On Saturday morning when I woke up, I was dreaming about Scrabble. I dreamed that I was at camp, getting ready to play a game of Scrabble with two other people, who were probably Tony and Will, although I never saw them in my dream. I had taken the game down from the shelf in the spare bedroom and opened the box to set up the board, when I discovered that the cloth drawstring bag with the letter tiles was missing.
In my dream, I didn’t sigh, or swear, or slam the lid back on the box. Instead, I went to the kitchen and got a box of Wheat Thins from the cupboard. I spread them out on newspaper on the table and sprayed them with a spray can of polyurethane that just happened to be sitting around close at hand. Then I took a permanent black marker and started writing the letters, and their numerical values, on the crackers.
My first thought, upon waking, was how clever my dream self had been to have come up with such a unique and creative solution—immediately, without any fuss, without wondering if it could possibly work, and without even getting annoyed about the loss of the original letter tiles.
For a whole thirty seconds or so, I basked in my dream self’s brilliance, and mused sleepily that if I were ever shipwrecked on a desert island with a fellow castaway who liked to play Scrabble (and a box of Wheat Thins), I could make my own Scrabble game—concocting ink from smashed-up berries and scratching a game board in the sand, of course. (And if I were shipwrecked without company, I could always play two hands myself, something my mother liked to do now and then when she couldn’t find a Scrabble partner, as we discovered from some old score sheets we found in her Scrabble box that detailed contests between “Right” and “Left.”)
But by the time I was fully awake, I was already criticizing my dream self’s clever solution, pointing out in my head that a) Wheat Thins are actually too big to fit on the spaces on the board, b) polyurethane would have taken time to dry, and c) the whole exercise would have been unnecessary, since there are at least three extra Scrabble sets on the shelf at camp from which I could have pirated letter tiles. (Whenever my mother saw a Scrabble game at a yard sale, no matter how dilapidated the box or how ragged the game board, she bought it, out of an ever-present fear that someday she was going to lose at least one letter tile from her own battle-scarred set—the one with family scoring records dating back to the 1960s written on the inside of the lid. Despite her worry, I don’t think we have ever lost a single letter tile from a single Scrabble game, and I believe each of those beat-up maroon boxes contains a perfect set of 100 tiles. But still, you never know, and my mother liked to have her bases covered, just in case.)
The dream, and my reaction to it, both initially and after I woke up a bit and began to think “rationally,” have made me think a lot about the potential of dreams for problem-solving.
There are lots of websites devoted to using dreams to solve real-life problems, so apparently there’s actually something to it. As I understand it, when we’re in deep, or REM, sleep (the time when we’re most likely to dream), our minds are not constrained by pesky things like logic or practicality, so we’re able to see and consider possibilities that we would automatically dismiss when awake. (Thanks to Wikipedia and Will for some interesting information about REM sleep.)
Unfortunately, I seldom remember my dreams, so I’m probably missing out on some great problem-solving potential. Maybe I should try harder. I remember a book on dream analysis that Maria had when we were in high school, which advocated falling asleep at night to the repeated mantra, “I will catch a dream tonight.”
There are also websites on mastering “dream incubation techniques,” that tell you how to improve your chances of having and remembering useful dreams. There’s even an article at eHow.com on “How to Have and Decipher a Problem Solving or Insight Dream.” (There’s also an eHow.com article on “How to Cast a Spell for Getting Prophetic Dreams.” Hmmm.)
Maybe I’ll try tapping into my dream self’s obviously brilliant problem-solving potential. God knows I have plenty of things I wouldn’t mind having worked out for me while I sleep.