I’m in a huge hotel complex with confusing corridors linked by stairways and escalators. The place is packed, so as I navigate the architectural maze, I also have to maneuver the crowd as I hurry to my meeting, which of course I’m already late for. Luckily, I make it to the designated meeting place before the man I’m scheduled to meet with arrives. At first I’m relieved, but as time passes and he still doesn’t show up, my worry about being late turns to anger at his rudeness. Is he just making me wait, or actually standing me up? How long should I give him? I practice saying, “Tell him I said fuck you,” and start looking around for someone to trust with my message. That’s when I begin to have second thoughts about my decision to show up for this meeting stark naked.
But the dream doesn’t end there. Naked, I hastily retrace my route, pushing past people and jogging breathlessly up steep stairways. When I arrive at my room, it’s being cleaned. There’s an awkward encounter with the chamber maid, whom I surprise in the process of zipping up her skirt. Waving aside her embarrassed apologizes, I grab a filmy, lime-green camisole and a silky lilac skirt, and struggle into them.
I wake up kicking myself for wearing a black bra under such a pale blouse, and laughing at myself for having such a ridiculous, clichéd dream.
It’s been a while since I had my last anxiety dream. When I was little, I had a lot of anxiety dreams, mostly involving fire. Later, fire was replaced by impossible architecture. When I was an editor at Seven Days, I dreamed regularly about losing my desk. Either the streets or the building had mysteriously changed or someone had moved my work station without telling me. The naked theme is hardly new, but it’s gotten more frequent lately – although, as I said, recently my anxiety dreams have been markedly infrequent.
So why last night’s dream? The crowded hotel is clearly borrowed from David, who spent part of last week at a philosophy convention, interviewing job candidates. He came home talking about the applicants’ justified anxiety. As for the meeting in my dream, it was explicitly an actual meeting I’m having later this week. I guess I’m more worried about it than I’d realized.
But even if David’s convention and my upcoming appointment hadn’t lent my dream its details, I probably would have had some kind of anxiety dream. I blame New Year’s. Although nothing other than an artificial number on a calendar actually changed this past weekend, the turning of a year naturally encourages reflection. For me, this scrutiny has been focused on the professional. What have I accomplished with my writing in the last 12 months? Not what I had hoped. What are my goals for next year? I’m not really sure. And that troubles me.
On the other hand, I really can’t complain. Each night, as I’m falling asleep, I run through a mental check-list of my day. When I have come up with three good things, I can empty my mind and drift off. The good things can be significant events, but they’re usually pretty subtle: how pretty the water looked, a conversation with one of my kids, something good I read or heard or ate. Going through this process is about as close as I ever come to personal prayer. Like traditional bedtime liturgies, the ritual helps me feel safe to sleep.
If I were to apply my three-good-things ritual to last night’s dream, this is what I would list:
1. I did not get lost in the corridors.
2. I was not late for my meeting.
3. I not only figured out on time that I shouldn’t be naked, but also managed to get dressed.
Take that, dream.
Sure, I’m anxious about 2012. But hopeless? Far from it. And no matter what else happens at my meeting this week, I’m pretty sure I’ll remember to get dressed.