Pizza Dreams

Marc Chagall

Pizza Dreams

….Mr Fenton Allentuck describes the following precognitive dream, “ I went to sleep at midnight and I saw my grandfather about to be run over by a truck in the middle of the street, where he was waltzing with a clothing dummy…. I had an uneasy feeling that some men were trying to break into my room and shampoo me.  But why ? I kept imagining shadowy forms and at 3A.M. the underwear I had draped over the chair began to resemble the Kaiser on roller skates.  When I fell back asleep I dreamed again, a hideous nightmare in which a woodchuck was trying to claim my prize at a raffle…  Woody Allen, Without Feathers

I am wandering the hallways of my high school dressed only in my underwear.  My best friend walks by asking me telepathically, “Where have you been all semester?  We have the calculus final today!”

I dodge in and out of shallow doorways and across cold pavement to find my locker.  I have forgotten the combination.  I am a dead man.  No graduation.  No college.  No job.  My life is ruined…

I wake up in a cold sweat with the moon streaming through the bedroom bay window.  I shuffle towards the kitchen while the cat trails affectionately underfoot mistakenly thinking it is time for breakfast.  I open the refrigerator and sigh, a pathetic figure cast in pale light.  It was only a dream.

Each night between the witching hours of 2am and 6am, average people are transported through a subconscious rabbit hole and across a bizarre kaleidoscope of disconnected faces, symbols and places.  The results range from the comical to the terrifying.  Some dreamers journey back in time to face old demons or attempt to amend unresolved conflicts. Others boast of encounters with random celebrities.  Some profess X-Men super powers – – flying at breakneck speeds or deploying telekinesis to move objects with their thoughts.

There is the classic “Groundhog Day” dream where one wakes up, relieved to be free from their early morning incubus, only to fall asleep and have the dream pick up where they left off.  The most terrifying dreams are “chase dreams” where someone is pursuing you – –  perhaps an insurance salesman or someone from the Tea Party.  I recall a nightmare featuring a buck-toothed girl who had stalked me in elementary school informing me that we had just been married.  As I fled the church, she started chasing me on a big wheel.  I could not seem to outrun her but was finally able to will myself awake.  If my wife had sat up in bed at that precise moment with false buckteeth saying , What’s up doc? “, she would be collecting now on my life insurance.

Lately, I have been having some wild dreams.  Perhaps, it is anxiety associated with my eldest going off to college or the post traumatic stress associated with Irene.  I keep dreaming the Levco guy is filling my house with chocolate milk – which is annoying because I am lactose intolerant.  Another dream has me dressed up like Dorothy from the wizard of Oz and someone keeps shouting, ” it’s a micro-burst, it’s a micro-burst!”  When I correct him and say, no, you mean tornado.” He turns to me and angrily chastises me.  ” It’s bad for business to say, ” tornado”.  We use the term “micro-burst.  It’s better for property values.”

I am uncertain if my nightly visits to the Twilight Zone are caused by unresolved conflict, odd midnight eating habits or an overactive imagination.  My mother used to have an expression for the kind of dream where you woke up saying, ” What the hell was that!”. She simply called it a “pizza dream”.

Pizza dreams are not all bad.  Some people have made a fortune off their dreams and hallucinations.  Jack Nicklaus, struggling with his golf game, had a vivid midnight vision where he was striking the ball with an unconventionally short, modified swing.  He awoke and tried the swing successfully on the golf range which resulting in a marked improvement in his game.

Samuel Coleridge wrote his famous Kubla Kahn after waking up from a drug induced dream.  Mary Shelley, along with husband Percy and Lord Byron, was housebound in a Swiss castle during a violent storm  and agreed to a competition with the famous writers over who could tell the most frightening ghost story.  After retiring to nap (and consuming a hallucinogenic), she awoke with a vision of  a creature so terrifying that it literally induced her to question the essence of Man and God.  No, it was not Sarah Palin.  It was a creature grafted out of cadaver body parts – purloined by grave robbers in the dead of night — nope, it wasn’t Ron Paul or Barney Frank either.  It was Frankenstein. ( P.S. she won the bet !).

