Have You Any Dreams You’d Like to Sell?
If there were dreams to sell/What would you buy?/Some cost a passing bell/Some a light sigh,/That shakes from Life’s fresh crown/Only a rose-leaf down./If there were dreams to sell,/Merry and sad to tell,/And the crier rung the bell,/What would you buy?
–From Dream-Pedlary, by Thomas Lovell Beddoes (1803-1849)
I miss dreaming.
For decades, I dreamed: prolifically, memorably, often lucidly. My night-time theater’s director, playing to an audience of one, seemed endlessly creative and energetic, organizing elaborate productions with complex plots, sage themes, and deep emotions, characters both living and dead, and special effects that included flight, telekinesis, and hovering near the ceiling watching myself (and the cat) sleeping unaware on the bed below.
There was the occasional screaming nightmare, or the horrible feeling of being mentally awake but physically unable to move, as sometimes happens when the conscious mind awakens before the protective paralysis that keeps us from acting out our dreams wears off. Mostly, though, my dreams were (at least to me) mesmerizing, entertaining, instructive, and often funny. At times they seemed to interpret the past; at others, to show a tiny glimpse of the future. For every disturbing dream of fleeing danger in a dark alley, there was a lovely dream of floating, bathed in light.
For the past decade or so, I’ve rarely remembered any sort of dream. I usually awaken with a sense of not having dreamt at all. It’s as if the night theater has shut down, both in its mantic and entertaining functions. The occasional dreams I’ve managed to recall from these later years have seemed pallid and unimportant: little bits of day residue, or apparently irrelevant information. No plot, no message, no numinous nature, no ghosts, no jokes, no bright visuals, no clutter, no noise, no edges. Just smooth and gray and meaningless, as if my dreaming mind had itself become as blank as a boiled egg.
I had no idea that with age, dreams literally vanished. Evidently, it’s common, but no one knows why.
Possible explanations include the scientific (older people spend less time than other age groups in REM sleep, which is when dreams occur); the psychological (periods of intense emotion, such as adolescence and young adulthood, generate the most dreams); the medical (medications, which older people are more likely to be taking, may interfere with dream-sleep—not an explanation for me, since I take no medications); and the spiritual (dreams are divine directives that older people, with their presumably limited futures, do not need).
I have no idea whether any of these explanations is true. I only know from experience that dreams are among many of the body’s restorative functions that diminish with age.
If there were dreams to sell, which would I buy? All of them.