My dream

Attention armchair psychologists:

I didn’t use to be this way, but, for whatever reason, I am this way now.

I have only one dream. Over and over again, every night. The details are always different, but the scenario is always the same.

It’s a variation on The Actor’s Nightmare. The Actor’s Nightmare is that you go out onstage and you don’t know your lines.

This is the dream: I am who I am, Todd Alcott, and my life (or at least my personality) is that of my waking hours. I dress how I dress, I talk to people as I talk to people, I think as I think.

As the dream begins, I have, every night, contracted, somehow, to engage in some sort of a performance — a speech, a monologue show, a TV interview, a play, a symposium. Endless permutations, I don’t know how my brain comes up with them all. Some elements seem pulled from my past, some don’t.

I have contracted to engage in this performance and I am unprepared. Or, actually, it’s not that I’m unprepared, exactly, it’s that, every night, things have been scheduled in such a way so that there is no time for me to prepare. Instead, there is always some kind of complicated hassle about lodging, transportation, costume, location, directions. These complications can become baroque in the extreme.

The lodging is always a major part of the dream, sometimes the dominating factor. It is never a hotel or an apartment, it is always someplace very strange. For instance, I once had a dream where I was traveling Europe with an off-Broadway troupe and was lodged, for some reason, in a rotting, derelict trailer in an Alpine valley, which was only accessible via muddy, rocky trails. In my dreams I have been lodged in abandoned warehouses, in the storage spaces of movie theater projection rooms, in isolated corridors, in electrical access tunnels.

Sometimes the travel dominates. The travel is always a major block to getting to the gig on time and my brain works overtime coming up with fanciful possibilities. I have been on luxury airliners that are forced to land on interstate highways, I have ridden on trains that course through the middle of inner-city canals while being chased by government-owned UFOs, I have been in broken-down sedans stuck in muddy desert arroyos.

In all cases, communication between the me and the people responsible for getting me to the gig intact is either nonexistent, unhelpful or hopelessly confused. I can’t get anyone on the phone, the assistant assigned to move me about doesn’t know what he’s doing, the tech people don’t know who I am, my fellow performers all have their own problems to deal with.

Rarely does the performance ever actually happen in the dream — I usually wake up before I am scheduled to go onstage.

In an effort to try to get this dream to stop, I’m going to start writing them down as I remember them.

Toward that end:

Last night, the dream was: for some reason, I have contracted to perform a song with Nine Inch Nails, during the Grammys, at Radio City Music Hall. I have no idea why I would have contracted to do this: in the dream, as in real life, I have never seen Nine Inch Nails perform live, nor am I particularly interested in doing so.  And in fact, I have never watched the Grammys.  But I have, for whatever reason, agreed to perform a song with Nine Inch Nails at the Grammys. We have not rehearsed, I haven’t even spoken to the other members of the band, and then there’s the pesky fact that, you know, I can’t sing. But, for whatever reason, I have contracted to sing a song with Nine Inch Nails at the Grammys.

Let me stress here that the band Nine Inch Nails has absolutely no personal meaning to me at all.  I could barely hum you one of their tunes at this point.

What song had I agreed to sing with them? I may be mis-remembering, but I think it was “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” by the Bee Gees. And even in a dream, I understand the humor of the notion of Nine Inch Nails performing “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” at the Grammys.  And, as I say, the song has no great personal meaning to me, it’s just a half-remembered soft-rock tune from my childhood.  But I do not control my subconscious, and this is the deal: I am to sing “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart,” with Nine Inch Nails, at the Grammys, at Radio City Music Hall.

Now then: as showtime approaches, I realize: I don’t know the words to “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart.” And no one has them available for me to peruse. So I must go get them somehow and then get back to Radio City in time to go onstage and sing with Nine Inch Nails.

That sounds like a fairly easy task: Colony Music is mere blocks from Radio City. But for reasons only my cerebral cortex understands, for the purposes of this dream I must go back to my lodging in order to fetch the lyrics to “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart.” 

