When Someone Else's Past Haunts Your Dreams
I recently read Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces in an attempt to better understand story arcs. (He’s the person who outlined The Hero’s Journey, a narrative structure that has influenced George Lucas and countless other storytellers.)
Joseph Campbell put a lot of stock in “dreams that blister sleep.” He drew plenty of parallels between their imagery and universal archetypes. So I’ve been paying close attention to my own dreams lately, and writing them down when I can.
I keep dreaming about wild animals in my parents' backyard.
Elusive creatures, like grizzly bears and mountain lions, and things that only come out at night. In these dreams, I watch the wild animals from the big picture window in my parents' kitchen. I’m fascinated but also fearful. Is the dog inside? The kids? How can I keep everyone safe?
Last night I dreamed that my parents had bought a new house with a swimming pool in the backyard. They warned me that the water hadn’t been chlorinated, and that swimming in it might make me sick. But I swam anyway, and took pleasure in it, even though part of me worried that they might be right. When I climbed out of the pool, I saw a wake of vultures gathered in the distance. They were closing in on an older bird, more like predators than scavengers. I ran toward them, screaming, trying to save the old bird a violent death. But the vultures paid me no mind, and I turned back before I got too close, afraid they might attack me as well.
Mom might say that the backyard symbolizes my parents’ past, and the wild animals symbolize the parts that remain elusive. The unchlorinated pool symbolizes their unsanitized history. It might infect me, yet I muck about in it anyway, taking some satisfaction from the exercise. Just as I do when working on my memoir, "The Skeleton Club."
It's funny how Mom has always encouraged me to find meaning in my dreams.
Her instincts about symbolism were always spot-on, and she never read Campbell or Freud or Jung. Perhaps she was teaching me to find meaning in the past—mine and hers—all along.