American Dreamers: Let’s Focus on the Focus Group

Here is some information about the dreamers who made up the focus group for the research in my book American Dreamers.

The 10 members of the “dreamers focus group”

Elizabeth is a fifty-eight year old hospital technician from Kentucky who has overcome the challenges posed by two divorces, several alcoholic family members, breast cancer and chemotherapy, and a number of other serious medical conditions requiring surgery.  She considers herself a “survivor.”  For many years she has been energetically involved in the activities of her local Disciples of Christ Church community.  Elizabeth’s a registered Democrat who says she’s very liberal in her political beliefs, although she favors more freedom for gun owners and voted for George W. Bush in 2004.

Kip is a fifty-two year old ranch manager and horse trainer from Northern California.  Twenty years ago she took her seventeen-month old baby and left her second husband to form a new family with her partner Janet, a local sheriff.  They’ve been together ever since, and Kip’s daughter just graduated from college.  Raised in a strict Catholic family, Kip is now very independent spiritually and laughingly considers herself a member of the “church of the living hoof.”  She’s a Democratic voter who detests President Bush, although in general she’s not much interested in partisan politics.  Her views used to be more liberal, but today she says she’s “hardened up a bit,” and if anything considers herself a political moderate.

Two married couples are included in the group of ten participants.  The first of these couples went through an incredibly harrowing series of life challenges during the year of their journal-keeping.  Dan is a thirty-six year old Army Special Forces sergeant, a career soldier approaching the twenty-year retirement mark.  He left for his third tour in Iraq during the journal-keeping year.  Raised Catholic, he is politically conservative and believes the U.S. is engaged in a difficult but necessary long-term battle to “plant the seeds of democracy” in the Arab world.

Dan has been married for five years to Sophia, a thirty-one year old who takes care of their preschool-age daughter in their home on the outskirts of Dan’s current base in North Carolina.  Sophia has always been an active dreamer, and in her local community she’s known as someone who’s available to talk about dreams.  She’s politically conservative and supportive of President Bush, but spiritually progressive in avoiding fundamentalist church-goers and seeking alternative, non-Christian sources of wisdom.  Soon after she began keeping her sleep and dream journal, and right after Dan received his latest deployment notice, Sophia discovered she was pregnant.  Her journal thus became a record of her sleep and dream experiences across the nine-month term of her pregnancy, the last half of which she spent alone while Dan fought in Iraq.

The remaining six members of this group are, or have been, residents of the same rural, economically-depressed county in Western New York.  Richard is a forty-eight year old hospital security manager who was born in Germany and immigrated with his family to the U.S. when he was one year old.  His views tend to be conservative both religiously and politically (he’s pro-Bush and pro-Iraq war).  He used to be registered as a Democrat but recently changed his affiliation to Republican.  Relatively short of stature, Richard has a black belt in karate and is the founder of a successful, all-volunteer animal rehabilitation clinic in his community.

Grace, a forty-six year old preschool teacher, is Richard’s wife.  She says she’s becoming increasingly conservative in her politics, and for the most part she supports President Bush, although she usually tries to pay as little attention to political current events as possible.  Raised as a Catholic, she is now more interested in Christian spirituality outside of formal church settings.  She and Richard have a nine-year old daughter whom they adopted as a baby, and whose well-being is the core concern of their lives.

Will is a twenty-six year old man who grew up in a town close to where Richard and Grace live.  He’s well educated, highly intelligent, and knowledgeable about a wide variety of subjects.  He’s had difficulty in school and work, though, due in part to a hand deformity and a history of emotional troubles.  Will is politically liberal and an avowed atheist—two qualities that further alienate him from the traditionalist mores of his conservative Catholic surroundings.

Paul is an eighty year old former Catholic priest who left his Franciscan order to marry an ex-nun.  They raised four children, then divorced; he remains on good terms with her, even though she remarried soon after they split.  Paul considers himself wiser now about religion than when he was a priest, and he leads a physically and socially active life.  A pro-Bush, pro-war Democrat, he is an avid viewer of Fox television news.

Lola is a 49-year old administrator at a retirement home.  Her life was scarred by a heart-rending tragedy ten years ago—in the heat of a family argument, one of her sons shot and killed her other son.  They were fourteen and eleven years old at the time.  The echoes of that awful fratricide continue to reverberate in her family, in her local community, and in her dreams.  Lola was raised Lutheran, though she does not currently attend church.  She prays regularly and considers spirituality to be immensely important in her life.  Politically she’s a conservative Republican, though she’s sickened by the war (one of her nephews is in the Army, serving his first tour in Iraq) and she can’t bear to watch or listen to the news anymore.

Nadine is a 24-year old waitress living in Florida, engaged to be married and planning to move soon to Colorado.  Raised as a Catholic in the same Western New York region, Nadine recently moved away from home and is trying to start a new life on her own.  She hasn’t entirely rejected Catholicism, but she avoids organized religion in general, preferring to pursue her interests in Native American spiritual traditions. Her political views are mostly liberal (she worked for two years in Americorps, the youth volunteer program founded by Bill Clinton), although she is very upset that affirmative action policies limit the financial opportunities for “non-minority” people like her.

Dream series available for study

Five of the focus group dream series—those of Will, Paul, Grace, Lola, and Sophia—as well as collections of dreams of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are available for study at www.dreambank.net, along with dozens of other dream series gathered from other sources.  Instructions for performing easy word-search analyses of these dreams can be found by clicking the website’s “help” button.


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