Monday, May 29, 2006

dreams and memory

i had a nice little dream last night. It was very simple; all that happened was that I was walking past a garden, saw a place that I recognized from my childhood, and put it back to rights.

It was one of those special little places where a kid might have hidden or played without anyone noticing. In this case, it was a small patch of dirt under a bush near a garden wall. In the dream, I had a very vivid memory of how I used to play there, and how there used to be a small cup made of turned stone that I would place in a certain spot.

I stopped as I walked by, and it seemed wrong that the cup was not in its place. Searching the grounds, I saw that the cup was nearby and half-covered by dirt. I went into the garden, unearthed the cup, brushed it off, and put it back in its proper spot.

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The interesting thing about this dream was a certain quality of the memory. I don't know if you're like me, but I often have a similar experience when I visit old haunts. These little secret spots just jump out at me. I never remember them until I see them, and then all the little idiosyncrasies come out. I remember what each knot on a tree means, which bush was King Kong, and which one was home base. These little spots are just packed with personal meanings.

The place in my dream was like that. But because I found the spot in a dream, I find myself thinking, "it's not real", even though it feels more like a real childhood memory than a dream. So today I'm idly pondering the differences between "real" memory, dreaming, and the memories created in dreams.

Was the place I came across last night a 'real' childhood memory manifesting in a dream? Was it the rediscovery of a place where I had dreamed before? Or was the dream just the sensation of being surprised by 'memory'? What would be the difference?

If every elements in a dream comes from memory composites, is it the same with childhood imaginings? Does every childhood meaning come from an earlier memory association? When the second bush in the row became King Kong to me, I must have known about King Kong. And I must have wanted to represent King Kong some way in my daily life. This makes sense to me.

But more than clarify what last night's dream was (beyond a conglomeration of memories, dreamed derivatives of those memories, and my own dreaming and waking associations), it only redirects my questioning.

This dream highlights a particular class of meaning that dreams share with the wandering imaginings of childhood. It's a kind of meaning that is highly personal, and which doesn't reason well. It is the space where toys have living personalities, where "four" is not "two plus two", but a calm intelligent friend who moves slowly - maybe like an elephant.

The adult world has an odd prejudice against these meanings. The common analogy here is the cobweb - these remnants of childhood meanings must be cleared away. It was just like that this morning - like waking from childhood into adulthood. And this morning as I got up and focused on the tasks of the day, I dispersed the invisible touch that allowed a stone cup to keep its soul.

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