I Dream of Houses

Dreaming. The people I know don’t mention it. There’s rarely an article on it. And yet it seems to be taking a front seat in my life. A couple of years ago I started keeping a dream diary, not because these dreams were offering me any great insight, but because they seemed to follow me into the daylight hours, hovering and whispering unknowable somethings in my ear.

The weight of these dreams seemed to far outweigh their substance (though many of the images and plots are entertaining and interesting in and of themselves), but that weight was influencing the way I attacked the day. It has gotten so pervasive that I have given it a name: “Dream Hangover”.

Last night I had another ‘house’ dream. I have these frequently, perhaps as often as once a week. Occasionally these are benign, usually involving redesigning, painting, or cleaning, and these leave me with a feeling of general well being and accomplishment. I welcome these.

However, the vast majority of these so-called House Dreams are of another kind. Last night’s was so similar to another dream that occurred last week that I realized there must be some significant reason for the repetitive theme. The dreams each feature large old mansions, dusty and neglected, but full to overflowing with the original furniture and Victorian gewgaws, old memorabilia, and the detritus of past lives. My family seems to have been given this house; at least myself, my siblings, and my mother (father seems absent) do not seem familiar with it.

Our usage has cluttered it even more…there are clothes and suitcases everywhere, in no apparent order. I am an older child here and have been given my own space, but the clutter has invaded even there. Not only the mess annoys me, the house itself is driving me nuts; the rooms are tiny, the doorways are narrow and blocked with furniture, the windows are covered with thick drapes or shutters. The halls are confined and seem to lead to an endless rat’s maze of senselessly entwined rooms. Even the kitchen has become useless: furniture has been stacked in there and the room is too narrow and confining to have ever been very functional.

I just want to scream, “Get this stuff picked up! Knock out the walls. Do something! I can’t live like this.” For some reason, I feel like my younger sister is to blame for most of the mess, her toys and cloths are everywhere, so I complain to Mom. Her response? A smile and a shrug, “You know I’ve never been able to make her mind me.” I was furious. Mad at my mother for her lack of backbone, and mad at my sister for generating all the mountains of trash.

I try to clean up, I really do. Out of desperation, I throw out even perfectly useful things like blankets and favorite toys. Maybe that will teach them! But no matter how hard I clean I can’t seem to make a dent.

Then I get even worse news. A couple of local families have been invited over to dinner. “What?! You can’t have people over here. The kitchen doesn’t work and the house is a MESS! Can’t you understand this?” I go on strike. I’m not going to participate in this fiasco. People start arriving. I try to hide. I make excuses that I can’t find any clothes to wear, but somehow I keep getting swept up in the chaos.

However, a certain resignation comes over me. I’m dressed in paint spattered work clothes that don’t fit, but a little voice in the back of my head says, “Ahh, fuck it anyway. What does it matter?” I join the group and start to chat with the children that have come over. I explain to them about the old house and what the old dusty treasures are. I tell them that walls need to be knocked out, explain why some need to remain to hold up the house, why tearing down others will open up the view and improve traffic patterns. I tell them that the old house is well built and worth saving, but it needs a lot of work and will cost a lot of money. The kids seem interested and I actually enjoy myself, start to relax, begin to feel like maybe I can accomplish something worthwhile here.

Then suddenly the house starts to shake. Plaster and sawdust rains down from the ceiling. There is a huge feeling of falling, and I clutch something fiercely, close my eyes and feel the world drop out from under me for what seems like a long time. Then sudden stillness. I look around and the damage doesn’t seem so bad, but as I walk outside, I look down the side of the building. It must be at least four stories tall, covered with jutting windows, ornate colonnades, and rococo decoration, but now the entire facade sags and leans and winds like an old picket fence.

A child next to me grabs my hand. I say, “Now it’s not worth fixing at all,” and I start to cry. And I wake up.

These dreams always seem to occur just before I wake up, as if they’re trying to make sure that I remember them. Okay, I can deal with that, but unfortunately I wake up feeling like I’ve been wrestling the devil all night. The ‘hangover’ can last several hours, and have a definite physical aftermath. My eyes are sandy, more so than usual. It is hard to switch to daytime breathing patterns (it seems like my body just wants to be sucked back into the dreamworld). I’m tired and puffy eyed, so much so that my husband takes one look at me in the morning and says, “Dreaming again?”

