It’s amazing how quickly the brain adjusts to intentions when it comes to remembering dreams, as if something deep within us wants us to pay attention to them, and it only needs a little encouragement to make them want to be remembered when we awake.

A Funny Thing Happened …

I love writing dream sequences in my stories. The rules of reality are (for the most part) suspended, but you get to have the fun of making a pretense of them for the sake of creating a story within your character’s mind. A story that tells them something about themselves they need to know to advance the plot in their waking life.

I love this idea so much that it makes me jealous… because I typically don’t remember my dreams. Not a whit. The alarm goes off and, oh, there. Nope, gone.

There are exceptions: Yesterday morning, I was having one of those dreams you sometimes get when things are so intriguing (or sexy) that you don’t want to open your eyes for fear of it ending too soon. Your body is waking up, you realize you’re dreaming, but somehow this doesn’t end it. So the dream actually becomes more lucid, and you want to see it through.

Ever have those? I hope so, because otherwise I’m going to sound silly.

In those situations when you’re already partially awake anyway, it’s not hard to hold onto the memory of them for a little bit once you do open your eyes.

And if by chance you decide to write them down… watch what happens the next morning! It’s pretty amazing.

Why a Dream Journal

From my experience, it seems to be the sheer act of recording a dream that opens the floodgates of remembering more dreams. From memory to hand to paper, this conscious processing of subconscious information seems to be a signal our mind was hoping for, encouraging the process.

Write down a dream and the following day the next dream will be waiting for you, too, just itching to be scribbled in a fat pink journal. It is as if our dreams want to be looked at in the light of day.

I remember when I was living in Hawaii for a year and my girlfriend at the time encouraged not only remembering and recording our dreams, but would help me find the symbols within them and see what they were saying about my internal life, the one that influences how I’m dealing with the world. So I started writing down the ones I could remember when I woke.

Just the action of recording a dream on paper immediately signaled my brain to hold onto them. For my entire time in Hawaii, my dream journal was filled with almost daily entries, some several pages long, with detail that was normally lost to me within seconds of waking.

And then one day it stopped. It was my own fault. My dreams once more became that thing “I didn’t have anymore,” but I knew I just wasn’t remembering them.

This morning, when my phone woke me (I feel sorry for the alarm clock industry with phone apps these days), my dream was right there waiting for me to jot it down. Any day prior to yesterday, the alarm would have sent it flying into the wind of forgetfulness.

I think it is the journal itself, or the promise of it, that spurs our brains to give us this gift.

What We May be Missing

When my Hawaii relationship ended and I moved back to the mainland, alone, my dream journal went silent. Just one of a handful of things I lost motivation for after finding myself once more in my own company.

But I think it was to my detriment that I didn’t keep my dream journaling going. I was missing out on some prime meta-data; some wonderful life stuff I could use to advance the plot of my own real-life story.

Time alone is the perfect time to explore our inner selves, to find what went wrong, and to see what we should have learned from it.

It is pretty common wisdom that regardless of who we blame for the situation, the plight of any relationship is shared equally. And I should have been taking the time to see what my part in the ending of it was–and the beginning. Perhaps only then will I figure out why I keep attracting people who are ultimately wrong for me, despite how right they seem for a time.

Our dreams come from the smartest part of us: our subconscious (the part that doesn’t forget anything, just ask a hypnotist), busy in there figuring us all out.

Perhaps we should grab a journal and listen to it.

This is not about the window I sleep beneath now. That would be too easy. And a little strange, since it opens out onto a courtyard formed when my apartment building grew to wrap the space in a smokers alcove, where voices emanate–sometimes dully, sometimes with great energy. Luckily I can sleep, or not sleep, through the best of it. I can sleep through a brass band tuning up–once I lay my head down.

No, this is about a window overlooking the urban sprawl of one corner of Baltimore City, the scariest place on earth … at least for a shy, skinny 6th to 7th grade kid. For me, life during the day was all about survival. Not so much survival of the fittest … in that town it was more survival of the meanest. If you’ve caught an episode of The Wire on TV you’ll know what I mean. That was my town. No, no … you can keep it.

