The sleeping brain is quite the mystery. For instance, my wife will often say to me, “How you didn’t hear the dog scratching to go out at 4 a.m. is a mystery to me.” Well, honey, that’s because my sleeping brain is doing other things than listening for the sounds of annoying domestic beasts. My brain is working, even while the rest of my body is perfectly at rest – except for the twitchy leg, which, by the way, sorry about that.
The sleeping brain also thinks it’s incredibly clever. If the sleeping brain had a smile, it would be one of those smirks you just want to slap, that’s how clever it thinks it is.
You know how this works. You wake up or half wake up with this amazing idea. “Oh man,” you think, “that’s genius. Brilliant! I’ve got to remember that.” But of course you don’t. Instead, you immediately fall back to sleep and start dreaming about running and running but never getting anywhere, the federal Liberal Party of dreams.
I call these brilliant nighttime flashes “dreamstorms” — brainstorms at night. Some people try to record their dreamstorms by keeping a pen and paper on their bedside table. I abandoned this technique after one too many times writing things down with my eyeglasses.
Instead, I force myself to lie awake, revelling in my sleeping brain’s amazing wit while committing the dreamstorm to memory before falling back to sleep.
Now, dreamstorms aren’t the same as the general musings inspired by your day-to-day activities, the way a trip to the bathroom, for example, can trigger thoughts on the manufacturers of cheap toilet paper – the flimsy, single-ply, see-through, public library kind – and whether their employees feel any pride in their work. Or wondering how the monogrammed towel industry is holding up, what with the economy and all. Or how air fresheners should really be called “air thickeners.” You know, perfectly normal, everyday thoughts.
Dreamstorms, on the other hand, come out of nowhere – or maybe they come out of that burrito before bed. The other night, I dreamstormed about how to tell whether you’re getting a full-body massage or caught in a barroom brawl. There was even a rhyme involved, something like, “Are you fueling your rage with hard apple cider / or are waves of contentment coursing inside yer?”
In other words, the sleeping brain may think it’s awfully clever, but the sleeping brain is an idiot.
Just like waking up from a nightmare, it takes a while for the conscious brain to recognize your dreamstorm is full of hooey. Even as I’m writing down the details the next morning – “if you have hot rocks placed on your back, it’s a massage; if you have hot rocks thrown through your window, it’s a barroom brawl” – I cling to the notion that this is the stuff of Pulitzers or at very least a witty Facebook update. It’s only later when the dreamstorm fades that I’ll realize that my fake public awareness campaign to stop dogs from grabbing food off kitchen counters – “It Gets Butter” – is not an idea worth pursuing.
The real mystery, then, is why the sleeping brain thinks it’s so clever in the first place. It’s probably the same reason people think their dreams are so fascinating: “And you were in it, except you were actually Zsa Zsa Gabor, and we were making Pilsbury cookies, which is weird because I haven’t made Pilsbury cookies in years, and then the kitchen turned into the set of ‘The Facts of Life,’ and…” UGGGHH! No one has ever had a dream worth paying attention to. Except Martin Luther King.
The lesson here is not to let your sleeping brain dupe you into acting rashly on your dreamstorms. New Coke, “That Eighties Show,” the wicker bra: all the results of dreamstorms. So wake up, have a coffee and don’t give your sleeping brain so much credit.
However, if I hear about a combination massage parlour/roadhouse called “What the Hell Are Shiatsu Looking At?” I want a cut.