I was curious and went on line (A friend said there were some sites that just dealt in dream telling and dream analysis). These sites looked too flaky for my taste, but I did check out their interpretation of house dreams. They equated houses to “temples of the body” and ruined houses as fear of our bodies’ inevitable aging. I was personally dissatisfied with that. My own thoughts had run more to the dreams being a natural result of too many moves from one place to another as a child, and tended to see houses as symbols of “security” and their destruction as fear of potential loss of that security. But somehow that didn’t explain the depth of feelings in these dreams or the exhaustion that follows them, or why I seemed to be having them more frequently recently.

A casual remark by my husband over a cup of coffee triggered a new idea. What he said was, “God, looks like you’ve been wrestling with the world.” In the shower, that kept rattling around in my head…wrestling with the world, wrestling with the world. Then a light dawned. I think that’s exactly what I have been doing. My “house” isn’t my body, it isn’t my childhood, it is the world. And I’m trying to change the world in my sleep.

Today’s world is a scary place. We don’t have Indians skulking over the next hill, and we aren’t discussing how to kill the lion that ate Harry yesterday, and we’re not watching our home wash down the gully in a spring flood, but we are seeing ever more deadly monsters ready to leap out at us from every television and newspaper, magazine and radio, computer blog and billboard ad. Fear is in Global Warming, Infrastructure Collapse, Revolution In Pakistan, the Super Bug, Avian Flu, Coronary Heart Attack, War in the Middle East, No Oil, Bee Extinction, Insane Presidents, Terrorism, Children Being Bombed, Rigged Elections, Illegal Aliens, War on Drugs, Air Pollution, the Housing Collapse, Dollar Devaluation, and every pharmaceutical ad we are bombarded with. I could go on ad nauseam.

Admittedly, I leave myself open to this. Having a news junkie for a husband doesn’t help. But, the question is, can I afford to bury my head in the sand, tune out, turn on, turn in. It’s very tempting. I know I would be happier if I were ignorant. But I innately feel that we are all obligated to be at least somewhat informed.

This is a conundrum that we face every day…how much information is enough? How much is too much? Or even more importantly, how much of that information can we trust? How much of it is propagandized? Or sprinkled with inaccurate statistics or weighted statistics? Even if the information is correct, can we really do anything about Global Warming? How important is Terrorism when you weigh it against, say, annual car fatalities?

In the good old days, you could be sure it was a lion or a flood or an Indian. There was something you could do…some plan that was tried and tested. Today we have no map, the threats are so numerous and so overwhelming, that the only plan is to survive TODAY.

As my husband says, perhaps I should stop worrying and enjoy the moment. After all, I have a roof over my head, a car to drive, food in my mouth, water running from the tap, and enough electricity to keep this computer up and operational. We’re pretty much paying our bills. After all, how bad can it be?

Well, maybe it isn’t so bad for me. And as for our kids, they have grown up and, though they’re not all thriving, most of them are managing. One thing does puzzle me though…out of the six of us (myself, my husband, and our four kids), four of us are on anti-depressants. So, if things are rosy, why can’t we seem to cope? Can we call this a healthy environment when we feel as if we can’t go through the week without a chemical crutch? What about all the autistic children, or those on Ritalin? Is this a simple aberration, an over-diagnosis, or possibly just pill crazy doctors and parents? I don’t think so.

We can bury our heads, but it won’t change the fact that we have created a world that we cannot live in. This environment is crippling us both mentally and physically, and we will pay a high price in the future…a price in dysfunctional, overweight, and unhappy children. A price in isolated, paranoid, and intellectually stunted adults.

I don’t have a lot of answers, but I do have some suggestions. Turn that television off. Use it simply for specific educational programming. T-VO all the programs and edit out the ads. Dole out the good shows like they were diamonds. Teach your kids about the real world, not the video game one. Take them fishing and hiking, and stop along the way to learn about the plants and animals (even a beetle can be fascinating if you learn to look). Get a book on survival. Maybe you or your children will never need it, but everyone should know how to set a basic trap, be observant enough to backtrack well enough to not get lost, and how to build a fire and a shelter in case of emergency.

Discuss with your children where their food comes from (it’s someplace besides a store, you know), and how it’s safely processed and eaten. Teach them how to wire a lamp and jump a car, how to change a tire, make a bank deposit. Take them to work with you one day and give them a tour. Go to school with them, sit and observe. Most importantly, stay involved, and let your kid know that they should question everything, everything including what you’re telling them. Because when you do that, you’re teaching your child to use critical thinking. That thinking will enable him to choose his future. Hopefully, our future will not choose him.

I Dream of Houses

Lynda Berlin

Stockton, United States

  • Artist

Artist's Description

“House Dreams” what do they mean? To me, they are a metaphor for the state of the world. Here is where my house dreams lead me…

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desktop tablet-landscape content-width tablet-portrait workstream-4-across phone-landscape phone-portrait

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