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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

question of the weekend: Do you remember your dreams, are you often able to analyze them, and do they help you understand yourself?

As a followup to last weekend’s Question of the Weekend about sleep:

I remember my dreams frequently, and often no matter how weird they are, they usually do make some sort of sense in light of what’s going on in my life. I still vividly remember years later that just as I was about to finish writing my first screenplay, Bronx Cheer, which felt like a huge accomplishment to me, I dreamt that I was pregnant and about to give birth. The metaphoric connections seem obvious.

Just recently, I had a truly disturbing dream in which I was an actor in a play — and just as I’ve never actually been pregnant, I’ve never been on stage, either — and the company was about to begin our first performance of whatever this play was. We were in an outdoor, theater-in-the-park situation, not on a stage, and here we were, all in our costumes and taking our places not in front of but among a gathered audience, and the lights were going down. And though I appeared calm and relaxed and ready on the outside, on the inside I was panicking — absolutely panicking — because I did not know my lines. I hadn’t even read the play and had no idea at all what it was about. I was going to have to fake my way through this, and I didn’t know how I could possibly do that.

And then I woke up, of course, just as I would have found out how — or whether — I managed to pull it off.
What this was a reaction to seemed immediately obvious to me. In April, I cut myself loose from my one major freelance client, a small book publisher, that was not related to writing about pop culture or reviewing movies. It was a client that sucked up a lot of my time and brain power for very little financial reward — it wasn’t one of those clients for whom I could do a job and then live on the fee from it for months. (I’ve had writing and editing clients like that, though not in many years.) I was basically treading water, with no chance of things changing for the better. And when I looked at what was happening online — not just on the Web but with ebooks and other stuff — I figured that this was the time to take a big leap and just devote myself entirely to building up traffic at FlickFilosopher.com and trying out a few other things. I thought the chances were good that I’d be able to make up the small income from that client via the work I love most and would most love to be doing all the time.

But I don’t know that that plan is going to work — it was wildly audacious to even take that leap with only a very thin safety net — and I’m honestly a bit terrified that it won’t. How I felt in that dream is very much how I’d been feeling on a subconscious level. And now that it’s out on the surface… well, I’m still a bit terrified, but at least I can put a finger on the nameless stress I’d been experiencing.

Do you remember your dreams, are you often able to analyze them, and do they help you understand yourself?

Just to be clear, I don’t believe that dreams are prophetic or that there’s anything supernatural about them. I do believe that dreaming might be akin to rebuilding your desktop — as we used to have to do with Macs in older OSes as a way to keep them running optimally — or optimizing a hard drive, and so dreams can toss up a lot of images and thoughts and such that are in your head at any given moment. And so that if we can remember and analyze our dreams, they could possibly give us some insight into ourselves.

What do you think? And how do you react to your dreams?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD/QOTW, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTW sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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  • Left_Wing_Fox

    I remember many of my dreams, and I get a vivid one that sticks in my brain on awakening perhaps once a month. This is pretty much how it usually goes though: http://xkcd.com/430/

    All my dreams are very surreal; visuals by Salvador Dali depicting real life, fantasy, and pop culture elements seamlessly intertwined with a dadaesque plot. The old cartoon series “Courage the Cowardly Dog” runs along the same logic. Bad guy show up, starts selling people odd cheese, which slowly turns them into soulless cattle-people. I must defeat them in a game of badminton to save the day! I’m going on a plane, to an art convention, with Harry Potter and our friends. Quick, we have to skydive into the competition in South Korea before the plane is torn in half by the eclipse!

    Weirdly, I have a consistant alternate reality for places I’ve been. I can draw a map of “Dream Edmonton”, and it’s a recurring location which I can revisit, which is always different from reality in the same way each time.

    The only dreams I can come even close to analyzing are the recurring themes. Nightmares where there is no escape from an implacable foe, or needing to reach a plane in 10 minutes at an airport 15 minutes away. Highly dysfunctional erotic dreams. =/ Those I can almost always relate to fears happening at the time.

    The most “realistic” dreams always happen the night I start a new job, or lose a day to a new videogame, where I either dream I’m still doing the job, or the actions in the unrelated dream are defined by the job. (I.e. being controlled by the menus of the game I was playing, or dreaming that people are walking through my bedroom still trying to buy things.)

  • Patrick

    I have OCD, and I go through periods where I will dream about meaningless things I had done the day before (like picking up a pen) again and again, with slight variations each time. It can be quite nerve-wracking and leaves me feeling jittery the next day. It helps me understand myself better in a sense, but not really in a constructive way. However, I also have dreams like the ones you describe. Just last night I had a mostly very literal one about running into a friend and discovering to my horror that he looked like something out of a horror film. In reality, the sick friend in my dream recently and successfully completed chemo, and I woke up with the thought that I am more worried about a relapse than I realized. But, there were also surreal parts to the dream that don’t seem to relate to anything.

  • I_Sell_Books

    I remember my dreams, but frequently forget them by the time I’ve gotten up. I do dream in technicolor, and often with full sound.

  • Laura

    I’ve recently started keeping a dream journal, with the end goal of increasing the number of lucid dreams that I have, and so far it has been worth it just for the sheer amount of crazy stuff my brain has come up with!