So I get on the subway.  And here (here!)’s where it gets weird.

The subway I take to get to my lodging is called the A train, but it is, in fact, some weird, forgotten, derelict train line that shuttles tired, lonely commuters to and from a bus depot.  The subway station is dark, undecorated, and extremely dangerous.  How dangerous?  There isn’t a platform, only broad areas of poorly-lit concrete to wait upon while strange, short, dilapidated, extremely slow trolleys trundle back and forth, seemingly going nowhere.  I get on one of these bizarre contraptions with a host of sad, going-nowhere New Yorkers and crawl, imperceptibly, toward my stop.

When I get to my stop, I find it is the Upper West Side.  After the freakish, surreal subway ride I think oh good, a landmark, something I’m familiar with, and I dash to my lodgings.  The Grammys are about to start and I have to be back in time to perform.

My lodgings appear to be in a normal apartmentbuilding.  But when I get inside, I find that the building has been gutted, to its shell, and taken over by squatters.  I can’t find where my room is supposed to be; how could I?  It’s literally no longer there.  Instead, confusing, rickety staircases lead through the darkness up to dim, unfurnished, undecorated rooms placed here and there with no rhyme or reason.  I quickly realize that I am not going to be able to find the lyrics to “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” in this place and try to leave, but the building is huge and dark and empty and hollow and it takes me a very long time to get out.

I race back to Radio City — I must have taken a cab — and I dash backstage.  I still don’t know the words to “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” but I know that The Show Must Go On and I am determined to fulfill my end of the contract.  It’s the end of the show, Nine Inch Nails are the last band on the bill, and they are scheduled to do two songs, one of their own and then their (no-doubt-wonderful) rendition of “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart,” with me singing.

The MC announces the band, we all stroll out onstage (the other band members do not talk to me, but I feel no avarice from them — it’s not like this arrangement has been forced on them against their wills or anything, it’s just that they’re not a very talkative band), and Nine Inch Nails go into their first song.

They’re good.  I don’t listen to their records much any more, but I stand at the back of the stage and I’m impressed by their performance, or at least their performance as I imagine it in my dream.  And inside I imagine just how I’m going to go about sharing a stage with this crew, holding my own with Trent Reznor as I, for whatever reason, sing “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart.”

Anyway, the first song ends and I realize, Here We Are.  Moment of Truth.  What I imagine will happen is that the band will start playing, I’ll magically remember the first line of the song, and everything will fall into place and the performance will go just fine.  But instead what happens is that the audience applauds and the MC steps up to the podium and says “Nine Inch Nails!  Let’s hear it!” and everyone applauds some more and the MC says “That’s our show!  Thank you everyone and good night!” and the lights go down and everyone starts packing up their stuff.  No one tells me why the second song was cut, but I get the feeling that the show ran long, someone said something to someone and the decision was made, and because I was spending all my time trying to fetch the lyrics to “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” I missed the announcement that the band was only going to do the one song.

Here’s the twist:

Later, the dream continues.  It’s the Grammys after-party, and Nine Inch Nails are playing in a small club somewhere, and I am, in fact, on stage with them singing “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart.”  And it’s going rather well.  The band’s arrangement is, as one might expect, startling, original and powerful, ironic without being disrespectful.  Then, in the middle of the song I notice everyone’s looking at me strangely and I realize that I’m no longer singing “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart,” I’ve accidently morphed into “The Impossible Dream.”

Then I wake up.
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22 Responses to “My dream”
  1. rennameeks says:

    It sounds to me like your subconscious is creating situations for you to get out of, probably related to how you’re feeling in reality. If you remember approximately when the dreams started, you could try thinking back to see if anything in your life changed at that time. It could be something simple as some aspect of your life being out of your control (since you seem to have things organized from what I’ve seen) or being out of the loop communication-wise (unless your other dreams lack the deus ex machina ending focusing around a vital piece of information that you didn’t get).

