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Saturday, June 13, 2015

Nightmares–What If They Are Real?

“Ghoulish”, said Margie Fisher.

“Fiendish”, said Lindy Parsons.

“Horrific”, said Betty Landers.

Filly Randall loved telling about her nightmares.  They were so creative. Of course she embellished them here and there and used them for her ghost stories at summer camp where she was a counselor.

“There was a rustling in the dark woods as the light, cold wind came down from the mountain.  Other than the leaves and the mournful sound of the wind in the pine trees, the forest was silent and expectant.  The girls sat around the campfire trying to act brave; but at every moan of the branches above them, and every sound of a cracking branch in the distance, they huddled closer together, silently.  They knew that Three Fingered Willy was in the woods with them”.

Charles Burchfield woods

       Charles Burchfield, www.newyorker.com

Filly kept a diary and wrote down all the ghost stories she told at Camp Starlight.  Not that she needed to, for she could recite them by heart every year; but she simply liked writing them.  It was part of their evolution.  First she had a ghoulish nightmare.  Then she unwound it into a scary camp story, and then she wrote it down; and as she did, the story became more twisted and frightening, taking the reader down lonely lanes, listening to a creaking door in a musty basement, or cowering under a giant redwood as the skies thundered and flashed.

The truth of the matter was that Filly woke up moaning and in a sweat from her nightmares just like everyone else, glad to be awake and to recognize the lamp, nightstand, and stuffed animals on her bed. When she had calmed down and realized that dreams were just that – horrible adventures into another world which had nothing to do with the green lawns, picket fences, and pleasant home she lived in – she smiled. “I am so creative”, she said to herself.

In fact, whenever she went to bed she hoped that she would have a nightmare so that she would be able to tell her friends about it.  Theirs were so lame and predictable - taking an exam when you hadn’t studied for it; walking naked on K Street; or running over cut glass.  Hers were filled with demonic creatures with yellow, glowing eyes; desolate, dark, and cold post-apocalyptic landscapes; horrific murders with lots of blood; deformed trees turning into demonic, vengeful dwarves.

Image result for images anselm kiefer

   Anselm Kiefer, ‘Ashes to Ashes’ www.thepaintingimperative.com

As she got older, Filly reckoned that there were only two logical reasons why she had such absolutely evil and sinister dreams – either she simply had a vivid imagination, one ramped up by Tales from the Crypt and Edgar Allen Poe; and she willed her nightmares as part of the creative process; or they were Freudian expressions of some hidden inner torment.

Image result for images tales from the crypt


She liked the first explanation because it corresponded to the image she had of herself – a brilliant, nonconventional, artistic genius – and although willing to grant the second, given the reputation of Freud, the science of psychoanalysis, it somehow didn’t ring true.

According to Freud the human psyche is divided into Ego, Id, and Superego all three of which struggle for supremacy but where the untamed darker forces of repressed sexuality, Oedipal rage, and frustrated fury usually win.  If this were true, then it was hardly plausible to believe that anyone could control this process.


If Freud was also right in concluding that nightmares are expressions of the unsettled, troubled nature of the psyche, then her nightmares were not constructions of her will at all but had to be mirrors of her mind and worse, of herself.

“Nonsense”, said her father. “Freud was wrong. Picasso was right. Dreams are no more than daily life which has been disassembled and reorganized.”

Picasso Demoiselles

               ‘Demoiselles d’Avignon wwwpablopicasso.org

Filly liked this explanation best of all because it confirmed what she already believed. She did not see the world like other girls – loaves of bread, bottles of milk, office buildings, and flower bushes.  Ordinary, uninteresting things that appeared in her dreams just as they did in real life. Filly on the other hand transformed the bread into the Eucharist of a Satanic ritual, the milk into fabulously filled breasts, the office buildings into twisted, deformed, looming organic creatures; and flower bushes into dense, impenetrable, choking jungle vines.

There was a third explanation that Filly only considered when she was much older. Perhaps nightmares are reality, not just a mirror or Cubist recreation of it. What if the world were itself demonic, twisted, deformed, and threatening; and that what we saw was a reconfiguration of a reality so dark and brutal that we had to alter it?.

Could this possibly be? That would account for all the treacly greeting cards, holiday cheer, upbeat Hollywood movies, and romance novels around today. When you get right down to it, the world is not a very nice place. Forget about Hitler, Pol Pot, or Genghis Khan. What ordinary people do to each other is enough to confirm the conclusion that human nature is, was, and always will be greedy, aggressive, self-serving, territorial, and implacable.

So nightmares, in all their twisted horror are the true visions of the world, not some fevered expressions of individual shame, guilt, or fear.  Picasso might be right after all.

Image result for images guernica


Only artists see the world the way it really is.

Image result for images van gogh paintings


As she got older Filly stopped having nightmares; but she knew herself well enough not to be surprised.  Her adolescent nightmares were revelations; and once she had deciphered and understood them, they stopped.  There was no longer any need for them. The Id had done its work, but in her case was only a temporary victor. Her rational, disciplined self took over and deconstructed the world dispassionately and without night-sweat melodrama.  Human nature was indeed responsible for the world’s horrific events.  Free will, cognition, and logic were all part of the cover up. Morality, faith, and religion were nothing more than pretty bows and ribbons.

Filly continued to dream, but her dreams were obvious expressions of less existential problems.  Her sex dreams, for example, were far more pleasurable than real life.  She loved her husband, but dreamed only of young men. “This much I do remember”, says the Princess Alexandra del Lago in Sweet Bird of Youth, “that I like bodies to be hairless, silky-smooth gold”; and Filly transformed that line into long, languorous sexual dreams time and time again.

Image result for images film sweet bird of youth


She still had airport dreams, unpleasant remnants of her days spent delayed in pestilential African terminals.  She hated cats and often dreamed of them biting her. She missed the wide open spaces and often dreamed of Paradise Valley.

Filly’s friends thought her unreasonably pessimistic if not cynical about human nature. The most idealistic of them were convinced that Man and human society are perfectible; and that with energy, commitment, and passion we can make the world a better place.

“Phooey”, she always said to herself when she heard such syrupy idealism. “These girls have had no nightmares.”

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