This dream came to me on a recent morning:
I’m living on the San Francisco Peninsula where I grew up. I’m just beginning a new daily commitment. Every day I must make my way into the City for a vaguely defined appointment. Sometimes I will have a driver; sometimes I will use public transit. Today is my first day. Across the room I notice a figure—a giant red capital Q. He seems a bit obese. (Later, I will wonder it he has a face: It’s indefinite.) Big Q appears flustered, as if he doesn’t know what’s expected of him. Definitely a male, though I don’t look for the clinching details.
Suddenly it dawns on me that I am Q, although I can’t tell if he is aware of me as a separate entity, as I am of him. I recall something of the preamble to the dream, which involves sleeping in a darkened bedroom. It’s much like the “Alzheimer’s dreams” I often had when my father was alive. In those dreams (I’ve had more than a hundred, I’m sure) my father and I are sleeping in the same room, sometimes in the same bed. These dreams have many different formats. Often there’s a doomsday machine in the closet; when it goes off, I too will have Alzheimer’s. And sometimes there’s something I must do—or avoid doing at all costs. If I am successful, I can evade the disease. But I can never remember WHAT the action is, nor do I recall whether I’m supposed to do it or avoid doing it to protect myself. For all their variety, the dreams are essentially the same.
But here, Q never leaves this room: Instead, I have visions of him, stepping down naked from a streetcar near San Francisco State, or trying to park his car and find a discreet way to reach his destination.
When I shared this dream with my friend Gertrude, she asked who could this Q character be but the San Francisco-based interlocutor demanding that I take another close look at the early-life traumas that still occasionally haunt me?
Oh, how this dream circles back on a major theme that has dominated my dreams for the past 40 years! Okay—admittedly I have no recall of other dreams centered on the letter Q. But consider the dream geography! I used to call myself “the I-5 Dreamer” because so many dreams were set on this major route between Seattle and San Francisco. Every milepost seemed to have spiritual significance. Dreams of childhood were set in California; if Washington was the locale, they addressed my adult world. And Oregon—the space between—was dreamland itself, the ground where spirituality and consciousness wrestled. Just imagine how complex dreams became when plunked down at one of the state lines.
When I shared this dream with my friend Gertrude, she asked who could this Q character be but the San Francisco-based interlocutor demanding that I take another close look at the early-life traumas that still occasionally haunt me? One, of course, was the phenomenon of the womb—a stroke, let’s call it—that likely was responsible for my cerebral palsy. I have no recollection of this event, of course, but I—it, the fetus—must have been a sensate creature when it occurred. The lasting effect must extend beyond physiology, its emotional expression increasing as I age. And I swear—it must be more than mere dysthymia.
Another trauma from very early childhood was conveyed to me by a series of vivid dreams that began when I was in my mid-forties. The experience seemed to involve repeated abuse. These dreams suggested how these early events were woven into my adult life. I pieced them together, first working with a psychologist and then on my own while studying James Hillman’s compelling Healing Fiction. To counteract the unreliability of memory, Hillman contended that clients and their therapists should fashion a healing fiction that both could live with—not literally true, but feasible. I think I have succeeded at this—my dreams seemed to accept it—though some occasions prompt me to tweak this tale.
This theory began to take shape during my discussion with Gertrude. Apprehension rose in my throat as I drove home. Was my dream really calling me to revisit these essentially unknowable events when I ought to be preparing for my appointment with mortality? I shrink from the tedium, fearing it would be like an endless opera, belted out with Wagnerian Sturm und Drang.
I pulled to the side of the road, gasping at the prospect. Am I doomed to exhaust my final years in a never-ending journey into the past, with dread pounding away the wistful? I long to know if this dream might have a forward-looking interpretation. May I find as much in my next epistle.
Note: You may want to go next to a related epistle. “Suppose Q is tracking a different circle.”