Friday, February 21, 2014


I just finished an almost-800 page book, The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. It has been described as a literary piece that comes only half a dozen times in a decade. It is said to be "Dickensian," "sweeping," and "a masterpiece." Numerous essays and reviews have been written about this novel that took twelve years to write.

I will not attempt to write about this book because I cannot do it justice, as other readers/reviewers have. But it did inspire me to think about a particular topic. The novel begins with the protagonist, Theo, telling us how he lost his mother in a tragic accident at age 13. This loss, so overpowering, comes through in his way of grieving her: "I miss her so much I wanted to die: a hard, physical longing, like a craving for air underwater." Over the years, he'd dream of her constantly, but
"...only as absence, not presence: a breeze blowing through a just-vacated house, her handwriting on a notepad, the smell of her perfume, streets in strange lost towns where I knew she'd been walking only a moment before but had just vanished, a shadow moving away against a sunstruck wall. Sometimes I spotted her in a crowd, or in a taxicab pulling away, and these glimpses of her I treasured despite the fact that I was never able to catch up with her."
First, these images made me ache for Theo's heart. Then, they made me think about my own dreams, many of them recurring: those fleeting sightings of objects or ideas just beyond my grasp; momentary flashes of emotions lasting only seconds; and the unearthing of feelings that have been buried for decades.

I remember, as far back as age 6 or 7, having the Falling dream. Though I've never "fallen" from considerable height ever in my life, these dreams seem so real. All the elements of falling--the gravitational pull yanking me downward, the acceleration of my fall through thin air, and the panic flooding my entire body--are as palpable as being face-to-face with my Demise. Except I never hit the ground; I wake up instead. That Moment never happens, yet over and over, I wake, stunned, gasping, and bewildered at the authenticity of that chilling sensation.

There's also the Chasing dream. There's danger behind me, and I'm running for my life. Except my legs and arms can only move v e r y s l o w l y. Yet the person chasing me is still running in real time. I just can't run any faster (to save my life). It's as if a film editor accidentally superimposed a slow-mo action scene over a real-time scene. It toys with one's perspectives.

Thankfully, the frequency of these two types of dreams have decreased over the years.

What I have been having more in the recent years is the Facial Distortion dream. Hair falling out by the handfuls. Teeth of odd sizes or colors appearing in improbable places in my mouth. Ginormous zits sprouting where they don't belong. Being unable to remove my over-sized contact lenses from my strangely minuscule eyeballs. Yep, the really weird stuff. I'm either really vain or an overachieving hypochondriac.

Every now and then, I still get the Relive-the-Pain dream. Complete reenactments of childhood memories, like scenes from a familiar play, conjuring--with great artistry and precision--feelings of guilt, shame, and blame in me. I can be a child, an adult, or my current age in the dream, but all the raw feelings of my child-self still come flooding back. The mind remembers things in obscure ways: experiences from way back and deep down still pop up when one least expects them.

On a lighter note, I also occasionally have the Rejection-by-DH dream, whereupon I wake up mad at him because in my dream he had turned his back on me and walked away. I'm not sure how this gets into my head since that has never happened in real life. Like, ever. The poor guy wakes up facing an angry wife with a temper tantrum.

I've been told that I have a dramatic flair for defending (what I "think" is) reality.

Finally, there's the Just-Out-of-Grasp dream. Mouth-watering Peking duck on the table and poof! it's gone cuz I'm lying in my bed and there's no duck in it with me. Or the one where I'm about to get some sort of major recognition in front of a large crowd, and that glorious moment pops like a pin-pricked balloon because oh, I just woke up. I find myself in bed with no applause or glory. Only darkness and disappointment.

So close, yet so far away. Always a moment too soon, or a second too late. 

No doubt dreams are subconscious expressions of one's fears and anxieties, as well as ultimate desires and yearnings, as in Theo's case. Which makes me wonder: why don't we have more pleasant and happy dreams? I cannot think of one dream where I felt warm and happy, complacent and relaxed. (Okay, well, I did have the Baby-Moving-in-My-Belly dream, where I felt overjoyed re-experiencing the feeling of carrying a baby. But that happy feeling soon turned into an OMG-I-CanNOT-Be-Pregnant anxiety and the happiness is all gone.)