But then there’s the night. At night even mean people sleep. The city that frightened me became calm for a time, almost beautiful. It’s no wonder I wanted to spend so much of that time awake, appreciating it. Whenever I was caught by my parents sitting up at some odd hour of the night, I could always blame it on my little brother’s monumental snoring and get an apologetic shrug. But he was slightly duller than a brass band tuning up. I knew it was the night calling to me.

Our bedroom was on the second floor–third floor from the rear–of our ancient brick row house, with a window facing out the back. High enough off the ground the oak tree striving to escape the dark alley beneath had yet managed to block the view.

If you’re new to the concept of “row house”, it’s basically a solid block of 100-year old brick structures sandwiched thinly against the sides of other row houses. The 3-story row house we lived in–4 from the back–would have looked precariously thin and have toppled in a light breeze if it ever stood alone, but like a shelf of books it was tightly packed together on a block-wide shelf. The only separation between them was a thick firewall from the foundation to its flat sloping roofline–back when a firewall was a thick layer of fire-resistant cinderblock rather than a paranoid computer program.

Our block sat atop a natural ripple in the geology of the city, a shelf of homes higher than the rest, the row backing up to the other side of the alley, fronts facing away from us, sat several floors below. The forgotten land then rippling up again a few blocks beyond. Atop that next ripple sat a single-story shopping mall, basically a huge parking lot with the edge of a mall to one side, as far as I could see from my little window.

This was my world at night. Expanses of well-lit asphalt in the distance, over rows of invisible black tarpaper roofs and silent shadowy streets. It might easily have been a jungle at night, or a valley between cliffs, if not for the parking lot in the distance, lit like the outfield at a baseball game, waiting for the next home run.

No game ever played there, but I was probably its most avid spectator most nights: the tiniest of things that happened out there becoming small adventures. Cars would randomly traverse the parking lot, for their own reasons. Often these cars would approach from diverse angles and meet someplace in the middle. The occupants would get out and I would revel in my ability to hear the sounds of their voices echoing over the rooftops, uttered by the ant-sized people so far away.

Only now do I realize I was probably witnessing drug deals in the night. I wonder why the police didn’t sit in windows in the middle of the night, they would catch all kinds of perps that way. I could have had a job at that.

Not all of my attention would be taken up by the non-doings of the mall lot. That was more a meditation of sorts.
Often I would spend the time also listening to the AM stations bouncing off the ionosphere from odd distant places, with the sun charging the air in weird angles out past the horizon. Late Saturday nights I would listen to the wacky tunes of the Dr. Demento Show, still a cult favorite on the internet today, decades later. In a few years this would become a hobby, listening to radio waves bouncing from points on the opposite side of the globe, using a shortwave radio I built from a kit; but for now the AM bands on my tiny transistor radio were exciting enough. Radio propagation was a magical thing to me back then.

I have been a companion of the night ever since. We moved from the city of roaming bullies to the rolling countryside of Pennsylvania, barely rescuing me from my first year in high school … a massive building that resembled a penitentiary in my mind. Again I had a third story window to gaze out from, but the view here was a moon-lit field of grass, or my mother’s sleeping vegetable garden, and the shadows playing across shades from the neighbor’s duplex. I had a silly crush on one of the tenants there for a few months, a tiny married woman who playfully joked or played Parcheesi with us on her front porch, with the popping dice in the middle. I learned from her that I would always love women who nurtured their child-like (not childish) spirit throughout their life, and to never quite grow up myself.

My hormones soon pointed me more appropriately toward the pretty girls in high school, also mostly unrequited. But my nights were much the same here, minus the fear of the city ebbing away. A quieter town nestled in the dark valley to the right, tall trees rustling quietly in the night breezes atop the hill to the left, the stars swirling with hopeful abandon above. The quiet of the night needing at least one soul to stay up to appreciate it.

I wonder now if my night vigils today were an acquired habit, or a simply part of my spirit. Was it nature or self-nurture? I imagine I’ll never know, but I can almost feel the air grow quiet in the night, as more people fall off to dreamland. The crosstalk grows silent, my mind becomes clearer, the night more full of possibilities.

