To dream, to write, perchance to connect


“Connection” by Dylan O’Donnell

Henry is sound asleep on the sofa, his head on two throw pillows, snoring like a middle-aged man.

He is my family’s  endearing, shamelessly-babied Lab-Pit mix. Three years old and in his mind, he owns this sofa. It exists solely for him.

We don’t tell him otherwise.

Within moments, Henry’s breathing changes. His smoky gray body shakes; his white paws twitch. He whimpers at a higher pitch than he ever does when he’s awake.

“He’s dreaming,” we humans say to each other.

That whimper. It sounds puppy-like. Afraid. Vulnerable. Nothing like the rumbling from deep within his chest when Henry “talks” to us (translating to “Hello, I want something, so drop what you’re doing, pronto, to do my bidding”).

Which leads me to wonder: What is he dreaming about?

He is a rescue dog, found wandering the streets. He was timid for a long time before attaining his current level of confidence (and world domination).

Is he reliving a scene from his early life? Was he mistreated? Abandoned? Did something frighten him badly when he was a puppy?

Do dogs really dream like humans do?

The answer, according to Live Science, is yes: “Dogs likely dream about waking activities much like humans do.”

I am the one chasing a rabbit here: Captivated by the article,  I keep on reading beyond dogs to rats to flies—yes, says a cognitive scientist, even flies may dream in some form.

Sounds like something straight out of fantasy . . .

You may visit the site to read about the rats and flies yourself, if you like, but here are the article’s big clinchers for me: That sleep “adds something” to the process of learning and remembering, that sleep is “a sort of categorizing of the day’s activities” and a chance for the brain “to explore in a consequence-free environment”:

The idea is that, in sleep, the brain is trying to find shortcuts or connections between  things that you may have experienced but you just hadn’t put them together.

Cognitive scientist Matthew Wilson, “What Do Dogs Dream About?” Live Science

Categorizing of the day’s activities . . . yes, this often happens to me as I fall asleep. Reliving moments, subconsciously archiving them in specific mental folders for future retrieval as needed. A subliminal attempt at order and organization—how I appreciate that. The brain is an indescribable marvel, the ultimate computer. I envision lines arcing this way and that along a grid, an image of our brains actively searching, reaching, connecting and grouping things, while we rest.

My uncle once told me he could sleep on a problem and before he woke, the solution would materialize in his mind. Some mornings, in the transition between sleeping and waking, I can “see” the day’s events before me, and a detail or an approach will offer itself in a way I hadn’t thought of before. This has a name: liminal dreaming. 

But as I am awake, here is where I very consciously, intentionally, connect some psychological dots.

As Henry lay dreaming, prompting me to wonder about his background and the stuff of his dreams, I happened to be reading Ruth Ayres’ new book, Enticing Hard-To-Reach Writers. It is a must-read for educators, whether one teaches writing or not. Ayres has a lot to say, from firsthand experience, about the brains of children who’ve suffered extreme trauma and neglect. She also has a lot to say about the power of writing, of story, to heal and to save . . . I cannot help thinking now of the thirteen Turpin children in the news and the discovery of  their “hundreds of journals” which officials speculate may have helped them survive the unimaginable at the hands of their parents. If this is true, we’ll soon know.

But as for my dog, his dream, a website, the book in my hands . . . they all converge on the work of the brain:

When I write, I realize new ideas. I make connections. I figure out what I need to do next. When I write about what’s happening . . . something significant happens: I begin to see things from a new perspective. This is how learning happens. This is how growth happens. 

-Ruth Ayres, “Writing Always Gives More Than It Takes,” Enticing Hard-To-Reach Writers

To sleep, to dream, to subconsciously categorize, make connections, problem-solve . . .

To wake, to write, to consciously realize ideas, make connections, problem-solve . . .

Revisit the child in the photo at the top of this post. He’s immersed in water, a symbol of life, an expression of contemplation on his little face. He’s absorbing the experience. The world is big. Sometimes alarming. Not always fair. When he lies down to sleep, what dreams may come? Will they haunt or heal? Hold him back, or help him overcome? He is at the mercy of his dreams. As are we all.

