I don’t typically wear my stress on my sleeve. I’ve never wanted it to influence my art, my writing or my interaction with the public or the students I teach and I think that I just feel better when I leave that stuff in a place where I can grapple with it in private.
As it turns out, this place of private grappling is often in my dreams. Enter the stress dreams. You know them. They are the twisted, anxious expressions of your real life, quite often containing pieces of a life-gone-by, and they are fraught with all the Murphy’s Law that only a dream state can provide. This particular brand of REM-stage comes to us when we are most exhausted, most in need of a good night’s sleep, and wreaks havoc on the four or five hours we manage to grab on these awful nights, leaving us with a feeling of unrest to face the day ahead.
In mine I am frequently back at high school or college trying to figure out how to get to a classroom, only to arrive to find out that there is an exam and I am only attending my first day of the course. Other times I am attempting to drive to a location that, to my frustration, keeps shifting as I get on and off the freeway, desperately praying that I won’t run out of gas only to end up back on the same street over and over again, like one of the many upsetting scenes in the 80s movie, After Hours. But, my best stress dreams most often reveal them selves in some crowded and busy restaurant where I am supposed to be waiting tables. I’m late for my shift and my tables are full but trays can’t be carried straight, drinks and food topple in every direction, tables once visited can’t be found again, calculators and registers won’t let me press the right buttons or come up with the correct amount and customers are disgruntled and almost always leave without paying their bill. To top it off, sometimes, just to make it more interesting, I’m also drunk.
So, over last week’s road trip I had a kooky waitressing dream where I had to take orders from a kitchen to a table that was all the way across the entire pedestrian section of Times Square. As I tried to make my way, dodging the tourists and the photo-crazed throngs thronging around the Naked Cowboy and topless Lady Liberty, I looked down at the salad I was carrying. Thick, wet, green paint oozed all over and around the tomatoes and the arugula. At first I hoped that it wouldn’t be noticed– what with the salad being green and all– but then I worried that someone would be poisoned. I tried to wipe it off before I got to the customer but, as it is in these dreams, the more I wiped, the more the paint spread out until it was all over both the salad and the edge of the pretty, blue FiestaWare plate. Despite this, I still delivered it to the table where I served it to an expectedly outraged person, only to have to go through the entire exercise all over again.
I woke up feeling all agitated. We were staying with my friends, Don and Johanna Cadoret (see last week’s post) and, at breakfast they asked how we’d slept. I admitted that I’d awoken from a weird dream but marveled to everyone that I didn’t feel a stress dream was warranted. I mean the absolute truth was that I was feeling totally relaxed and stress free! I immediately began to feel conscious about complaining to my hosts and then started to worry that I had stress I wasn’t even aware I had and this, in fact, started making me completely stressed!
Now, my friend Don is real calm, cool and collected about most everything. So, after I’d had my mini melt down about what my Times Square waitressing disaster meant, he very simply went all Kaizen on me and said, “What if these aren’t stress dreams but, instead, creativity dreams? What if you’re just trying to work something out creatively in your dreams?”
He reframed the one who likes to think of herself as the reframer.
Wow, was I glad to be knocked back into some sense. Right away I was reminded of what I know I already know: We always have the choice to reframe, to stand back and realize that we are in control of our reactions to everything.
Later that week Jeff and I visited the Montreal Museum of Fine Art to see the Dale Chihuly exhibit, which was exhilarating. I realize now that, it’s possible that green paint on your salad might just be the next big art thing. Well, maybe.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, Friends. Life is but a dream. Really, it is!
TRY THIS WEEK: Remember to reframe.