On the evening of July 25, 2017 I had the following dream:

I was swimming in the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia in the direction of downtown Philadelphia. The Philadelphia skyline was growing larger and larger as I approached downtown Philadelphia. I planned to disembark in downtown Philadelphia. I wanted to take the subway home. But I was filled with anxiety: “I have no money. How will I be able to pay the subway fare?” I was caught in a strong current that drew me with ever greater ferocity downstream. I awoke before I reached my destination.


The Wagner Festival in Bayreuth opened on July 25, the day preceding the dream. The Festival first opened in the year 1876 with a performance of Wagner’s opera, Das Rheingold, the opening of the four-part Ring of the Nibelung.

I have been preoccupied with thoughts offered by my therapist that I am simply acting out through letter-writing activity.


Was the Schuylkill River of the dream symbolic of the Rhine River in Rheingold. Were my money concerns symbolic of the Rhine gold, from which the magic ring is fashioned? Was the home that I wanted to return to related to the home of the gods in Rheingold, Valhalla?

Rheingold opens as follows:

Scene 1 of Rheingold

The scale of the whole work is established in the prelude, over 136 bars, beginning with a low E flat, and building in more and more elaborate figurations of the chord of E-flat major, to portray the motion of the river Rhine. It has been noted as one of the best-known drone examples in the concert repertory, lasting approximately four minutes.

The curtain rises to show, at the bottom of the Rhine, the three Rhine maidens, Woglinde, Wellgunde, and Flosshilde, playing together. Alberich, a Nibelung dwarf, appears from a deep chasm and tries to woo them. Struck by Alberich’s ugliness, the Rhine maidens mock his advances and he grows angry. He chases them and tries to catch them in his arms, but they elude him, and tease and humiliate him. As the sun begins to rise, the maidens praise the golden glow atop a nearby rock; Alberich asks what it is. The Rhine maidens tell him about the Rhine gold, which their father has ordered them to guard: it can be made into a magic ring which will enable its bearer to rule the world, but only by someone who first renounces love. They think they have nothing to fear from the lustful dwarf, but Alberich, embittered by their mockery, curses love, seizes the gold and returns to his chasm, leaving them screaming in dismay.

Alberich’s act of renouncing love is an example of “sour grapes.” A former psychiatrist Stanley Palombo, M.D. once said my disdain for social relations was an expression of “sour grapes.” See Conners, Mary E. “The Renunciation of Love: Dismissive Attachment and its Treatment.” Psychoanalytic Psychology, 14(4): 475-493 (1997).


Dr. Conners writes:  “The renunciation of love is a theme that has been explored by creative artists in some exceptionally compelling works. T. S. Eliot’s Ash-Wednesday, depicts the sterility of a life in which desire, striving, and wishes for (divine) love are repudiated. In Wagner’s Das Rhinegold, Albench is teased, tantalized, and finally rejected by the Rhinemaidens. He then is presented with an opportunity to steal the treasured Rhinegold, but is told that only an individual who forswears love may secure these riches. Enraged and humiliated after being dallied with by the Rhinemaidens, Alberich willingly renounces human love and seizes the gold instead, setting in motion the events that will ultimately lead to the twilight of the gods. This article explores the psychology of individuals who, like Alberich, decide that the renunciation of love is preferable to the pain and danger of relationship; instead, they seek control and mastery over the environment. I use attachment theory (Bowlby, 1969, 1973, 1980, 1988) to illuminate this adaptation and discuss the possibility of altering it through psychoanalytic treatment.”

Scene 2 of Rheingold

Wotan, ruler of the gods, is asleep on a mountaintop with Fricka, his wife. Fricka awakes and sees a magnificent castle behind them. She wakes Wotan and points out that their new home (Valhalla) has been completed.

Psychoanalytic thought:

The river was my full bladder. The skyline of Philadelphia was my penis, in an emerging erection — growing larger and larger.

Is there a relationship between my creativity and phallic libido? Upon waking from the dream I had the insights, presented below about my possible motivation to write letters. Is my letter writing activity, or writing in general, invested with phallic libido?   Is my “prolific letter writing,” see Albert Taub, M.D. , related to my need to support my maleness and self-esteem?

The money concerns in the dream appear to relate to my desire to resume therapy with Dr. Palombo — paralleling my desire to go home in the dream — but a recognition that I do not have the finances to see him.   I don’t have the money to go home.  (In fact, Dr. Palombo retired several years ago.)

