In the dream, I was at a middle-school reunion. That in itself probably seems kind of odd to many readers, since those don't seem to be common. In the late 1970s, I think some administrators in my school wanted to out-Montessori the private schools or something, so they created a weird experimental class for some of the 5th and 6th graders. Lucky me. That first year, our teacher looked and acted like Annie Hall. The second year, our teacher was an ex-priest who yelled at us a lot about our apathy. We didn't really learn a whole hell of a lot, but I'm still great friends with many of those weird kids.
Okay, the dream. I could name the four classmates I was sitting with at this imagined reunion, but I won't. In that bit of subconscious reality, we had all become scientists of some kind, and we had just (in an hour or two of chatting at the reunion) made a major collaborative discovery about how the human brain works. We managed to prove, conclusively, that the brain actually does make a permanent record of everything it experiences -- both external perceptions and internal trains of thought -- and that aging does not degrade that record in any way.
Unfortunately, we also proved that it's completely and utterly impossible to retrieve those records past a certain point. Something about the brain carefully laying down layers of cells on top of one another, and you'd have to destroy the brain to peel them back.
But still, we showed (somehow!) that nothing is ever really lost.
The actual first moments of my dream were maybe just 10 or 20 seconds of happy chatting about the fame and fortune that would soon be coming our way, once we published our amazing discovery.
I didn't mention that the reunion wasn't just for our little nerdy group. There were hundreds of people there from many other classes and years at the same school. Jocks, too. Dreams can be very cliched, can't they? The jocks mounted a kind of mock "attack" on the nerds.
It was actually just a jokey pantomime of an attack; nothing truly dangerous. Although it was meant in good fun, it still impelled our group to laugh along for a second or two, then grab our drinks and find some more peaceful place to chat.
Dreams being what they were, we found ourselves in a much older and decrepit part of the building hosting the reunion. It essentially was a huge rickety barn filled with junk. Have I been watching too much American Pickers?
Ever the nerd, I sought out the piles of old books. In waking life, I've been working a lot on my teaching, so in the dream I found all kinds of useful resources. Old textbooks. A module for teaching the stuff that I'm teaching right now, but with the theme of the Netflix show Stranger Things.
I also found a set of astronomy books, but they were filed alphabetically under the letter N. The reason is that some of them had the title "Noctology." The study of the night. I swear to you that I had never heard that word before, and a Google search tells me that not many other people have, either.
That's essentially the dream.
And I'm absolutely entranced by the idea of being a full-on Noctologist.
Sure, I've always been a stargazer. Readers of the blog have seen plenty of sci-fi fandom here, and a bit of actual astronomical musing, too. It's under the stars, and only under the stars, where I feel an immediate emotional sense of divinity. I look up, remember what it is I'm looking at, and I think "Oh yeah, that's right. I love you. How could I have forgotten since the last time I was out here?"
But noctology isn't quite the same as astronomy, is it? About 25 years ago, I was introduced to the folk singer John Gorka, and saw myself in "Good."
I am good at nightThere are plenty of other musical paeans to the dark side like this. One that I think is kind of interesting is inserted subtly in just a single line of Poison's hair-metal ballad "Every Rose Has Its Thorn." You remember the line, don't you? "Every night has its dawwwwn..." For years, that line just passed over my head. I assumed it was just conveying that old saw about it always being darkest before the dawn. But look again, in context with the rest of the verse.
I am good at night
Sun don't fit me right
I tried with all my might
I am good at night
I am good at night
Every rose has its thornEach line begins by talking about something good, then says how it can be ruined by one little flaw. The night is the good thing, and the dawn is the flaw! Good old Bret Michaels... closet noctologist.
Just like every night has its dawn
Just like every cowboy sings his sad, sad song
Every rose has its thorn
I wonder how much more I should explore noctology as a frame of mind. I kinda sorta started already a few years ago, with some thoughts on cosmicism. There are traditions -- both real (Judaism) and fictional (Tolkien's elves) -- that start the new day at sunset rather than sunrise. There's Mozart's star-studded Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute.
Technically, she's the villain, but she's also enough of a force of nature to snag the only slot for opera on Voyager's golden record that was sent out into the darkest reaches of space.
Nocturnes and aubades. Night owls and early birds. Nuit and Hadit. Cherry red and midnight blue.
There's a lot there to ponder, and I don't have a crisp ending to bring it all together. Maybe coming up with the perfect words is a concept more appropriate for the stars. The night is okay with letting stuff happen, then layering it over with other stuff. Nothing is ever really lost, after all.