Outside, a dreamy autumn breeze whips in from the harbo and up the cobblestoned surface of Fell Street in Fells Point. Inside a small waterfront row house, five middle-aged women carry steaming mugs of coffee and tea from Mary Coe's kitchen nook out into the small sitting room.
"Anyone have a hot dream?" asks Mary after they sit down. A moment's hesitation: Skeptical eyes are directed toward a visitor, notebook balanced on his knee. A quick poll is taken. Mary Coe and Fay Lande are the only ones willing to reveal their last names to the visitor. It's one thing to share your dreams with each other in a friendly setting, explain Anita and Ann and Nancy. It's quite another to expose yourself to the vast, anonymous, skeptical public. Nancy then volunteers that some of their husbands hold prominent positions and that their colleagues might get the wrong impression about all of this dream stuff.
And why shouldn't they get the wrong impression? Didn't Sigmund Freud himself -- once dubbed the Christopher Columbus of the unconscious for his turn-of-the-century masterpiece "Interpretation of Dreams" -- didn't he ultimately get the wrong impression? Wasn't it he who insisted all dreams were rooted in the sexual shame of repressed childhood experiences with mother or father? Didn't he and his esteemed protege, Carl Jung, break over that very point? A break that became final when Jung wrote, to his mentor's bitter dismay, that dreams revealed things, they didn't hide them?
Such a murky world, dreams -- although they've actually become a lot more user-friendly of late. Freud revolutionized attitudes in 1900 by declaring dreams -- once linked to witchcraft and the occult -- the key to delving into the past unconscious. In the 1950s, researchers pinned down the concept of rapid-eye-movement sleep patterns, the four or five periods of sleep each night during which the brain processes information. It was those studies of REM sleep that proved we all dream -- all of us, whether we remember our dreams or not. What science didn't say was whether remembering dreams was good or bad, although their skepticism was obvious. Medical schools and training programs for psychotherapists still skimp on dream theory, scant amounts are available in grant money to dream researchers, and the official scientific view still holds that dreams are merely something that happens while you are unconscious and, therefore, to be viewed with a squint.
But that hasn't prevented a growing movement of dream studiers from challenging traditional views toward the unconscious. Many of these New Age dreamers come with considerable credentials in both the hard and soft sciences; others have little formal training at all. Their common link seems to be a vast bank of personal experience that suggests dreams are the path toward a new self-realization. Stop spending all your energy on what happened behind mother and father's bedroom door, they are saying. Use those dreams to tap into the here and now.
Thus, out there in the here and now you will find everyday dreamers, like the women who gather at Mary Coe's house every Thursday morning, using their dreams as a way to resolve problems and enrich their lives.
"So," asks Mary Coe. "Anyone have a hot dream?"
Today, it's Nancy's turn. Approaching 40, she is a housewife at the moment, a professional-turned-mother and the wife of a somewhat dream-skeptical scientist.
"I was caring for a baby," she begins. "It was summertime, I was in a big park. I had a good feeling about what was going on. I carried the child down a busy street to a large brick school. I couldn't use the steps because there was construction. I climbed up a ladder to a lower roof, still holding the child. It was a wibbly-wobbly ladder. I realized I couldn't get in. And how was I going to get down the ladder with the baby? A group of boys came up and started to sing songs. They sang 'The Boys of Sweden.' I saw a crowd. I called to a man I knew. I had a sense I couldn't turn around and go back. Then the man came up and took the baby and I climbed down. I crossed the street and a milk delivery truck was backing up. It didn't see me. I had enough room to get by, to be OK, but just a small amount of room between me and the truck. Most of the crowd seemed to be males. They were in a hurry to get me down from the ladder. I didn't like it that it made me feel rushed."
It's called dream sharing and it's almost as simple as it looks. First you sleep, then you dream. It's not hard; everybody does it. Not everybody, however, scribbles notes on a bedside pad at 3 (( a.m. Of those who do, many arrange informal get-togethers with a handful of trusted friends to discuss those dreams. It's a fairly widespread practice on the East and West Coast but, in the words of one dream researcher, "It's a little thin in between."