But to wake, to write, is to immerse in thought, to gain unexpected perspective, to remain open to questions, to answers, to possibility, to wonder, to hope.  Dreams, in all their mystery, come and go at random; their meanings and value often elude us. When we write—an equally mysterious process—we actually take hold of meaning. We continually unfold it, one layer of thought leading to another, branching off in directions previously unseen. To write is to go both deep and wide, to actively broaden the scope of one’s own world, to expand one’s sphere of interest, to explore what’s within to better relate to what’s without  . . . to connect.

I mark the page in my book and reach over to rub my quivering dog.

“Shh, shh, Henry. It’s okay. I’m here.”

At the touch of my hand he eases. He lifts his head, regards me with bleary eyes. His tail thumps. He readjusts, curling himself into a tighter ball there on his sofa.

He sighs.

The sound of satisfaction, of being connected, of being safe.

8 thoughts on “To dream, to write, perchance to connect

  1. Fran, your posts are always a rich and rewarding read. This one was wonderful in both its structure and content. You’ve left me with much to think about regarding the worlds of dreams and writing and their similarities and differences.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Fran,
    Three things:
    Thing One – my dog also did own our couch. We all knew it and never tried to think otherwise. It was odd when he died to realize the whole room was designed around his couch. 🙂
    Thing Two – Ruth Ayer’s book is brilliant! That was what I was going to write about as well. I’ve decided to wait until I’m done. Best thing I’ve read in years.
    Thing Three – Sleep. Our kids are all lacking it and I think that it is part of the learning issues and mental health issues we see in our classroom everyday. We tell them to drink more water, eat healthy food, move their bodies…we need to include that they get enough sleep (without devices near them) in that list.
    Thanks for the wonderful read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, your dog! I feel your loss! Good dogs so worm their way into our hearts and their going leaves such a void in our daily lives (and on our couches!). Do write about Ayres’ book – get the word out. It’s powerful. Excellent point about sleep and its importance to learners, as based on the article quote – you’re so right. It’s vital to the work of the brain, on retaining information. I so appreciate your comments – thank you so much.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think of dreams as visions and often return to a bible verse when contemplating what having a dream means: Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish; …” I ignore the last half of the verse because it’s not what I notice, so for me dreams are both a way of looking back and looking forward. To that end, I ask the same thing about my own dogs’ nighttime noises. They, too, are rescue dogs, and Snug was abandoned at the side of a road. What is he thinking? Does he fear he’ll be left again? Is he having a nightmare? I don’t know, but he’s a dog w/ an air of melancholy to him.

    I haven’t read about the 13 children’s journals, but I’m glad they had and have writing. I often tell students the ways writing comforts and aides us during challenging times. We come to understand ourselves, too, through our writing.

    Anyway, love this post and all your complicated thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’ve left me smiling with the phrase “complicated thoughts.” That’s the truth. I halfway feared I couldn’t write a coherent piece that explained how all these things converged and connected, for it’s hardly a linear thing …

      What a well-chosen verse. I am always drawn by the Biblical dream interpreters; fascinating. You’ve reminded me of Acts 2:17 – “Your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.”

      Ah – your dear Snug must be so like our Henry, whose whole story I wish I knew. I am convinced he has a fear of abandonment – he certainly suffers separation anxiety! Here’s to savoring our connectedness now to these noble creatures that so enrich our days. Thank you so much for this response.


  4. Sometimes I wake up knowing that whatever I had been dreaming about was more brilliant than anything I could ever dream up while awake… yet I can never really remember the details. Your post made me think of these moments.

    I’ve seen the Ayer book on Social Media. Your post has me wanting to take a closer look.

    So much to think about. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You will love the book, Jessica!

      I, too, have had amazing dreams (love your word “brilliant”) that I wanted desperately to retain, and even as I woke knowing I needed to capture them immediately, as soon as my mental fingers tried to grab them great holes appeared in my memory of the dreams. The memory then melts away like gossamer, too delicate to hold onto. Just for a few seconds I almost had it and then it was gone. Makes me mourn but at the same time, fascinates me. Thank you for reading. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

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