So, do we not have more positive dreams or do we only remember the negative ones? Is it because of our conscious suppression of negative thoughts during the day that land them in our subconscious dreaming in the night?

If Theo could control his dreams, he wouldn't be chasing his mother's absence. If I had my way, I would spend less time being a nervous wreck in my sleep.

And eat lots of Peking duck.


  1. Hehe, eat lots of Peking duck :). I don't think I could read this book because it'd make me think of how my children would react if I suddenly passed away...too sad...My hubby says it's not good to remember your dreams. It's better to forget them. Maybe because of the negative aspects you write of. Nevertheless, I do have falling and running dreams (always running too slow).

    1. It is a sad story, Lisa, but sometimes you just have to look beyond the connections and enjoy the book and writing for what it is. I guess I see it that way or else I'd never want to read any books! I didn't know it was not good to remember dreams! But I know that I forget plenty of them--DH reminds me how much I forget all the time. Interesting that you have both the Falling and Chasing dreams like me! What does that say about us? :) Thanks for reading!

  2. I rarely remember a dream anymore. I used to, when I was a child, but now it almost never happens that I wake up aware of a dream. I don't know what that says about me.

    1. Hi, Shannon, I just read an article on Facebook (of all places) telling us why/how we remember our dreams: we must be interrupted from our REM sleep in order to remember them! So what that means is you're getting better sleep now that before, which means, yay! I know I'm getting more continuous sleep these days, so maybe that's why I don't remember any more Falling and Chasing dreams! Yay for me, too! :)

  3. It's a good book that can provoke us to do some thinking on our own outside of the story line.

    I'm all for remembering the "good" dreams- and eating duck, if that brightens the morning! Unfortunately, I most often remember the disturbing dreams!)

    I've had the falling and being chased ones. I remember one where I'd made it to my car but then kept fumbling and dropping the keys while whoever/whatever-it-was drew closer. Scary! I've also had watiressing dreams - the restaurant is under-staffed and I can't find anything on the order screen to put in orders, people are complaining and getting mad at me. I do not wake up refreshed. Only once did I have a good dream that I remember: I went on a romantic motorcycle ride with this guy (which I'd never do in real life- too dangerous) he set up a picnic and said all kinds of sweet things. Just when he was going to remove his helmet to kiss me, I woke up! (Who knows why he wore the helmet the whole time... that would actually be creepy...)

    1. Janna, it certainly was a very good book! The way she wrote about his dreams was so spectacular!

      I did forget one very stressful dream--being late to exams! What is with us and these super antagonizing dreams? I've been out of college for 20 years and I'm still dreaming about taking finals!! I think your helmet dream is quite adorable--perhaps you just want to see this sweet man's face and your dream just doesn't allow you to, just like my dreams don't allow me to eat yummy foods! Ha! Anytime I have a romantic dream, if it's not DH, then the man remains faceless. I guess I have no imagination whatsoever. :)

  4. Sandra, I also used to have those falling and chasing dreams of yours. I figured, I often had the latter when I was under stress. I have pleasant dreams. In these dreams, I always have some clear water of some sort - a drizzle, a calm ocean with fish swimming. These days, my recurring dreams revolve around me being back in school and being completely unprepared for an exam (because I did not attend a whole sem of classes or did not study or turned in things late. The other theme is of me being engaged to somebody only to realize that I am already married and could not bear hurting or leaving the other one behind. Then I'd wonder if it is wrong to have two husbands. Weird. :-)

  5. Hi, Imelda! Yes! Those exam dreams! I still have them and in my dreams it feels so real that I skipped all my classes and couldn't take the final (the guilty makes the dreams even worse!), ahhh! The relationship one is pretty disturbing, and I've those myself. It's the tormenting that is annoying since we can't snap out of it in our dreams! I do very much envy your pleasant dreams, Imelda! I cannot remember any! Maybe calming ones don't wake me up so I cannot remember them? But now that the kids are older, I am definitely getting better and more solid sleep, so I should remember them less and less, right? Thank you for sharing your dreams with me, and I'm so happy you stopped by!