A few days ago, I thought I’d come down with Covid.
Because that’s the default now, isn’t it? Any other winter, you feel weary and sniffly, you think “cold” or “flu.” But now you think, “my mask wasn’t on tight enough when I went to the DMV” or “a stray sneeze must have been hanging around the room with those kids,” and you’re checking your temperature and your SpO2 every hour and waiting for the Grim Reaper to make his appearance.
For me, it started Wednesday afternoon. Let my quote from my social media post:
So yesterday afternoon I’m feeling a little nauseous. Could be the slightly stale cake; could be the caffeine from three cups of tea on a cold, snow-dusted day. I conduct my 2-hour GED class on Zoom starting at 6. My throat gets rough quickly and by 7:30 I just want class to end. Later, I take my temperature and check my pulse and SpO2 (because now we all have those finger devices, right?). They’re OK, but I still feel, to use the medical term, “icky.” I go to bed around 10.
I sleep heavily, as if I’m glued to the mattress, with lots of dreams. When I wake up in time for work, I still feel fatigued. Any other year, I’d go to work — again, no fever, good stats, just tired. But I call in, because not only do I not want to be sick midway down the turnpike, I definitely don’t want to risk spread (IF I have it).
In retrospect, the most striking part of the experience — besides my panic — was the dreams. I dream often, and try to write down as many as I can remember. But this night was like a quadruple feature of vivid stories: me on the bimah at a synagogue, lying on a large, leather-upholstered platform where a Torah had just been read (with a shard of wood as a yad); me being driven to an assembly by one of my special-needs students in the morning, telling him he’s early, dozing off, and not awakening until 5:30 in the afternoon with my parents talking in the next room of a house.
I have no idea what they mean. I had talked about Judaism and Hanukkah with my students earlier that day, so perhaps religion was on my mind, but there are also bits that have nothing to do with any of that.
Someday, five or 10 years from now, I’ll read all the dreams in the file I keep and see if they tell any story at all. In the meantime, I urge you to read about something called dream hacking in a Mashable article, “Dream Hacking at the Edge of Sleep,” by Chris Taylor. It’s my Sunday read.
Taylor starts with Jennifer Dumpert, a dream researcher who coined a term, “liminal dreaming,” to describe the visions you see — or bring about — in that twilit zone between sleep and wakefulness. (My closest analogue is a meditation zone, or being hypnotized.) But he ranges far and wide into dream research, which is still a young field.
For example: By now we’re probably familiar with REM sleep, which has been associated with dreaming, due to the rapid eye movements that give the phase its name. But actually REM is when you’re paralyzed in sleep; the more colorful aspects of dreams actually come at different points.
He also talks about hypnagogia, which is a boundary leading into sleep in which the brain is quite active and the body may twitch. This sounds like the sort of thing that happens during my 5- or 10-minute attempted naps on a long airplane flight.
Dumpert works with this zone to lead audiences into liminal dreaming, which isn’t narrative but does feature colors and images. Now, I like naps, and this reminds me of the first few minutes before dozing off. The catch is, I like sleep and tend to continue downward. Dumpert, however, sees the zone as its own thing.
“People treat hypnagogia like it’s a way station,” Dumpert says. “But they’re wrong. It’s a destination in itself.”
She doesn’t try to interpret the images. Instead, liminal dreaming can be freeing, relaxing, perhaps even a connection to others. (Carl Jung would approve.)
Now, my dreams weren’t liminal. In some respects they fit another theory about dreams, that they’re the brain’s way of assessing the day and cleaning itself. But they did provide — pardon the term — food for thought. It may not be Paul McCartney getting inspiration for “Yesterday” or “Let It Be,” but I’m OK with that. Especially if I’m not getting Covid.