Saturday, November 06, 2010

Remembering dreams

That dreams are only partially connected to the mechanism for affixing memories in the mind is a well-known thing. It's so common to awaken remembering a dream but, hours or even minutes later, to not be able to remember it anymore. (And yet, once in a while, a piece of a dream, maybe not even particularly memorable, lodges so well that it pops up unbidden years later for no particular reason. What's up with that? For instance, one of those involves some of that not-uncommon "flying" stuff through a big theater with hexagonal-tiled floors, at which Bill Cosby was doing a performance. Another one involves a squalid, filthy basement with a secret door that was really a rusty sliding door which lead only to more squalid, filthy space, with lots of rotting meat and body parts left on the floor. Why should those have stuck so much more firmly than thousands of other images that are just as irrelevant?)

I remember fewer dreams than most people do, for whatever reason. And those I remember are more likely to be more formless and less structured. While everyone's dreams are often made of disconnected moments and non-sequiturs, many of the dreams I remember are nothing but those, with no connecting thread at all, just one image or moment after another. Imagine a knob with "cogent, unified story" at the far right, and "David Lynch work" somewhere just right of center, and "typical dream" at center; my dreams are what you get if you turn the knob way left of center. (Or is David Lynch just left of center?)

So when my dreams do have some thread or storyline, you'd think that maybe I'd be better at remembering them. However, they're just as evanescent as anyone's or maybe more so.

The odd thing is even if there's some shred of memory of a dream, I don't remember that I remember it. So what will happen is, someone else (usually Siobhan) will say, "I remember a dream I had," and for a moment, I'll get a flash of a dream I had that I remember for the moment, but didn't recall that I remembered. It's just hanging there, barely in view, and the only way I could capture it is if I stopped everything else and immediately reviewed it, recited it, or recorded it. Of course, that's not going to happen: whatever made me realize I had one to remember, such as Siobhan's narration, is still happening, and immediately scares away that memory. The only situation that triggers me getting to realize I have a memory of a dream is the same one that dispels the same memory.

So on a typical day the only way I'm actually going to remember a dream is if I, as I sometimes do, mistake it for a real memory. Once in a while I'll remember something and then think, oh, wait, that was just a dream, but for a moment I think I really did something, or have to do something. These are almost always the most quotidian and realistic things that hit me this way -- remembering having come up with a solution to a problem, or having to make a note about doing something, the fabric of a typical day. Never anything exotic or unusual or even interesting: I certainly dream those things, but they don't get triggered that way, so usually I remember them only in the process of immediately forgetting them.

I suppose I could allocate just a minute or two each day towards consciously trying to see if I have any dreams to remember, and then recording them, when I'm in a quiet place. But I doubt my dreams are worth the trouble of saving them. Still, sometimes I wonder. What is my brain doing and why does it do it in a way that's different from most other people (so far as I can tell)?

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