An active mind, like a bat in the bedroom, is a frightening thing.
Sometimes I will awake in the night from dreams, and my mind begins to whir on that very subject: my dreams. I fret for hours over whether they are as obviously Freudian as they seem, and whether I am indeed the socio-sexual monster that that would imply. When I dream of my teeth crumbling out of my head, for instance, am I, as my psychologist friends say, manifesting a fear of losing my masculinity—or am I simply recalling the horrors of the dentist's chair and the terrible command to "Rinse!"? When I dream sweet dreams of finding bright, uncut golf balls on lovely wooded golf courses, is my sick psyche seeking testicular consolation in the forest of modern relationships—or am I simply recalling what it's like to find an immaculate Titleist under a leaf in the left rough? And what about gliding? Other people dream of flying, and I am told that that means they have a desire to break free of everyday life and do great things. But I dream about gliding: in my dreams, if I hold my head just right, I can rise an inch or two off the sidewalk and kind of glide down the street. Other people soar; I glide an inch off the ground. Even in my dreams I am essentially earthbound—a fact my hyper imagination will worry on for days at a time, and I can't stop it.
My mind has a mind of its own, else why would it insist on making me miserable? Why, in the middle of a perfectly pleasant, thoughtless afternoon, will it snap alert and fly me off to the territory of my terrors? There I will be, in the sunshine, munching a picnic cookie or hitting a tennis ball, and suddenly my sadistic psyche will rush me off to the region of fearsome images: of humiliating, bent-over moments in a doctor's office, and of the doctor himself reporting his findings to me later with tears on his cheeks; of the woman I love ecstatic in the arms of a faceless man in the back of a Winnebago; of my aged self rocking and drooling in the middle of an empty room with no one to wipe my chin. A kind of mad mental momentum builds up at times like these, and before the fit has ended, my mind has me gaping horrified at my own autopsy, performed by giggling medical students eagerly wielding rusty scalpels and wearing dollar signs for eyes.
Clearly, my mind pays me no mind at all. It goes its own way, and I hang on to its tail for dear life. There are days when I would just as soon let it fly off alone, without me or a map, until it has gone so far that it is lost. Then maybe I could get the bugs out and sleep through the Hour of Dread.
(The original version of this essay appeared in Memphis magazine and several other publications in December 1984.)