You’re having what seems like an exciting REM dream. And then, just like that, exciting gives way to threatening, and suddenly it’s a nightmare.

This is what happened this morning around…oh, 3:30 or 4 am. A run-of-the-mill ladder dream. It was my task to climb a sturdy but thin step ladder to the top. Several onlookers were standing at the base, egging me on. I was okay at first (I worked for a couple of years as a tree surgeon in my early 20s so don’t tell me), but then the ladder stopped being a purely-vertical 90-degree thing. It began to bend over — 85 degrees, and then 80, 75, 70 — and then twist like a beanstalk. “Whoa, whoa…I’m not doing this,” I declared as I began to climb back down. The onlookers began to hoot and catcall — “C’mon, Jeff!…show some balls!…don’t be a pussy, Wells!” etc.

The obvious metaphor is that my job (essentially a daily high-wire act) intimidates me and that I crave the security of terra firma. Maybe I do but I can’t play it safe after all these years. It’s the only kind of life I know. Nonetheless the ladder dream was so upsetting I was unable to go back to sleep.

When I was a kid I had the same falling dream over and over. I was in my grandmother’s kitchen, and then I walked down a couple of steps to a side door and stepped out, and suddenly I was about a mile above a beautiful green golf course and falling like a rock. If I’d been more confident I would have begun to fly like Superman or like a plane, banking and using my flaps and eventually coming in for a golf-course landing (like Harrison Ford did a couple of years ago). But instead I just fell and fell, and when I hit the ground (fell out of my bed?) it really hurt. The dream happened so many times I became blase about falling…this again? One time after slamming into the golf course I got up, dusted myself and ran into Alice Cooper, of all people. Yeah, yeah, I know…doesn’t make sense.