my journeys from wake to sleep
I can’t remember when or where exactly, perhaps it was during a comedic program or on an entertainment website, but I once came across this figure or cliché of “the kind of person who talks about their dreams.” One website I found that discusses this figure is Cracked.com. An article called “5 Things You Love to Discuss That Nobody Else Cares About” states, “There is no greater gap than the one between how fascinating dreams are to the dreamer and how fascinating they are to literally anyone else in the world,” and, “Unfortunately, having an interesting dream makes it impossible for the dreamer to talk about anything else, so they have to tell you all about it, beat for pointless beat.”
This figure is portrayed as annoying and self-indulgent, possessing a pretentious sense of self-importance. And I agree that this can be true of people who talk about their dreams, just as it can be true of people who talk about their experiences in the physical world. Why is the simple fact that people would give voice to what happens inside their sleeping minds enough for us to deem them annoying? Are dreams thought to be completely useless and insignificant?
According to WebMD, “There are many theories about why we dream, but no one knows for sure. Some researchers say dreams have no purpose or meaning and are nonsensical activities of the sleeping brain.” Sure, WebMD might not be known for its reliability, but I did also learn about this theory in a class I took. When I learned that factoid, I felt silly and foolish for paying any consideration to what I thought must have been meaningless by-products of my brain’s biological processes. Now, though, I want to push back on that feeling I once had and the theory that dreams are purposeless and nonsensical. I’m not saying that we should always worry about or pore over the strange images and experiences that we encounter while we sleep. But I do think that we should pay some attention to our dreams because they can serve as important food for thought and as useful fodder for art.
I’m not a psychologist. I’m a writer. Therefore, I often think about about how images, metaphors, symbols, and other related figures can convey meaning.
In works of literature, including drama and film, dream sequences are used to indirectly illustrate the inner workings of a character’s mind. A character will often enter a dream and witness people, situations, and images that represent ideas or emotions that the sleeper might not be fully conscious of. For example, for a course I’m taking, I recently watched Ingmar Bergman’s film, Wild Strawberries. Early in the film, the main character, an old man named Isak, has a dream in which he is walking through an empty city and a horse-drawn hearse passes by him. The wheel of the hearse gets stuck against a lamppost, and the hearse is only able to break free when the coffin inside slips out and falls on the ground near Isak. When it hits the ground, the lid opens and an arm sticks out. Isak walks closer to the coffin, and the arm suddenly comes to life and grabs him by the wrist. Isak tries to pull away, but cannot escape the firm grip, and ends up pulling the body out of the coffin. Then, Isak sees that the person from the coffin is him.
This particular dream sequence, the first of many throughout the film, illustrates that Isak is intensely afraid of death. Even if this fear is not always consciously in his mind, it is still inside him, and the dream sequence allows the audience access into his unconscious.
I think the dreams we have in our own lives can often tell us about things buried in our subconscious, things which we might not be consciously aware of. For example, I remember once having a dream in which I was fighting with someone, someone whom I hadn’t spoken to in a long time. They were trying to enter a room I was in, a room that seemed to be in a public building, but I would not let them in. I kept pushing them out the door. Whenever they managed to get near me, I knocked them down. I decided upon waking up that, despite what I wished, I hadn’t completely gotten passed the unpleasant experiences I had faced involving this person. I didn’t do anything so drastic as calling this person out of the blue to try to bury the hatchet, but I realized that more mental and emotional work was most likely required on my own part to arrive at forgiveness.
On a similar note, in the weeks after the presidential election, I frequently had nightmares. I remember one in particular in which I was forced to witness something horrific happening to people I knew. These dreams compelled me to reflect further on my feelings after the election, on my sense of powerlessness and vulnerability.
As a writer, I often turn to my dreams as fodder for my art. At least one poem I wrote for a class last semester and two more poems I wrote during winter break were based off of dreams I had. One involved a substitute teacher forcing students, including me, to participate in a weird, nonsensical quiz game, in which the loser would get stabbed through the hand. The short fictional piece I recently wrote for this magazine was based off of a nightmare I had. While I often dream up symbols that are utterly silly, or stories that are very incoherent, I sometimes find a seed for what becomes a focused, deliberate project from my dreams.
That reason is why, in my writer’s journal, I often record dreams that I’ve had. I hope to turn all of them into interesting works, eventually. I advise people to keep dream journals and write about what they see and experience in their dreams. There are websites that suggest certain interpretations to common images in experiences in dreams, but I like trying to interpret my dreams by myself. Either method is totally fine. Dreams are a record of how our minds can excite and surprise us, and why let that slip away?The one who dreams