The Depth and Bent of Sleep

After a long talk with a friend about dreams (hi, D.W.!), I decided to keep a dream diary this month: every morning in October, I’m writing down whatever I remember about my dreams the night before. This is difficult for me, because most of my dreams are intensely visual–the setting and the mood are often what I remember mostly clearly, not the people involved or what we said or did. But I’m noticing that I remember my dreams more clearly already, just from the intention to write them down. And I get really excited about going to sleep every night!

D.W. said that he often dreams about “deepened” or extended versions of real places. He dreams about these places consistently enough that he could draw a map of his “dreamland.” My dreams are almost never set in real places, although they often contain secret passages or “extensions” of places that I know are supposed to be my house (even though the place looks nothing like my “real” house). Sometimes I’ll get  a feeling of familiarity in a dream setting, even though I know I’ve never been there in waking life. Is that familiarity a manufactured feeling? Can the brain release a “familiarity” chemical that convinces me I’ve been in this enchanted secret passageway before?

I’m going to skip over some of my more, er, Freudian dreams, since I know my mom reads this blog (hi, Mom!)–and I also know that listening to someone’s long, rambling dreams is right below “going to the dentist” on most people’s list of super-exciting activities.

However, there’s one so far that’s just too cool not to share.

First, some background info: for the past year, I’ve been helping my former piano teacher write her memoirs. Virginia has been more than just a teacher and mentor to me–she’s like a grandmother. At 92, she has lived an incredibly full, rich life; her biography is a huge project and it’s often on my mind. For the past month, she’s been in the hospital and then a nursing home, recovering from a shoulder-replacement surgery.

Now, the dream:

Virginia sent me a letter asking me to come visit her in the hospital. I had to rip the envelope open with my teeth and I got bits of paper in my mouth. I didn’t realize she was still recovering from her surgery and I felt guilty. I went to the hospital right away and made plans to spend the night there.

She was in a wheelchair when I got there–I’ve never seen her in a wheelchair–much thinner, her hair feathery. She was mumbling and leaving out pronouns, as though she’d had a stroke. She was paranoid about the nurses and doctors finding out that she had a stash of political books in her room. I helped her repack the books where they were hidden. She was working on writing a speech called “Ite Speech.” I knew she thought it would be her last speech. She kept using the word “grapheme.” She said, flexing her fingers, “When you’re thinking graphemically like this, you can feel the depth and bent of sleep!”

That sentence seemed profound and poetic and, in my dream, I tried to write it down, but all the words came out as unintelligible squiggles. [This is a recurring element in my dreams.] I was suddenly very tired. I was lying in the hospital bed next to hers, thinking that I should let my mom know where I was. Virginia was just outside the door, in her wheelchair. Suddenly she called for me. They were trying to wheel her away somewhere. She wanted me to bring her the latest draft of “Ite Speech” so she could work on it, wherever they were taking her.

Weirdest part: I didn’t know that I even knew the word “graphemically.” I looked it up when I woke up, and “grapheme” means the smallest unit of written linguistic construction–like a “phoneme” is the smallest unit of spoken language.  I must have osmosed the word from one of the psychology or linguistics books I edit at work.

It seems clear to me that part of this dream is about worrying. The gross feeling of bits of soggy envelope paper in my mouth means I feel like I’m choking on the scope of this project–literally, bit off more than I can chew. And of course, Virginia is concerned that we get this project finished before her health really does deteriorate. She worries that she may not have much time left.

Taking this a step further, my sleeping brain was telling me to analyze (“graphemically,” detail by tiny detail) my dreams, in order to plumb the “depth and bent of sleep”–in order to better understand my own sleeping brain. In other words, my sleeping brain is self-aware. Amazing!

I also didn’t consciously know the word “ite.” When I woke up, I realized that my dreaming brain pulled it from the phrase “Ite missa est,” the concluding Latin words of the Catholic Mass, which translate to “the Mass is sent/concluded/finished.” In the dream, Virginia was losing her powers of speech. So the speech she was writing was not only the last thing she was ever going to write, but also a metaphorical declaration that her powers of speech were at an end. “The speech is concluded.” “My powers of speech are finished.”

My sleeping brain is a poet!!

Well, enough of that. To reward any reader who has gotten this far, I’ll post a few new “sleepy mumbles” (think: Saul Bellow, hanky-panky, and the blue people) from the journal of Noj, whose name has been spelled backward for privacy, and who is my faithful recordkeeper of all things nonsensical that emerge from my mouth when I am on the brink of dreamland.

me: “Upside-down fritters! On Bronwyn’s head!”
Noj: “How did they get there?”
me: “Accident.”
Noj: “What should we do?”
me: “Dye them red!”

“It’s very important to look for the blue toast.”

“I tumbled into the mail bag.”

“My mom is busy chasing them down.”

me: “Graham crackers!!!”
Noj: “Where?”
me: “In my shoe.”

“Wasn’t there a friend of mine from middle school in the middle of the forest?”

“Babe, do you need a lid on your shoulder?”

“Why would you buy poo?!”

“I don’t think the gorilla knew about it…”


Whether or not the gorilla knew about it, this has been station L.I.S.A., with your bi-monthly-ish update on all things kooky and graphemical.

Ite blogpost est.


5 thoughts on “The Depth and Bent of Sleep

  1. I’ve also heard that you’re supposed “know” everyone who makes an appearance in my dream, or at least someone you’ve seen before in your life. Hmmm…

    I also feel like as I’ve gotten older I remember my dreams less and less to the point where I wonder if I even dream anymore. Maybe I should start a diary as well and see what happens when I wake each morning.

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