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Habits the Dream: An Artists method out of madness

Every morning, I sit in the middle of my apartment’s living room. I am between my studio space and the beginning of our general entertainment space. The TV, my paints, tan easel, green studio lights, dining room table, board and card games, console controllers, communal computer, and the living room furniture – they’re all in the same room. I’ve had the same setup in nearly every place I have ever lived in my entire adult life. Honestly, the mess isn’t charming. I get embarrassed sometimes when company comes to visit. However, over the years, I have found that sharing a communal space with my sprawling chaos benefits my creative process. This massive room is the usual epicentre of our current apartment, and it’s also the lifeblood of my most vivid daydreams.

In the TV show The Big Bang Theory, the writer Chuck Lorre often highlights Sheldon’s proclivities and his unwillingness to share, especially his spot. In the TV show, Sheldon has called eternal dibs on his central axis point. It’s on the left side of the couch. If any other character tries to sit in his area, he gets emotionally upset, astonishingly annoying and sometimes even a bit nasty.

Sheldon and I share the same values when it comes to our bottoms’ preferred spot. Our area is unquestionably claimed until death or forever – whichever comes first. When someone tries to sit in my space, I’m nearly as territorial as Sheldon because it’s my trigger location for artistry. It’s my dream space. During this daydream period, I’m often rehearsing how I will complete art projects and overcome obstacles. This is similar to what’s explained in the video by Amy Adkins, Why Do We Dream?, ‘We Dream to Rehearse’ (Atkins 3:16-432, 2015), and ‘We Dream to Remember’ (Adkins 1:19-1:58, 2015). In the video Atkins references the 2010 Dreaming of a Learning Task study written by Robert Stickgold. Stickgolds’ study supports my notion of why habits are remarkably relevant to the dream process. Atkins explains: “Subjects were much better at getting through a complex 3-D maze if they had napped and dreamed of the maze prior to their second attempt. In fact, they were up to 10 times better at it than those who only thought of the maze while awake between attempts, and those who napped but did not dream about the maze.” (Atkins, 1:27-1:48, 2015), (Stickgold, Dreaming of a Learning Task). I strongly feel we need to create times and places to provide that allow our cerebral cortices to be at rest, allowing them the opportunity to decompress through the act of daydreaming or sleeping. These actions enable our psyche to clarify our plans and help us remember our next schematic steps towards the completion of projects.

As a child, I grew up suffering from a plethora of learning disorders that made my school experience miserable. Like Sheldon, I have always enjoyed learning. Unlike him, my grades suffered from a conventional learning experience. I needed to find strategies that would create positive provocations to support my learning style. I also needed to be seeking environments which allowed me to daydream and supportive experiences to boost my prolific artistic nature. Until I was in my mid- to late-twenties, I was unaware that I could capitalise on my daydreams, and train my learning disorders to work for me instead of against me.

Consequently, as a child, I had insomnia. I produced late or unfinished homework in grade school. I was also often scolded by my teachers or parents for not paying attention, also known as daydreaming. I needed methods to stop my fear of failure from inhibiting my creative nature.

Over the years, I found organising strategies that helped me control certain disorders, such as my ADHD and ADD. For instance, I had one style of matching tableware. Everything in the apartment was colour coded. Kitchen red. Studio green. Bedroom shades of black. I found if I stocked the refrigerator and storage closets according to size shape and colour, I would be less distracted. I created rules. I moved things around our dominion. I drove my husband mad with my insistence that all items must match. I did all of this to create a less stimulating and more productive environment.

You see, part of having these disorders means I can’t settle if things are too stimulating. Which results in a lack of sleep or daydreams. Much like the ‘We Dream to Heal’ (Atkins 3:52-437) argument from the Why Do We Dream? (Atkins, 2015) video, ‘People with disorders and PTSD have difficulty sleeping due to a lack of dreaming.’ I relate to this statement because sleep eludes me if I don’t create a space or make the time to let my mind wander during the day. I can’t dream appropriately if I am distracted or overstimulated by an expresso cup which doesn’t match the kitchen pattern. Or an untidy house with laundry strewn around the dwelling willy-nilly. It’s too exciting for my brain. I will do something impulsive. My thoughts will shamble to dysfunctional flimflam. Then I experience massive amounts of stress that destabilise my positive dwaal dream state. (Dwaal is an Afrikaans dream state which can refer to a productive dreamy haze, or negatively as a state of absentmindedness.)

I also have mild to moderate OCD. This condition can have negative effects on my attention deficit hyperactive disorder and attention dyslexic disorder. The latter two, ADD and ADHD, mean I have trouble completing things because my mind is so busy bouncing from one thought to the next in a negative dwaal dream state. With obsessive-compulsive disorder, however, I become increasingly obsessed with completing the task before me. But I cannot finish because the other two maladies, ADD and ADHD, are fighting for the steering wheel like bad mash-ups. Meanwhile, my imaginary car is driving sixty-one million and a half miles an hour. At any moment, we may plunge off the cliff of happiness into the land of black brouhaha.

If I allow my dysfunctions to take over, I cannot complete tasks because of overstimulation. When this happens, I get cranky and manic. I know this, so I use the first disorder (OCD) to control the structure around my dwaal dream state created by my ADD and ADHD.

In this way, I have learned to utilise my OCD to focus on the things I know will create a vessel for the field of dreaming procured by my ADHD and ADD. If I daydream, I sleep. If I sleep, I dream about my work. If I dream about my commitments, I am more likely to finish a task I’m undertaking. It’s the kind of healing discussed in the Why Do We Dream? video when Atkins suggests, ‘Stress in the neurotransmitters of the brain are less active when the mind is in the REM state of sleep.’ (Atkins. 3:53-4:10, 2015).