    Do you usually remember your dreams? You might not be sleeping as well as you have in the past, which may or may not be related to you personally. However, the repetition of the dream (even with the changing details) seems to indicate that you’re attempting to cope with some sort of unresolved problem.

    Naturally, this is just my humble interpretation from what I know of you, so feel free to disagree at will (not that you wouldn’t anyway if you felt that way, but especially so in this case).

    • rennameeks says:

      Thought of this as my reply was posting:

      This is the opportune moment to ask “What does the protagonist want?”

    • Todd says:

      I used to have this dream every now and then. Now it’s the only dream I have. Or maybe it’s merely the only dream I ever remember.

      I don’t think it has anything to do with show business, even though every dream centers around the show-business world somehow. Or, let me put it another way — the show-business aspect of the dream seems to be the one part I’m capable of controlling, but this other crap I can’t control keeps getting in the way.

      The major thing that has changed in my life recently is, of course, becoming a father, a performance no one is prepared for and which never ends.

      • rennameeks says:

        Yeah, show business is just a setting for the more deeply seated worries.

        Maybe this is your subconscious’s way of worrying about whether you’re doing everything you can as a father, whether or not you’re living up to that standard in your waking life. In this particular dream, you were worried about everyone counting on you and disappointing “them” – but everything turned out okay in the end.

        Your other dream could have disappeared once you truly had other lives in your hands and realized it was okay, that you could protect them. Now the question that your subconscious is preoccupied with is whether you’re making the right decisions and raising them properly (which is of course something that no parent can know the definite answer to until their kids get old enough to tell them what did and didn’t work from an intellectual standpoint – all that the parents can do is the best they can).

        I could be completely off on this; only you can tell how you truly felt about the anticipation of having kids. These just seem like natural fears to me.

        You might find Wikipedia’s information about lucid dreaming useful. I generally have trouble remembering my dreams, so I’d been reading up on dreams there recently. You might come across something that could help you poke around in the dream world.

        • Todd says:

          I used to have lucid dreams fairly regularly — I would stop them, run them back, re-edit them, run them forward again, stop, re-write the scene, run it again, change the direction of the narrative. I would also have the same dream so often that I would stop and say “Now wait, what did I do the last time I had this dream?” and then act differently to see what happened.

    • Todd says:

      It also occurs to me, before I had kids the dream I had over and over was that something terrible is happening and I need to save somebody from dire physical harm and I can’t move fast enough to save them. My body feels like it’s in quicksand as I see the situation falling apart and lives at stake. I don’t have that dream at all any more.

  2. teamwak says:

    Its a nicely complicated dream, I notice. You have a busy sub-conscious. Theres definately sucess and failure in there somewhere. Its probably you chosen career path. Maybe working in Wal-Mart will be a little less taxing on the brain, and fellow Greeters arent likely to be stabbing you in the back trying to get your gig. 🙂

    I’ve had a re-occuring dream most of my life, although I havent had it for a while – I find myself underwater and holding my breathe. I begin to get panicky when I cant breathe, with the panic rising and rising as my breathe runs out. Then I have to breathe in…and I find I can breathe underwater. An amazing sense of relief and elation wash ocer me, then I wake up.

    Had it loads over the years. Wierd lol

    • Todd says:

      A friend of a friend of mine had the exact same experience, but in her case it wasn’t a dream, it was real. She was swimming in a river and got caught under a waterfall. She couldn’t come up for air and began panicking, worrying she was going to drown. The pain in her chest got worse and worse. Then she breathed in the water and the pain went away. And she wasn’t dead. Because apparently, breathing in water does not kill you; lack of oxygen to your brain kills you. And she lasted like that for a minute or so as she slowly lost consciousness. And luckily she got fished out of the water moments later and revived, but the upshot of the experience for her was that she never was afraid of drowning afterward.

    • adam_0oo says:

      I have had exactly that dream, the rising sense of panic and then this glorious free feeling, like I have never taken a breathe in my life until now.

      • teamwak says:

        How very interesting!

        I wonder what it means. Sounds like it might be a common reaction to some stress or other. I wonder what I was thinking when I had it last? lol. The human mind sure is dark and murky pool sometimes.

