Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What Do Our Dreams Mean?

Last week, I was in the midst of writing my second novel, which I haven't titled yet. (Like when you first find out you're pregnant and you're not ready to check out Baby Name books at the library). I had a very restless night after a day of delving into the plot and the male love-interest character, who just happens to be a ghost (what can I say? I love using ghosts in my stories).

All night long, I kept waking up, feeling like this ghost was in my bedroom. He wasn't scaring me, just creeping me out a little bit. Needless to say, it was a very restless night and I woke up tired, but with a feeling like I knew my character better. When I sat down to write that day, although I was a little tired, I knew the character better, and the book is coming along at quite a clip.

Thinking about dreams and what they mean, I decided to see if my buddy Jonah Lehrer had anything to say about the topic. I first heard about Jonah when his second book, How We Decide came out and I've been visiting his blog ever since. It seems whenever I'm pondering a topic concerning our brain, I can go to his blog The Frontal Cortex and he's written something about it.

Last weekend, Jonah had an essay in the New York Times, entitled Why We Dream and in the essay he cites numerous research done on this topic, dating all the way back to Freud. The most recent research he discusses is from a paper published in 2004 by Sara Mednick, a neuroscientist at University of California. In her study, she points to the importance of dreams and specifically, the R.E.M. state and how there's a direct correlation between R.E.M., long term memory and creativity. Ah ha!

Researchers have discovered that when we dream, our minds are filing information away, deciding what things to leave in our memory and what things to throw away. As silly as dreams sound when we retell them (and people roar with laughter at us) believe it or not, all the information contained in our dreams is based on our life and what's happening in it. While we sleep, our mind does Administrative Assistant duties for us.

This brings me my own completely unscientific conclusion about dreams. I think I've cracked the code as to why we can't seem to remember a lot of stuff as we get older: We forget a lot because in the middle of the night, when our administrative assistant is supposed to be organizing and filing, it's slacking off. So when we go to retrieve information from our brains, we can't. The memory has been either misfiled or got thrown away without our consent. The solution? Fire and replace.

One last note: Jonah Lehrer points out at the end of his essay that although much has been proven to explain our dreams, there is still a ginormous amount of information we don't know concerning our dream-state-of-mind.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

In A Flash

I dialed 911 for the first time in my life. Picking up the phone to do it, I thought to myself, I'm dialing 911. I'm scared. Is my life going to change forever in the next five minutes?

It was my dad. He's 80. He's 80, in really good shape, but tripped on a step outside our front door and took a header. He seemed fine. Just a scraped hand. But then he turned white as snow and said he wasn't feeling well. He sat down. He started sweating. I spoke to him, his head hanging down but he didn't respond.

"Are you okay?" I asked him.
He shook his head no. That's when I went for the phone.

The paramedics came. He was okay. My life didn't change. His life didn't change. The paramedics said he went into shock after the fall on the cement.

But the image of my dad, laying face down on our sidewalk is burned into my DNA forever. That night, after the kids went to bed, when I finally relaxed and stopped pretending that nothing happened that morning, it hit me. Life can totally change in a second.

Life changing in a second isn't new to me. I've experienced the real deal. I lost my sister unexpectedly eighteen years ago. My life changed forever with a one minute phone call. I'm not ready for another change. I never will be.

Unfortunately, we don't get to decide what will happen in our life. But we can make decisions on how to live it.

That's when I got to thinking about how we can either decide to be positive or decide to be negative. Does being positive take more energy or less? Is it harder to be positive these days because we seem to live in a society where there's so much more negative in it? Or is that just my perception?

Anyhow, it's my opinion that we need more positive in our world. We need more stories that make us laugh. We need more good-news reports about good things happening. We need more happiness, which by the way there is a Happiness Institute in Australia. I know what you're thinking. I thought the same thing: If you're living in Australia, isn't it automatic that you'd be happy?

So I'm on a quest to go find only good news. Cheery stuff. Funny stuff. Shiny, happy people stuff.

Because as hubby always tells me, "Life is short but it's really, really wide!"