Wednesday, November 28, 2007

This is only a test dream.

Don't drink a Diet Dr Pepper and eat some chocolate at 10:30 on a Sunday night thinking you'll be up for the next few hours doing some work only to decide an hour and a half later that you want to go to bed because then you'll find that it's hard to get to sleep right away and you'll have dreams about a "71% chance of severe flooding" and this nagging fear that while you're out of town for the weekend your basement apartment will fill up with water.


I woke up Monday morning and remembered that I live on the fifth floor of my building, not in a basement apartment. I see you've gotten the better of me once again, Mr. Subconscious. Well played.

But here's something interesting in terms of my anxiety dreams—recently I had one in which it was opening night of a play and I didn't know my lines yet. How could I? I had been cast earlier that day. I have this kind of anxiety dream pretty often, probably because I perform at least once a week in Chicago doing improv and sketch comedy; in every dream I buy the circumstances hook, line, and sinker. Never do I catch myself during the dream and say to myself, "Robert, there's no way anyone would cast you in a play the afternoon before the show opens." Besides, Mr. Subconscious would probably reply, "Exotic dancers get 'cast' the day of their first show all the time, stupid." He's right, you know. I've seen Showgirls. I know the drill.

The plays I do in my dreams are always community theater productions, which is an important point, because just like recurring high school "test dreams," why should any of our various anxiety dreams ever advance past adolescence? I know nothing about psychology beyond the Psychology 101 class I took at UGA in the fall of '95, but scientifically speaking, is adolescence the time of greatest continual anxiety in a person's life? Everything else is certainly heightened during those years.

I'm drifting away from what I wanted to say, but I am talking about dreams, so drifting seems appropriate. Here's the interesting thing about this recent anxiety dream of mine where I didn't know my lines—I wasn't anxious. For some reason I decided in the dream that since I hadn't had any time to learn the lines and since there was nothing I could do about it, I might as well just improvise and see what happens. Listen and react, which is what acting's all about anyway. And don't worry about what you can't control.

So that's what I did in the dream, and although the other actors knew I was screwing up and the audience could tell something wasn't quite right, I got through it. (Come to think of it, all of the actors were in the audience. And the audience was tiny. Wait, were the actors the entire audience? Wow, just like at the improv shows I do every Sunday night!) The dream didn't end with me panicking before I woke up.

Was the dream a sign that I've finally gained some real confidence onstage and that I should now be totally fearless when improvising (no, there are no lines to memorize beforehand when you do improv shows, but you can still end up speechless and afraid onstage in front of a room of strangers, and that doesn't feel any better than forgetting your lines), or was it a confirmation of the confidence already achieved? Is there a difference? And was the dream really about performing, or was it about gaining confidence in every aspect of life? And are all these questions turning this post into a test dream? Please don't be anxious. You didn't have time to study, so there's no need to worry about what you can't control. Especially not something as uncontrollable as a dream.


  1. my dreams of that type almost always involve me going on a long trip that i am about to leave for but am not packed for.

    i had one last night, though, that we were throwing a party for my grandma and it was time to go and i wasn't ready. the pressure of having to leave right then left me unable to make a decision and i left without changing into anything nice or fixing myself up. i figured it didn't really matter but was bummed that i missed the opportunity to dress up.

  2. I've never had the packing dream, although I'm a lousy, slow packer. Do you know other women, or men, who have that recurring dream?

  3. I have a similar dream all the time, although I'm always anxious. I never achieve the level you achieved in your dream. I'm always just a mess, trying hard to remember lines I've never learned. And in my dream, even if they cast me just that hour, it's always my fault, somehow. So I don't know what that means, but if you figure it out, let me know and also let me know how much I owe you for the therapy.

  4. i think there are probably lots of people who have similar dreams with different manifestations of the urgency and anxiety.

  5. yep. it's terrifying. the not knowing the lines dream.

    i don't have them often, but...
    and they seem to have replaced my waiter-anxiety dreams that plagued me for a full decade or more. one will still pop in every year or so.
    a table is sitting there, and has been for about an hour! and i haven't even been over to get a drink order. like they would've just sat there for an hour. ...

  6. maryk - i used to have those ALLLLLLLLLLLL the time - that exact type. same feeling as the packing dreams but UGH. the worst.

  7. Do you guys think airline pilots have dreams of crashing? Those probably trump any of our piddly little anxiety dreams.

    I'm glad I never waited tables. Just thinking about being a waiter makes me anxious. I'm not good with people in that capacity.

  8. they (waiter nightmares) are the worst. sweating. stress. just what you're looking for during your sleep time.