The Most Significant Thing About Me Is…

I am thinking about it.  Are you?  The most significant thing about me is…

I am thinking about this on the fly.  Let me get some thoughts started.

I had been busy writing on dollar bills and pondering aloof relationships.  I presumed such trivial efforts would set my thoughts free.  Alas, I was wrong.

So I sought sleep.  I have a preference for sleep, but sleep seems to be on par with relationships tonight.  Aloof.

Then I realized that all of these seemingly different questions could be related.  Fumbling with wasted time, missing persons, sleep and dreams…I was looking for an escape.

Sleep often has been my escape.  Dreams my escape.  However I think these escapes serve better as tools.  Dreams don’t free us from reality, they reconfigure it for us.  These reconfigurations point out patterns.

In dreams, as I have mentioned in an earlier post, being disconnected can be more real and tangible, almost in a comforting way, than the questions we live when awake.  Dreams are valuable counterpoints, a kind of therapy.  Therefore I have to believe that in the back of the dreaming mind is a dim awareness that it is all just a dream.  That reassures me somehow.  After all dreams are about working out patterns of physical experience, right?  Without the material that living the waking world gives us, we would have no dreams.

So sometimes I think the most significant thing about me is my ability (or liability) to believe in dreams.  I make the leap.  I conclude that dreams and non-dreams are necessarily interconnected and in hazy way, equally real and true.

Things can get better.  Things can get worse.  Whatever the situation, it will change.  What we take for granted — or fear — today will all be different one day. It is the same whether we dream or not, but a skilled dreamer understands how to steer the course of uncanny wanderings and wake up with either gratitude or relief.

The catch is learning to live in dreams as much as learning to live with them.  Accomplishing that is accomplishing a lot.

Let me give you Exhibit A:  The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit.

Upon reflecting on my state of affairs, I thought I would turn to a movie that sometimes feels like a parody, but never fails to inspire me nonetheless, even if I am naive.  So I watched The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit (1956).  (Once upon a time I did start reading Sloan Wilson‘s novel, but I got sidetracked, misplaced the book, and never resumed reading, so my assessment of the story is all about the film, not the book.)

The film is very much about dreams, both good and bad, and it is about answering the question “The most significant thing about me is…” within the parameters of many dreams.  All the stock themes of dreams are there:  Identity, morality, responsibility, fate.

Our protragonist, Tom Rath (Gregory Peck) is haunted and harassed by both dreams and memories.  I think the key here is he does not resort to fighting them.  The epitome of stylized psychological cool.  Peck is comfortable in his dreams, good and bad.  They might be challenging, but they motivate him too.

Tom Rath’s more or less well-intending wife, Betsy (Jennifer Jones), pushes him along, sometimes in a belittling mean-spirited way, but for the most part Tom prevails in holding to his own course and values, even as he appears to defer.  This relationship dynamic repeats in nearly every interpersonal interaction he has with people in the story.  Again, Tom appears cool, comfortable in his own skin; but I think it is deeper than this.  He is in control with what dreams have done — as well as what they can do — for him.

And I think that is the accomplishment of the skilled dreamer.  You might be able to escape a dream, but you cannot escape how the turns of fate and stations in life meet and intertwine.  It is just going to happen.  Add competing wills, previous obligations, and life’s memories and the waking world is very much a dream — or at lease dreamlike — and it is one that you cannot escape.

Michael Arnzen's Notebook on the Strange in Everyday Life

Freud was onto this, of course.  He was a sharp guy with a special place for dreams.  In fact, as I plod along here, I think it might be time to pick up a copy of Freud’s Uncanny for a careful re-reading.   (There is an academic thesis in here somewhere.)  Of course we should review one of my favorite films, Wild Strawberries, once again, too.  (Don’t ask questions.  Just do it.)  But I am digressing…let’s get back again.

In short, The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit is about defining yourself in a world of competing interests and perceptions, it is about accepting one’s fate and making something better of it, including taking responsibility for one’s fate and one’s station in life.  It might seem naive or cliché, but it is about the existential truth of the American Dream, and by that I mean “dream” in a very literal sense.

Dreams are never predictable; they lack permanence.  Logic often fails in dreams.  It is easy to see Tom Rath as a figure moving through a dream — the American Dream — and gaining control.  I like that.

Imagine trying to make Tom Rath’s character work today.  I am not sure it could.

We don’t know how to live with dreams — both good dreams and bad, literal and figurative — as we once did.  We prefer to have our world immediate and present…and very much contained within the presumption that all under control.  I don’t know if I like that.  I don’t know if that is a  rich and enduring life.  I think we’re getting weak and shortsighted, too eager to forget and too willing to believe we are best alone.  We no longer have a firm grasp for metaphors and allegories, especially for making them real.

The most significant thing about me is…I don’t know.  I am working on it.  Check back.  Presently, it is indeed the time for sleep.


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