  3. Anonymous says:

    “Rarely does the performance ever actually happen in the dream — I usually wake up before I am scheduled to go onstage.”

    But you always do go ‘onstage’.
    The ‘onstage’ would be life itself. The role of the analyst in general helps us to understand the dreaming and experiencing in the everyday life as being one shared set of stages, same author and actor. To run with the analogy, portraying different intersecting roles and through variety of perspectives to discover the essential underlying motives which as we know will never, can never be clearly laid out or spelled out. (While this may sound like some inverted circle-theater run by Cassavettes, that is just due to time restrictions.) When our psyche reaches the point that this arrangement is not working out, damages can occur if it isn’t expressed somehow – thank god for culture.

    The literary approach to recalling dreams isn’t very trustworthy as a witness to anything more than, a literary work. As opposed to interpretation and analysis of literary texts, dreams as a form of analysis also require your presence in the telling of what you recall. It should be performative, the telling of the dream is the interface with which the analyst works on, – your speech, the tics, you start pacing or fidgeting at certain points, you look blissful at others, etc… you aren’t the perfect author, you repeat certain points three or four times, all outside of the safety of textual recall and rewrite. The visit with an analysis is to put what you wrote into performative mode, and believe me, that changes the dream yet again as soon as their is the “audience” and telling involved.

    Otherwise, your text could get an intepretation something like on these points of interest at least:

    Correspondences (travel routes and connections) on different levels intertwine to signal something to you, and most obviously at the central signal-bearer itself: RADIO CITY. (You write “I must have taken a cab..” to get there, but of course, there is no distance between sites here.)

    You don’t go to the colony (outpost) for the words you need, but back to home – because they are essentially your words? And needed to complete the gig – which you can’t seem to really do, so you have all kinds of impasse like conditions on what should be an otherwise familiar route.

    Your dream-song ends by morphing into “The impossible dream”, the theme song from your Man of La Mancha (don quixote) project you wrote so nicely on before here. It reveals itself to you to be your actual setlist, or what lies beneath, disguised and embedded in some incidental music/performance material, all related to the passage of time measurable on the body (Nine inch Nails, Mending Broken Heart).

    You seem to have been missing the appointment to take to the stage, you also seem to feel the show was too long. Yet none of this is material for a performance-nightmare anxiety sort of recollection (at least in your written version)

    Along the same lines, nothing seems compelling in your recollection of being at the Grammy Award ceremony and actually having to SING. Awards events, though, are the recognition of a production released and experienced.

    And even in that context, you are late to the stage of the performance.

    You feel you don’t belong there. But also apparently you don’t care, you go on to “sing”, despite you know you are not a real singer. Again no anxiety.

    Just to say, I could enjoy connecting the dots, but the point is – the real telling of the tale is in repetition and repetition, performance and the “slip ups” that occur, which reveal. So as always with this blog, beautiful, insightful text and analysis – but what does the protagonist want MAY be answered by the point:

    writing on this instead of writing on the project at hand : ) in the song “The impossible Dream”.

    • Todd says:

      But you always do go ‘onstage’.

      In the dream, I don’t usually. Either the performance falls apart or I wake up before the performance begins.

      You don’t go to the colony (outpost) for the words you need

      Well, the fact that Colony is near Radio City didn’t enter into my dream. It was only after I woke up and started sorting through it that I realized I could have gone there. Which may be more valuable therapeutically.

      but back to home

      In these dreams, my lodging is adamantly not home, it’s always a horrible or bizarre place I’ve been put with no thought toward my comfort or needs as a performer.

      writing on this instead of writing on the project at hand

      An earlier title of this blog was “Todd Alcott Procrastinates.”

      • Anonymous says:

        “In these dreams, my lodging is adamantly not home, it’s always a horrible or bizarre place I’ve been put with no thought toward my comfort or needs as a performer.”

        ah..ok, for some of us that sounds like home.

