Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Portrait

The Dream: A woman and I are sitting at a table, across from each other. We're each drawing portraits, straight-on heads. I am the teacher. She's very skillful; my criticism of her work is that it lacks feeling. I take her drawing and, with her permission, make corrections. I change the mouth, making it a vibrant pink and somewhat pouty, or sensual. My other criticism is that the portrait is vague: it's very soft and lacks definition, with one color bleeding into the next.

Interpretation: The Unconscious gives me a drawing lesson! The artist I'm instructing in this dream reminds me of an egg tempera painter who wanted to meet me; she came to my house as an acolyte. When she showed me her paintings it was clear that she was highly skilled—more so than I—in handling the medium. Yet she was not satisfied with her work because, she said, it lacked imagination. This was true. As with many painters, her skill exceeded her conception. Yet she loved painting, and enjoyed her chosen subject matter. Of course I complimented her skill. I said that it only made sense for her to do what resonated with her. I suggested keeping a dream journal if she wanted to develop some original ideas.

In the dream I admire the artist's skill but feel she needs more expression, as symbolized by my “fixing” the mouth, the organ of speech. So the message for me is, of course to express myself.

When I tried drawing the face this artist drew in the dream I learned something about how to use color pencils—that is, very softly and delicately, building up color with gentle iterations. I tend to jump to the finish immediately, and that can make me heavy-handed, a hard thing to recover from! So the dream taught me this about self-expression: take it easy; let it develop; don't jump in with too much clarity and definition. The things I criticize in the dream artist are exactly what I need to do.

Sunday, February 15, 2015


The Dream: I am in someone's house; it's either a rental or a home exchange. We are thinking about staying there for a while. There is a small washer and dryer in the garage. I point it out to Clark; it reminds me of the set my mother got me when I lived in an apartment. I start thinking about how good she was to me, and feel that I didn't do enough for her as she aged and became infirm. I am filled with regret, and my eyes fill with tears.

I hear another washer/dryer going, and I realize there's a much larger set in the kitchen. We go there, and I am struck by how wide the counters are. They are marble, in golden ocher tones. The lady showing us the house seems to empathize with my sadness.

Interpretation: At first I thought this was a straightforward dream about my feeling bad that I was not a good daughter, that I hadn't given back enough to my mother who was so good and so giving.

And I'm sure there's some truth to that. But there is another truth as well. I had the dream shortly after I had seen a manipulative mother in action. Of course the dream might be pointing out the contrast between my mother and this other mother—but at the same time it caused me to notice some parallels; for example, both mothers had a core of helplessness that required others to step up and take care of them. My resistance to helping my mother might have come from my fear that her need could never be satisfied, but could only suck me into an abyss from which I could not escape. I'm sure my mother had no conscious wish to limit me—quite the contrary—but there was a subtext that I found suffocating. That doesn't excuse me for not getting over it, but it does explain the resigned tone of many of us, when, even as adults, we say, “Yes, mother . . . . “

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Cast Not the First Stone

The Dream:
I'm in a living room with a long mural that I had painted, made up of several separate pieces the same dimensions as a series of family history embroideries I had made in waking life. My brother and his friend have painted over the mural to shift the color to a different, warm shade of brown. They are pleased with themselves and feel this is an improvement. I am incensed, perhaps even more so because it is a rather nice shade. I yell at them enthusiastically, but it seems they are impervious to my attacks; as people used to say, “They couldn't care less.” I'm as frustrated by their lack of seeing the insult they've perpetrated as I am by what they did. “You have denigrated my work!” I say.

Getting no satisfaction from them, I declare that I will never again come into this room. The next scene, however, finds me in it. My brother is now without his mocking friend. I try again to get him to see the gravity of his sin, and he says, “Now you know how I felt when you . . . . “ I don't remember what he accused me of, but I do remember I had done what he said, and that I, like him, had been unaware of its impact on the other.

The dream was triggered by a falling out between a couple of distant family members, and my realization that their anger and frustration with each other is rooted in their shared past (the family history embroideries).

The dream has an interesting resolution: I go back into the living room (the place where I live) and realize that I have done exactly the same thing that I was angry at my brother for doing. In other words, I've taken on the role that a family member once played: since I do the same thing that my dream brother has done, I am the critic who denigrates my work. I am doing it to myself.

The dream tells me a few important things: First, it's time to lighten up. Second, it is time to learn how to accept a good criticism (the new color is actually an improvement), and third, my family history holds the key to my overly critical thoughts.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Parked in the Wrong Spot

The Dream:
I am driving my convertible in Livermore, a nearby town. Its downtown is deserted, covered with a foot or so of snow. The car skids out of control and I almost hit a parked white truck, but it drives away right before I would have run into it. I leave downtown and find myself on a stretch of road that that resembles what you might see driving along the ocean. There's a sidewalk on one side with nothing beyond it. No sea in sight. My car slowly flips over.

I'm unhurt, mostly embarrassed, feeling as if I've done the wrong thing. Some fellows come over to help. We right the car and then easily push it to the side of the road.

