The Board of Kibitzers
Dreamed 1993/10/18 by Chris Wayan
I go to see my therapist Shelley, but she's turned into a tall white man with an accent wobbling from Southern to Australian. Some of his colleagues are in his office--all the therapists renting offices in the building, in fact. They're concerned about the approach he's been using: following suggestions from my dreams about how to interpret the dreams themselves, and what direction to take in sessions. Some of these dream-based directions violate standard practice, and they're worried the building will get a bad reputation. They ask me if it's okay to observe.
I think "No!" but say nothing, neither yes or no. My therapist seems intimidated by them; do they have some contractual authority over the techniques used in the building? Guess so. One of the figures is my therapist's original supervisor when he got his hours in, or the board-leader for his degree. Could his degree or license be revoked?
A tense, bland session follows. Ex-Shelley backs off from following my dreams' direction and acts more conventionally. I go along, pretending this is our usual therapeutic style--when it isn't.
Whenever an obvious unpleasant truth comes up about my feelings, my family or my style of relating to others, the observers perk up to see how much Ex-Shelley confronts me with, and where he backs off. Soon they're eagerly butting in, using jargon to try to shield their "insights" from me. Do they all think clients are idiots? I try to control my annoyance: the secrecy has legitimate roots, though it's turned patronizing: they want to protect clients unready to face hard truths. Let them inch toward it at their own pace! What insults me is that these insights they're "protecting" me from are so obvious, openly discussed in my dreams for years--and in these sessions, right from the start. So they've been criticizing Ex-Shelley's (and my) work without even studying my case! Well, that's not quite right: from their remarks it's clear they've bullied him to release his session notes and my dream-texts. I don't care about that; I'm mad that they seem not to understand what they read! My dreams are so explicit, I can't be protected from self-knowledge: impossible at this point. I'm here to learn to protect myself from physically unhealthy ACTIONS.
Half the session's gone now, used up by these kibitzers. They're wasting my time! At last they troop out semi-satisified, still suspicious, still warning Shelley-the-guy:
"You may be getting seduced by all those gorgeous unworldly dreams."
"You better stick to the real world and painful truths."
Of course they don't phrase it that way. They use jargon, so I won't understand. Clients don't know polysyllables! Ah, these people... who can't even fucking read.
When the last one's gone, my therapist takes a deep breath and changes back into Shelley. My memory's hazy, but I think this form she took, the tall man with the accent, wasn't just a cover put on for this board; Shelley's been taking strange forms for weeks! Earlier this month I came to a session to find she was a man with no thumbs! And half THAT session got used up by another guy intruding. There's a pattern here!
Well, they're gone now. I relax. But it's not as peaceful as I expected: they left the radio on. I reach over and turn it off. Shelley says "Thanks! You know, even with the radio off it still feels like them in here. Let's go outside, I could use some fresh air." She's right, there's a psychic residue all over the room like stale cigarette smoke.
Outside though, it's still smoky. No wonder! We're in Silicon Valley, not San Francisco. Nearby I spot Bayshore Freeway, jammed and slow--rush hour, or pretty near. Honk honk, stink stink! But we tromp downstairs, walk across the parking lot. Shelley seems to have a particular spot in mind. I follow, worried about my chemical sensitivity: for me, the car exhaust out here is worse than the psychic smog back in the office.
She tells me her interpretation of a set of dreams I gave her. It sounds reasonable, but traditional. I have difficulty recalling it though, it keeps fading away when I try to see it as a whole, as we walk. Feel embarrassed since this is just what the kibitzers claimed--a client who can't hear the obvious. I hate the idea they could be right.
But I do grasp the two symbols most strongly supporting her Freudian interpretation, the wet ditch and the traffic-jam... A vagina seen as "the gutter", sex as literally dirty! And cars as male "drive", jammed in my case--too many cars equals desperation, overeagerness, or too many conflicting drives at once? "Ambition, anger, sex, all blocking each other from fulfillment! I'm not sure about the details, but other dreams suggest you fear competition and greed and being pushy--pushing for sex becomes a problem. And let's not forget body-hatred."
True... but I wrote all that in my dream notes for her! And I saw other, more urgent meanings, too, because the wet ditch and the traffic jam have established meanings in my dreams. I say "My dreams use these two symbols for specialized meanings: the gutter is hypothermia, death from cold and exposure. I'm anorexically thin, so if I get wet I get sick. I'm terrified of getting wet and cold where I can't go inside and dry off immediately. I see homeless people literally living in the gutter and know I'd die on the street. I MUST protect myself, keep a house, pay the rent no matter what, NEVER go out without a coat...
"And the traffic jam means air pollution. I can't get caught in traffic jams, it's deadly. I get sick and woozy and crash-prone. Yes, it does mean I can't live out the traditional male role, a 9 to 85 commuter going along with the herd... but the dream's also just warning "You went somewhere toxic. Don't go there again!"
"Both symbols warn of environmental illness. Moving out of Silicon Valley's smog into the City fog, and my reluctance to work, to date, to do much of anything, is learned survival behavior. Physical survival trumps emotional health! I think my dreams are emphasizing environmental illness because as a therapist you naturally see lots of neurosis and not much EI, but it's the key to understanding me--and so ingrained as a survival regimen that I forget how different you all are, forget it needs constant mention."
And as we walk and talk, discussing the dream, the horns of gridlock hell are honking around us. And by the roadside is a ditch, filled with the oily runoff: smog in solution.
We're arguing about the symbolic meaning of cars and a ditch, when the dream was predicting something literal.
Again, again, again...
A NOTE TO READERS, 2006
This dream's not subtle. But it's more than a comic riff on the therapeutic relationship. It's also a type of dream I call pseudo-psychic. By this, I do not mean "apparently psychic but since we all know ESP isn't real let's stick on a pseudo." Some dreams (examples) really do predict waking-world events; that's just a fact most serious dreamworkers eventually have to face. What a pseudo-psychic dream does is predict something that you then wake up and experience--like a ditch in a parking lot next to a traffic jam--thus corroborating the prediction. Only then you wake up again to find your proof of a predictive dream was itself part of the dream.
So a pseudo-psychic dream is quite an elaborate prank! Note that a member of the Skeptics Society would miss the joke, since for him (trust me, it's always a him) there's no genuine ESP to contrast it with; conversely, credulous dreamers will miss the joke too, since they won't be looking critically for evidence to prove or disprove a dream's prediction. Only a pragmatic sort of dreamer will see pseudo-psychic dreams as a message. Or find them funny! I've had lots of them, some mild, some outrageous. This one's as gentle as they get.
So what's pseudo-ESP saying? Here, I think, it warns me not to over-interpret things, OR let therapists treat my dreams too symbolically. My dreams are often literal warnings about health hazards, and are truly predictive--they've repeatedly saved my life.
But for those of you without severe health problems... who knows? Certainly pseudo-ESP always highlights a dream, says "Here's a message that matters!" And hints that things aren't what they seem.
But then, even Freud and his Board of Kibitzers would agree to that.
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