As a child who had more nightmares than Stephen King, my new age mother tried to explain to me that dreams were subconscious fields and mental alleyways where humans tried to work through our anxieties or mental struggles.  My mother was always curious about the strange films playing in the midnight theaters of our minds.  She expressed great interest in our nocturnal adventures, considering our forays into the unknown as potential “out-of-body” experiences known as “astral flight” to deep struggles of conscience known as “guilt”.

Our Age of Aquarius mother read countless books on dream interpretation – – from Freud, Jung, and Cayce to the interpretations of Native American shamans.  Each Sunday, we were forced at gunpoint to church by our father, only to come home and struggle to reconcile the sacred and the profane of Western Christianity and new age spiritualism.  Our mother explained that the bible was filled with examples where God would choose to appear to individuals in dreams and through these encounters convey a divine message. The ancient Greeks and Egyptians considered dreams as omens and harbingers of great importance.  Each society and religion maintained a social order where those who could decipher the hieroglyphics of dreams – – elders, medicine men, oracles and sages were raised to positions of prestige and power.

Freud asserted that each of us possesses a subconscious, Id, and the conscious, Super Ego. These irresistible forces of hidden desire (teenagers) regularly clash each night with the immovable objects of temporal restraint (parents).  As the mind works through these physical and emotional challenges, it paints mental canvases more complex and bizarre than any created by Picasso or Chagall.

Unlike Freud, Jung did not seek to interpret dreams as tangled sexual symbols requiring therapeutic intervention.  Jung considered dreams a collateral universe where the subconscious mind worked furiously over problems, unresolved issues, philosophical conundrums and latent desires.

There are many who consider dreams a highway to the paranormal, a lonely road to another dimension of our existence – – one that happens just outside of our mind’s eye.  Rod Serling called it the “ Twilight Zone”.  Ray Bradbury called it “October Country”.  Alien abductions, spiritual guidance, premonitions, past lives and psychopompic events (encounters with deceased loved ones ) have all been documented through dreams.  Lincoln was said to have a clear premonition ten days before his own assassination where he dreamed of mourners and a corpse in the East wing of the White House.  A soldier informed him that the shrouded figure was “ the body of the President, killed by an assassin”

In 1961, a dream researcher’s case study quickly turned into perhaps the most credible case of alien abduction ever documented.  A Canadian couple, Betty and Barney Hill, returning from holiday in New Hampshire began to experience health problems and terrifying nightmares.  When hypnosis revealed identical stories of an alien abduction and medical experiments, while driving along lonely US Highway 3, dream specialists were dispatched to investigate.

Betty Hill’s nightmares never ceased and graphically included minute details of a medical procedure conducted by her abductors that included the unheard of description of a needle that was inserted into her belly button.  The fantastical medical procedure that she so accurately shared under hypnosis is now commonly recognized as a routine process to withdraw eggs for purposes of in-vitro fertilization. (Ok, this is usually where Twilight Zone music plays…..)

Whether you see dreams as a disjointed, meaningless theatre of the absurd or a clash between the temporal and unknown, the subconscious mind is the last wilderness of our generation.  Dreams can portend events like Nostradamus or haunt us for past sins like a relentless Javert.   Like so many other invisible psychic sinews that bind us, we are linked by our fascination with these odd subconscious episodes and bonded by the common phenomena of waking up back in high school in our underwear.

We have also concluded that we must, at all costs, avoid eating pizza after 11 at night.

The Snobbery of Chronology

Replica of the helmet from the Sutton Hoo ship...
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The Snobbery of Chronology

As we crawl out from underneath the havoc wrought by Irene and as we stare at the newspaper headlines each day, I am reminded of the anxiety and angst that accompanied the new millennium in December of 1999.

Aside from the fact that Hebrews viewed January 1, 2000 as the date 5760 AD, Buddhists viewed it as 2544 and Muslims – the year 1420, the Western conceit that the year 2000 held grave significance for the rest of the world was both amusing and terrifying.

Y2K doomsayers and Armageddonists portended the end of civilization.  During this time of great angst, a book authored by Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger was unceremoniously published in England and simply titled, The Year 1000.  The author, a medieval scholar, sought to offer the English public some perspective on the daily life of an Anglo Saxon peasant in the year 1000 and to consider the significance of one thousand years of “progress” in Anglican society.