I don't want to leave it there, unattended, and—having seen how easy it is to push—think that I'll push the car through the snowed-under downtown and then back to where the streets are clear. My first challenge is to maneuver the car out of the “parking spot” the guys have left it in. I think it would have been easier if they hadn't put the car here.

Interpretation: Everything seems to be wrong in this dream. I am driving a convertible that I'm unable to control in snowy weather. I have the wrong vehicle at the wrong time and in the wrong place. My well-meaning helpers make my goal, that of protecting my vehicle, more difficult. Yet once I give up “driving” I discover that “pushing” is not difficult. The implication is that I need a different way to approach my difficulty. And the dream is pointing out that others won't solve the problem for me; they are willing to help, but then it's up to me. If I want to avoid being stuck in a place that others have chosen for me, I'd better get out and push.

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Shaken World

The Dream:
Four girls, two of them my daughters, are in a one-story Victorian building when an earthquake breaks it in two. I am very worried about the girls, but it turns out they are fine, unharmed. After a while I think I should survey the damage, thinking most of my crystal will be broken. When I look, all seems intact, surprisingly. I do find evidence, however, that a piece has broken, there are some pieces of glass on a shelf that hold the goblets. I can't figure out, however, what broke.

Interpretation: Dreams have a way of taking what is going on in our interior world and merging it with images from waking life. One of my daughters had been abroad visiting her primary school (a Victorian building). A recent television show had featured buildings with destroyed interiors. The dream tells me that I've been shaken up (the earthquake), so my question to myself is: “What threatens me?” Both my daughters had been traveling, and I had been worried, perhaps subliminally, about their safety. The dream shows me my parental concern and asks me to decide whether or not it's realistic. While their being away may have shaken up my interior world (my serenity), the dream points out that no damage has been done, even though I'm expecting it and go so far as to look for it.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Can I Live with Mother?

The Dream: I am with my aunt and my mother. They tell me that Mother is coming to live with me. I realize they've mentioned this once before, and that I had failed to respond, hoping the request would go away. This time there's no ducking it. I am annoyed that they've told me rather than asked me, and I envision myself as the old maid daughter living with her mother. I feel that her close proximity is a threat to my autonomy. In the dream my mother is youngish and attractive, and I'm a young single woman.

I can't see how to say no, or get out of it, and I wonder what sort of sex life I'll have. Will she accept my adult sexuality or will I never be able to spend the night with anyone? I say to her, “You can stay with me, but you can't be too bossy.” She looks surprised that anyone would think she's bossy.

She says, “We can move into Grandma's neighborhood. It will be nice and inexpensive.” My heart lifts at this idea. Grandma's neighborhood has become arty and trendy. I think I'll enjoy the area and meet interesting people. Suddenly I'm excited about the thought of a move.

Interpretation: The dream was inspired by a piece that Helen Hwang wrote about her relationships with her mother and grandmother. She had been closer to her paternal grandmother than to her mother, and at a point in her life she realized she needed to connect with her mother. In the dream I become happier and stronger when I connect with my maternal ancestor, my mother's mother. The dream is a step in my working out my own autonomy. In the dream I confront who I am as an adult with my now internalized “mother.” Can I live with what I've inherited from my ancestors and still be myself? The dream tells me that I can: I learn that I can be in the place I want to be even with Mother in my life. She has been integrated into my psyche to the point that we both want the same things; I unconsciously realize that at this point in my life she does live with me, even if not physically, and I'm getting the two of us in sync.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Family History

The Dream: We are visiting acquaintances, a little older than we are. They are very nice, salt of the earth, mid-Western. As we converse it becomes apparent that the man, slightly heavy, quiet, almost dour, is a keen genealogist. Clark doesn't immediately let on that he is as well, but I say, enthusiastically, “Oh! So is Clark!”
I go on to say how either you're interested in this sort of thing or you're not, and I'm not. And I tell him it's because I know everything there is to know about my family, and I proceed to tell him.

“My grandparents are Russian, my father's family from Belo-Russe; my mother's were Russian speakers who lived in what was Austria Hungary at the time, now Poland. There was all sorts of ethnic, political complexity at the time, I explain. “My mother's father died when she was 2, and my grandmother worked cleaning office buildings to keep the family together.” I find I am getting choked up as I say this, fighting back tears. My listener is impassive. “She was a hero!” I say.

Meanwhile, the wife's large family of sisters have arrived. They remind me of the women in my exercise class: pleasant, but I feel I have nothing in common with them.

Interpretation: The mid-Western people I have nothing in common with represent the larger American society and culture that, as a child, I felt too ethnic to be a part of. My estrangement is echoed in the present by my feelings about the women in my exercise class. The impassive mid-Western man understands nothing of the immigrant experience and really isn't interested; he's very comfortable in his own deep experience of endless American ancestors.

What the dream brings up about my feelings for my poor, overworked and very kind grandmother is new to me. I hadn't been aware of this sadness lurking inside over the difficulty of her life. I'm not sure why I'm telling the man about it: it's as though I'd like him to understand, but he isn't interested. With the appearance of the wife's large family at the end of the dream I'm thrown back to a women's group (like the members of my exercise class) that I can never be part of: they are sisters and I'm not. This dream points to one of the reasons I have often felt somewhat alienated.