These are the thoughts I memorialized upon awakening from my dream.  The following thoughts, in the context of the dream material, suggest that Dr. Palombo is the imagined recipient of my letters, the idealized father of my family romance fantasy.  The letters do not appear to have any relation to my current therapist, except to the degree they are a reaction to my fears of maternal engulfment aroused by the female therapist.  1/

Every week after my psychotherapy sessions I do a write-up of the session, summarizing the work and analyzing our interaction and the therapist’s interpretations. I have the idea the therapist experiences my letters as a hostile enterprise, as if I were attacking her. She believes, I suppose, that I am attempting to provoke or or make her angry.

In a recent letter I stated that her reaction was an expression of her paranoia. I observed that perhaps I wanted to memorialize my sessions — provide her with a written report each week — so that she, in turn, would submit the letters to a third-party expert for review and analysis. That idea was simply an hypothesis.

I have evidence to support the idea that in fact I have a fantasy that one of the motives for the letters is that she will submit the letters to “experts.”

In my application for Social Security Disability Benefits in 1993 I described my paranoid fantasies. One of the enumerated fantasies was that my employer had been submitting my writings “to experts” for review and feedback.

I wrote: “(f.) My former employer has submitted a copy of my autobiography to various experts including Professors Peter Gay at Yale, Fritz Stern at Columbia, and Harold Bloom at New York University and Yale. I believe that my former employer has also consulted and submitted a copy of my autobiography to Dr. Ernst Ticho and Dr. Gerald Post, two local psychiatrists, as well as Dr. Anthony Storr, a psychiatrist in the United Kingdom. (I provided a copy of the autobiography to my current treating psychiatrist, Dr. Pitts.) I also believe that Mr. Robert Strauss, a founding partner of the firm and former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, gave a copy of my autobiography to former U.S. Secretary of State, James Baker in June 1991.”

That’s the fantasy of experts!

I used to think my therapist was paranoid. I now see her as starkly paranoid. She sees everything I do as a reaction to her. In fact, she seems incapable of making any interpretations that do not satisfy her projective needs.

It occurs to me that the fantasy of experts may be related to the Family Romance fantasy described by Rank and Freud. Perhaps, my imagined experts represent the idealized parent who I long for as a substitute for my real parents who have disappointed me.

My therapist disappoints me, so I fantasize imagined substitutes who will gratify my wishes and needs.

The Family romance is a psychological complex identified by Sigmund Freud in 1908, whereby the young child or adolescent fantasizes that they are really the children of parents of higher social standing than their actual parents.

More broadly, the term can be used to cover the whole range of instinctual ties between siblings, and parents and children.

In an early formulation of the fantasy Freud argued for the widespread existence among neurotics of a fable in which the present-day parents were imposters, replacing a real and more aristocratic pair; but also that in repudiating the parents of today, the child is merely “turning away from the father whom he knows today to the father in whom he believed in the earliest years of his childhood”.

Later psychoanalysts have added that the child may turn to imaginary parents of a lower (= uninhibited) social standing; and have seen the essence of the romance in the splitting and doubling of the parents – a dichotomixation which hinders the effective working through of the parent complex.

It is important to note that the Family Romance is Oedipal in nature and not rooted in the dyadic mother attachment, or the “attachment dance,” as my therapist would have it. My therapist seems oblivious to Oedipal issues.

The Dream and Creativity:

Wagner himself has written about his inspiration for the remarkable opening music of Das Rheingold. The inspiration for the music arose in a dream he had one day upon falling asleep on a couch in a hotel lobby 2/ in Spezia, Italy.

Wagner wrote:

After a night spent in fever and sleeplessness, I forced myself to take a long tramp the next day through the hilly country, which was covered with pine woods. It all looked dreary and desolate, and I could not think what I should do there. Returning in the afternoon, I stretched myself, dead tired, on a hard couch, awaiting the long-desired hour of sleep. It did not come; but I fell into a kind of somnolent state, in which I suddenly felt as though I were sinking in swiftly flowing water. The rushing sound formed itself in my brain into a musical sound, the chord of E flat major, which continually re-echoed in broken forms; these broken chords seemed to be melodic passages of increasing motion, yet the pure triad of E flat major never changed, but seemed by its continuance to impart infinite significance to the element in which I was sinking. I awoke in sudden terror from my doze, feeling as though the waves were rushing high above my head. I at once recognized that the orchestral overture to the Rheingold, which must long have lain latent within me, though it had been unable to find definite form, had at last been revealed to me. I then quickly realized my own nature; the stream of life was not to flow to me from without, but from within. I decided to return to Zurich immediately, and begin the composition of my great poem. I telegraphed to my wife to let her know my decision, and to have my study in readiness.