The ability to piece together the daily thoughts, events and travails of those who labored over ten centuries ago would have been an impossible task had it not been for a diligent eleventh century monastic clerk who created a series of pictures and Latin narratives describing daily life known as the Julius Work Calendar.  The calendar unlike many other narratives of medieval learning had a near death experience in the mid sixteenth century  during Henry VIII’s dissolution of the Roman Catholic church and its monasteries. An obscure English historian discovered the documents risked death to preserve the strangely illustrated chronology documenting the lives of common as well as landed individuals.

The calendar became a distant mirror through which modern society could see its own reflections and those of our ancestors. The monk that painstakingly maintained the record of daily living in the year 1000,  painted a picture of kings, lords, ploughman, women and children – – their triumphs and tragedies in a time when death, discomfort and disease were constant companions.  It is believed to be the most accurate record of its kind in the first millennium.

Prior to 1066, Anglo Saxon England was a kingdom characterized by contradictions. It was an age of faith and fear. People lived in profound uncertainty.  There was universal recognition that society could not survive without a profound faith in God.  People were heavily burdened in this agrarian society.  Devils and saints fought for the souls of each citizen of the realm.  People took Satan seriously and often attributed unexplained phenomena and bad luck to the unholy evils that sought to inhabit the twilight shadows and the dark corners of men’s hearts.  Elves, fairies, demons, trolls and goblins inhabited the uncharted lands and the superstitious recesses of people’s minds.  The church fought to diffuse these influences with their own army of saints who offered their lives as an example of sacrifice and faith.  Saints were thought to inhabit holy places and powerful spirits were believed to be embodied in relics that were stored at these sites.

Medieval Anglo Saxon England was characterized by strong individuals, fed on beef from lean, free range animals whose fat content was a fraction of today’s processed food.  Life expectancy was short, only mid-forty; a fifty year old considered an elder.  Boys, as young as 12, were expected to swear allegiance to King Ethelred and to be prepared to go to battle for the kingdom.  Girls married in their early teens to men often two to three times their age.  It was routine to lose more than one child to plague, famine or accident.

Villages functioned as tightly knit communities and were the central threads in a tenuous tapestry held together by hard work and a cunning to survive.  People went by Christian names, not surnames.  One’s vocation often became as significant as their Christian name.  Surnames evolved out of the recognition of one’s parents,  Michael, son of John – – Michael Johnson. Alfred, son of the Shepherd – – Alfred Shepherd.

The English arrival in ancient Celtic England coincided with the departure of the Romans after 400 years of rule.  The swords of the Saxons, Angles and other Germanic tribes clashed and cast a new direction for England.  In bringing some semblance of order, they brought their churches and the role that the church played as the chief interpreter of all that happened in the past, present and future.  Village churches were the economic, social and spiritual hubs of these small societies.  “God was King in Heaven and Ethelred was King on Earth,” remarked one scholar.

Living an honorable life among the various hardships was the ultimate measure of a man.  As with today’s society, there were disparities between those with wealth and the poor but it was much less pronounced and it did not compensate to extend one’s life expectancy.  Rich and poor were separated by the basic necessities of living – – stone and brick versus wood and mud.  Lords offered protection to serfs in exchange for fealty and servitude.  Virtually everyone was aligned with a powerful person and with this allegiance often followed a modest stipend or improvement to one’s quality of life.  Society was more egalitarian than one might think.  The fates were recognized and constantly acknowledged as life’s great equalizer.

CS Lewis was quoted as referring to the “snobbery of chronology”.  Lewis’ premise was that as a modern society we tend to view anyone who lived before us with a degree of patronizing nostalgia.  By studying our ancestors, reading about them and studying their lives we feel superior to them and in doing so, believe we must know more.  We certainly have facts, science and fiber optic technology that have all shined a bright light deep into the recesses of our imaginations and fears and in doing so, dispelled myths and swept away archaic views.  However, it also crowded out that critical need to believe in something greater than oneself to cope with the vagaries of an uncertain world.

We have extended our chronological lives and increased our material wealth but have we proven that we have more integrity, wisdom and humility than those that lived a millennium before?  CS Lewis wondered that in times of great moral and personal strife, does modern day society’s sophistication enable us to face hardships and challenges with the same determination, grit, humor and fortitude as those who lived before us?  Perhaps, 1000 years ago, people did not live longer or as well, but perhaps if we explored more deeply how they lived, we might develop a greater understanding of what it means to live more nobly.