I still have my excuses for being up at that time, even without a parent to randomly look in to wonder: I tell people I can’t sleep normally on my own–I don’t want to lay in the dark alone, since I can easily sleep like a “normal” person when I’m in a relationship. There is some truth to this, too. But I know, deep down, if it wasn’t for the cuddles and kisses, I’d be up at night, exploring the magic of the universe, watching life on the planet slowly ebb and flow. I am a friend of the night. I think I shall always be.

For this Foibles Monday, I divulge a weirdness that will keep you up at night.

No, wait  . . .  It’ll keep me up at night, not you. My bad. Go back to sleep. I’ll tell you how it ends.

For those still awake, it goes something like this . . .

I am Not a Vampire

For as long as I can remember I’ve never wanted to sleep at night. It’s not that I couldn’t . . . as soon as I lay my head to my pillow, I’m gone. For the next seven hours, nothing can wake me. A brass band could be tuning up next to my bed without a complaint from me.

But getting my head on that pillow never seems to occur to me until the sun pokes its little beak above the horizon, only to facepaw when it catches me still awake.

Perhaps I was born with faulty wiring, my circadian rhythms permanently skewed 12 hours out of sync from all you “normal” people. More than once a friend has noticed my sleep patterns and wondered with trepidation whether I slept in a coffin during the day. I’ve thought about the bat thing and how awesome it would be to fly around wherever I wanted. If only I didn’t faint at the sight of blood. ~shudder~

Nope, that’s not it.

No, for me the wavelength of my mind seems to clear during the wee hours of the night, when most everyone else is sleeping. All the noise dies down, like the traffic outside my window, and I can hear my own thoughts. I’m never so awake as I am the hours leading to dawn.

My entire life has been this way. I don’t know if my parents were ever aware of it. If they were, they must have thrown up their hands at my assumed insomnia (though sleeping wasn’t really a problem for me, as I mentioned). But since I kept my awakedness to myself, without stirring up my siblings, then I guess it was alright.

Unique WallpaperWhen I was young, I remember many nights sitting in my window, watching how different the city moved in the dark, listening to the strange sounds on the radio. AM stations propagating in from distant cities as they bounced off the ionosphere with the sun charging it beyond the horizon. On weekends I would spend the wee hours listening to the Dr. Demento Show . . . which might shed light on my odd sense of humor. By the time I was in high school I’d replaced the AM radio with a shortwave set I’d built from a kit I got for Christmas, listening to the BBC World Service or Radio Australia. Once I’d found out about Ham Radio, the die was set: I studied for a license and spent the tiny hours tapping out Morse code to New Zealand or Equador or Czechoslovakia.

Again my parents put up with this . . . perhaps this new worldliness–or was it geekiness–was a relief from all the other weird things that must have been confusing them about me. My little attic room looked like the cockpit of an airplane, an entire wall covered in radio gear and other gizmos I’d wired up myself from spare parts I collected by the pound.

Sadly the radio thing faded away, not long after I got out on my own. Morse code became passe, then disappeared from the hobby altogether, though I can still dit-dah with ease today. The Internet took away the rest of the challenge soon after: It was just easier to surf and email.

Meanwhile, the sleep thing has continued to follow me everywhere. To the point I wonder if my neighbors are keeping themselves well stocked in garlic and crosses. These days I’m up in the wee hours doing silly things like homework, or web surfing, or gaming, or . . .  oh, apparently blogging now. Anything to occupy those wakeful hours til dawn. Even if I do wish I spent more time with the “normal” people in the daylight . . .

But, lo . . . I think I’ve found a cure!

I’ve noticed in my life that it only takes a kiss and the feeling of arms around me at night . . . and suddenly my circadian rhythms wrench themselves back around, perfectly matching my partner’s. With but a touch, I am sleeping like a “normal” human being. Perhaps this was my thing all along: on some level I just don’t want to sleep without love. When I find myself alone, I still blog to all hours of the night (it’s 3:45 AM as I write this). But just a pair of arms and lips and it all changes.

Having a girlfriend again has reintroduced me to the beauty of an early morning dew, the cool freshness of a new day, long productive days shared with “normal” people, doing “normal” things at “normal” times of day.

But the nights still hold a special place in my heart, when I fall happily asleep to a kiss, knowing another will be waiting for me when I awake.

Hmmm, I think I see the sky starting to glow. ~yawn~ . . . time for bed.