  4. Anonymous says:

    My 2-cent analysis

    Sure you’re ready for this?

    “I have contracted to engage in this performance and I am unprepared. Or, actually, it’s
    not that I’m unprepared, exactly, it’s that, every night, things have been scheduled in
    such a way so that there is no time for me to prepare. “
    This is straightforward anxiety over your business — you have a lot of pitch meetings for which you must prepare. Logistics change, often with no warning. You’re worried about your performance, literally, in these meetings, but also about what your career performance means to your family (which also connects very straightforwardly to things like schedules, timetables, transportation and logistics, and lodging). Sometimes the subconscious is not very “sub”!

    “Nine Inch Nails”
    Nine inch … nails. You don’t need Dr. Freud’s help on this.

    “Radio City Music Hall”
    You chose the wrong photo to illustrate it — look at the interior ( Radio City calls its signature musical instrument the “Grand Organ” (c.f.

    “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart”
    How can you, indeed?

    “the A train”
    A = Alcott

    “some weird, forgotten, derelict train line that shuttles tired, lonely commuters to and
    from a bus depot. The subway station is dark, undecorated, and extremely
    dangerous. …strange, short, dilapidated, extremely slow trolleys trundle back and forth,
    seemingly going nowhere”
    This is how you subconsciously feel about yourself, given the A analysis.

    “When I get to my stop, I find it is the Upper West Side”
    I live on the Upper West Side.

    “the building has been gutted, to its shell, and taken over by squatters”
    I have been gutted to my shell and taken over by squatters.

    “my room is…no longer there. Instead, confusing, rickety staircases lead through the
    darkness up to dim, unfurnished, undecorated rooms placed here and there with no
    rhyme or reason. … I am not going to be able to find…’How Can You Mend A Broken
    Heart’ in this place”
    Guess not.

    “someone said something to someone and the decision was made”
    Oh, this isn’t about me… Back to your career, in which someone says something to someone and a decision is made that affects you but that you have absolutely no control over, nor do you know why you are not hired for the job you’ve jumped through an inordinate number of hoops to get.

    “I’m no longer singing ‘How Can You Mend A Broken Heart,’ I’ve accidently morphed into
    ‘The Impossible Dream.'”
    As if the song titles alone weren’t obvious enough, haven’t you been working on a Don Quixote idea?

    –The Editor

    • Todd says:

      Re: My 2-cent analysis

      Nine inch … nails. You don’t need Dr. Freud’s help on this.

      All right, all right, I admit it. My penis is nine inches long. Sheesh, therapy’s harsh.

      I’ve been thinking about Nine Inch Nails, however, since yesterday (I was a little startled when I woke up to find someone had posted a photo of them with Larry “Bud” Melman in the comments). Salient points of their career include their legendary troubles with their management (a possible show-business angle), providing the soundtrack for the game Quake, a collection of tense, suffocating instrumentals guaranteed to set one’s nerves on edge, and the old stand-by “tools of Jesus’s martyrdom” angle. Who knows?

      I also thought about the Don Quixote angle to the final moment. So there’s the song I’m “supposed” to sing, and then there’s the song I “want” to sing, and I find myself, much to everyone’s confusion, singing the song I “want” to sing during the middle of the gig.

      Or perhaps the Radio City show is the “big room” I am forbidden to play in and the small club is the “independent film world” where the rules are looser and self-expression more desirable.

  5. greyaenigma says:

    I don’t remember any dreams lately, but for years, many of my dreams involved something that was a store in some way. Apparently I love to buy things. One of the more memorable was a modern store which seemed mostly to focus on (modern) puppets but seemed to be run by a vaguely Gepetto-ish older man.

  6. gdh says:

    Dude, this is what happens when you drink the water.

    • Todd says:

      I guess Trent’s got one hell of a marketing director working for him.

      • gdh says:

        It’s all being done by a marketing firm that is specifically geared for that sort of “alternate reality game” thing. They did the one for Halo too.

        It seems to be working. The intarwebs are abuzz with people trying to figure it all out.