dinosaur shit as we worked.  Later on, when I saw The Flintstones, the pit we worked in reminded me of this show.  But this dream was three or four years before The Flintstones appeared in 1960.

I’ve always wondered when I first learned about dinosaurs.  My oldest memories of dinosaurs are from these dreams, but how did I learn about dinosaurs to dream about them?  I remember as a kid after I started having these dreams, of playing with plastic dinosaurs and learning their names.  My little buddies and I liked to collect and trade these plastic dinosaurs, and we seem to know all about them.  I don’t remember being taught about dinosaurs in school, or even reading about them.  I’ve always assumed knowledge about dinosaurs is imprinted in little boys’ brains, like some kind of ancestral memory.

I’ve written about dinosaur dreams before, back in 2008.  I had completely forgotten I had written this, and the dream I described.  The dream back then was somewhat different, a more science-fictional version, because people were protected from the dinosaurs by force fields.

Does dreaming about dinosaurs mean anything?  At Dream Moods, which has a page explaining animal symbols in dreams, it says this about dinosaurs:

To see a dinosaur in your dream symbolizes an outdated attitude. You may need to discard your old ways of thinking and habits.

To dream that you are being chased by a dinosaur, indicates your fears of no longer being needed or useful. Alternatively, being chased by a dinosaur, may reflect old issues that are still coming back to haunt you.

I wonder if I have a problem with outdated attitudes?  But this commentary seems no more scientific than astrology.  I am not the only person troubled with dinosaur dreams as reflected in the Yahoo Answers column.  It’s odd, but a couple of people who replied copied the statement I quote above, and it’s repeated on other websites.  Just shows how bullshit spreads across the internet.  At least at the Dream Dictionary, they had something a bit deeper, but still on the woo-woo side.  It reassures me that other people have dinosaur dreams, so I ain’t the only crazy one here.  In fact, there are many dream interpretation sites that cover dinosaurs in dreams, and many people posting about dreaming of dinosaurs.  At Jurassic World, they even have a page collecting dinosaur dreams.

Are dreams even symbolic?  I have no idea.  It seems my dreams are saying something very big will destroy me if I stand out, and that other people are constantly being destroyed for making themselves known.  Hunkering down and being quiet sounds rather cowardly to me in waking life.  When I was young and had nightmares I used to kill anything that tried to hurt me.  The violence of my dreams was disturbing because it was like the violence of modern video games, but these dreams were decades before such games were invented.

I can’t think of anything I did or experienced yesterday that would trigger dreams about avoiding death, or large issues.  I had a nice quiet day of reading books and listening to music, and then last night my friend Anne came over for dinner and we watched Empire Falls, an old HBO mini-series based on the Richard Russo book.  Empire Falls is about a man with a repressed past that never speaks his mind.  I did identify with Miles Roby, the Ed Harris character because I hold things in to avoid emotional conflicts.  Are the dinosaurs of my dreams potential emotional conflicts?  At least this theory works with dreams because the way to be safe in the dream is to be quiet and avoid attention.  Also, the people who get eaten by dinosaurs are the loud people who won’t shut up.

This is embarrassing because now I am revealing something.

I guess I’ve got to wait for the dinosaurs to show up.

JWH

Update 5/9/21:

I had a dream last night where aliens were attacking people in the same way dinosaurs attack people in the dinosaur dreams. Instead of eating us, they zapped us with some kind of energy gun. I’ve had similar dreams where giants were attacking people, and they killed people by crushing them. In each of these dreams hiding is the key to survival, and those people who stick out are the ones caught by dinosaurs, space aliens, and giants.

I realize now that the role of T-Rex, space alien, and giant are the same in all these dreams. They represent the bad things in life, threats that kill people. And the message of the dream is some people do survive by avoiding these dangers of life. Evidently, my subconscious is telling me to keep a low profile because that’s the best way to avoid getting hurt or killed.

However, I think last night’s dream was inspired by reading chapter 3 of Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine, and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande. That chapter was scarier than anything Stephen King ever wrote. It’s about how our bodies decay as we age and how we become less capable of taking care of ourselves. This was illustrated with horrifying case studies.   Gawande does give an overview of how society has helped the elderly over the years, and what people can do to help themselves, but death is the only escape from this fate. There is no avoiding old age by hiding like I do from the dinosaurs, giants, and space aliens.

I Had a Dream–But Was it Mine?

Are dreams a form of communication from our subconscious?  That sounds much too mystical for an atheist like myself.  Last night I awoke from a dream with a strong sense of message.  Essentially my dream was telling me that the important things we do in life are those we do with other people.  That two or more heads are better than one.  I can barely remember the dream now, but I know I was trying to do something in the dream, accomplish some goal, but it might have been as trivial as playing a game, and a woman told me we can only get ahead by working together.  That struck me as profound – at least in the context of the dream.  I have a vague memory in the dream that everyone was competing against each other and getting nowhere.  But I have no idea at what.

Now I’m not going to start a religion of cooperation, but instead I’m going to ask:  who is the author of my dreams.  Quite often I wake up and feel like I’ve been jerked out of a complexly plotted story.  I don’t feel “I” was writing the story.  I haven’t read Freud or Jung, but I get the feeling that my subconscious is more thoughtful than I’ve ever given it credit for before.  Now I don’t feel possessed, or think I have multiple personalities, but I feel there’s an unconscious thinking machine in my head processing data while I’m not paying attention.  In recent years, I feel it’s doing far more than processing random data, but is the novelist of my dreams, making sense of a random series of scenes?

Reality doesn’t come with a story.  It happens.  If a dog chases a chipmunk it’s not a scene in a story, it’s just another event in reality.  Humans want to make everything into a story.  The reason why there are so many JFK conspiracy theories is because people can’t just accept that Lee Harvey Oswald just happen to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right experience, to kill the president.  They want more, they want it to fit a story.

I need to read up on recent research into the subconscious.  I’m wondering if decades of reading and thinking about writing hasn’t affected my subconscious.  I can’t help but believe that it’s getting better at plotting.  In recent decades I feel my dreams are shaped more like stories, with good plotting.

But was my dreaming subconscious sending the conscious me a message last night?  It’s obvious that cooperation produces more success than lone wolf endeavors.  I wonder if my dream is commenting on my retired life, where I spend a lot of time alone.  I don’t know.  It could be my story telling mechanism is reading the dream that way.  It could be I was only competing in some kind of game in the dream and the woman was trying to convince me to work together to win.

JWH – 11/22/13