1/   In response to my anxieties about maternal engulfment aroused by my current therapist it appears that I have in fantasy attempted to create an idealizing relationship with a former male psychiatrist, Dr. Palombo.  In an earlier letter I wrote about myself:  “Subject’s object hunger, his idealizing merger needs are fixations on archaic pre-oedipal forms deriving from deficits emerging out of his relationship with an engulfing mother who used subject for her own selfobject needs and in his frustrating relationship with a father unavailable for idealization. Cowan, J. “Blutbruderschaft and Self Psychology in D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love in Self and Sexuality” (2002). Subject’s idealization of males is a defense against being swallowed up by a woman. See Shengold, L. Soul Murder: The Effects of Childhood Deprivation and Abuse (see especially the chapter, “The Parent as Sphinx”). Subject’s psychology parallels Kohut’s analysand Mr. U who, turning away from the unreliable empathy of his mother, tried to gain confirmation of his self through an idealizing relationship with his father. The self absorbed father, however, unable to respond appropriately, rebuffed his son’s attempt to be close to him, depriving him of the needed merger with the idealized self-object and, hence, of the opportunity for gradually recognizing the self-object’s shortcomings. Cowan, Self and Sexuality at 59 quoting Kohut, H.”

2/ In 1990, during my therapy with Dr. Palombo, I had a dream about him that took place at a hotel.    I later recorded the following thoughts or insights about the dream:  “In March 1990 I had a dream about my then treating psychiatrist, Stanley R. Palombo, M.D. that I later designated ‘The Dream of the Four Miltons.’  The dream was in two parts.  A significant image in the first part of the dream was a swimming pool (was bladder urgency and phallic concerns a factor in the 1990 dream as it seems to have been in the current dream?).  A significant image in the second part was a birthday cake.

In the interpretation of dreams we look for overdetermination.  Freud wrote in The Interpretation of Dreams that many features of dreams were usually ‘overdetermined,’ in that they were caused by multiple factors in the life of the dreamer, from the ‘residue of the day’ (superficial memories of recent life) to deeply repressed traumas and unconscious wishes, these being ‘potent thoughts’. Freud favored interpretations which accounted for such features not only once, but many times, in the context of various levels and complexes of the dreamer’s psyche.  Overdetermination works in two directions: a single unconscious theme can give rise to various expressions in the manifest dream, or a single dream image can be the product of several unconscious themes.

Is it possible that at some level the seemingly unrelated images of swimming pool and birthday cake are related, the product of a single unconscious theme?

What if the two images both relate to the theme of birth?  Perhaps the swimming pool reflects the amniotic fluid, while the birthday cake is a direct expression of the theme of birth.  (The dream occurred on the evening of March 16, 1990, my niece’s 15th birthday.)

You may ask — so what?  So we are dealing with the theme of birth, — what then?  What is  interesting is that my associations to the dream concern the founding of utopias: the founding of the State of Israel (a utopia conceived by the early Zionists); the city of Hershey, Pennsylvania (a model town founded by the candy manufacturer, Milton Hershey); and Pullman, Illinois (another model town founded by the railroad car manufacturer, George Pullman).

I direct your attention to the work of the psychoanalyst, Wilfred Bion.  Bion argues that in every group, two groups are actually present: the work group, and the basic assumption group. The work group is that aspect of group functioning which has to do with the primary task of the group—what the group has formed to accomplish; will ‘keep the group anchored to a sophisticated and rational level of behavior.”  The basic assumption group describes the tacit underlying assumptions on which the behavior of the group is based. Bion specifically identified three basic assumptions: dependency, fight-flight, and pairing.  In pairing, the group has met for the purpose of reproduction—the basic assumption that two people can be met together for only one purpose, and that a sexual one’. Two people, regardless the sex of either, carry out the work of the group through their continued interaction. The remaining group members listen eagerly and attentively with a sense of relief and hopeful anticipation.

The hoped for product of sexual union between the pair is a Messiah or Utopia.

Is it possible that ‘The Dream of the Four Miltons’ relates to my wish to unite sexually with my psychiatrist, Dr. Palombo, in the hopes of procreation:  the birth of a Utopia?

We can see a possible relationship between the pairing fantasy embodied in Bion’s theory, on the one hand, and the unconscious ‘secret sharer’ fantasy.

The psychoanalyst B.C. Mayer has described the relationship between two creative people in which one influences the other; they write for each other and share an unconscious fantasy of creating together in a sublimated sexual act.

‘The secret sharer fantasy is a narcissistic one in which the double often represents the mother of early infancy with whom one merges and creates.  It is also Oedipal in that in fantasy the relationship spawns a product — unconsciously a baby.  The Oedipal attachment might be of the negative or positive type.'”