  • Boingo

    I remember trying to work out a relationship,and the
    subject appeared in a dream. The actions in the dream
    were abstractions of the things that bothered me.
    The dream helped me to see more clearly,and to see
    what feelings I was suppressing.

    I remember the joyous dreams the most-waking aglow
    that the people in the dreams were “all understanding,”
    benevolent,and glad to see you.

    Earliest reoccurring nightmares:The old sci-fi flick “Fiend Without A Face.” Those brain things were all over my yard.
    I’d be trying to close a door and it would swing both
    ways (no, I didn’t end up a bi-sexual).

  • Personally, I just about never remember dreaming. I remember actually having a dream probably less than a half dozen times a year. And usually the ones I remember are nightmares.

    So I don’t get much analysis out of it….

  • It’s been a long time since I had a dream worth remembering, much less worth analyzing–which is probably just as well considering the type of dreams I had in the past.

    When I was going through an anorexic stage, I dreamed of food.

    When I was going through a bout of unrequited love, I dreamed of the woman I was pining for–and I actually remember talking to her in my dreams. (Not literally, of course, because I’m sure she would have mentioned it but to the image of her that was in the dream.)

    After my father died, I saw him in my dreams a lot but I was never really sure it was him. And indeed, a theme in some of my more disturbing dreams is my talking to a person I know in real life who either doesn’t appear to know me in the dream or who appears to be the disguise for a less benign person. Of course, most of these dreams fall in the “is it real or is it Memorex” category in that I never really recognized that it was a dream until after I was on the verge of waking up.

    Then there are the odd number of dreams I’ve had when I either get lost on a back country road or I go off the road into a dangerous body of water or I find myself driving high up on a bridge and unable to get down. But for some reason, I rarely have such dreams as of late.

  • Jan Willem

    I do have one recurring dream about failing to get all of my courses finished in time to earn my university degree. In my waking life – of two decades ago – this actually was touch and go, but I managed to pull it off and graduated with flying colours. However, there must be some part of me that stubbornly refuses to believe it. I guess I owe it to feelings of inferiority and fear of failure. That’s what a Calvinist country and an emotionally stunted childhood will do to you!

  • amanohyo

    Like Left_wing_Fox, there is a fairly consistent dreamworld for many of my dreams. It takes the form of a city-sized shopping mall with labyrinthine corridors that lead to locations from my childhood instead of stores. I’ve never tried drawing a map, but it’s so large, I often have to ride a bus to get to particular areas. It has an airport, a Chinatown, and a combination Grocery store/Toys R Us/Service Merchandise (an old store in San Antonio) which somehow has in stock every Transformer and GI Joe vehicle of the late 80’s.

    It’s embarrassing how frequently the eventual goal of my adult dreams is to find that one Transformer that will complete the set (or to find one of the arcades in the mall). I realized several years ago that “completing the set” is probably a metaphor for my desire to be raised in a two-parent household. Or, you know… it could be that I just really liked Transformers and Street Fighter II, (and later Samurai Shodown) as a kid.

    I recently had a very interesting lucid dream. People have always told me that printed text behaves strangely in dreams, but I never experienced the phenomenon until a couple nights ago. I fell asleep reading The Head Trip, a book about various states of consciousness, which coincidentally contains a chapter on lucid dreams. Then, suddenly I was reading the book again, but every word on the page was in perfect focus and none of them made angry grammatical sense (ooh.. look at that, I meant to type “any”…is that suppressed emotion bubbling out?) – I remember a seeing a string of nouns that all seemed vaguely related. The odd thing is that every couple seconds random(?) words would morph in a liquid, oozing fashion into other words that were related to the previous ones. At that point, I thought, “This is what they were all talking about, it isn’t like that Batman cartoon at all! (Batman realizes he’s in a dream when the text is garbled) I must be dreaming! Is this a visual representation of my conscious mind in book format?

    Then I thought, “I can do anything I want, but I should start with something simple or the associations will pull me back into the dream. What’s the simplest setting I can imagine? A flat plain.” Suddenly I was standing on a perfectly flat grassy surface that extended into infinity below a cloudless blue sky. As much as I dislike the movie, it was somewhat similar to the scene in the Matrix with the white ground when the rack of guns appears (what a waste of imagination).

    “Well, I’ve got a holodeck,” I thought. “What should I do next? How about simple flight? That will come in handy later.” So, I flew around for a while, something I have done in other lucid dreams in settings that were not so consciously controlled. My previous flights had been low to the ground, almost like running very quickly without legs, but this felt much better, like levitating around in the lotus position. At this point I became so excited I had to tell my wife, and suddenly I was talking to her. Then, I realized that the dream was getting the better of me (my wife is currently hundreds of miles away) and I woke up.

    If it ever got to the point where I could conjure up whatever setting and scenario I wanted in my lucid dreams, it would be a useful way to perform “mind experiments.” The addictive potential is also a little terrifying. It seems that the mere expectation of a lucid dream is often enough to cause one. In my experience, as Left_Wing_Fox mentioned, it also helps to play a video game for several hours before falling asleep, something I almost never do anymore. Perhaps the novelty of the experience, the half asleep state that gaming encourages, and the odd bedtime all contribute in some way. But here’s the conundrum. Was I having a lucid dream, or was I simply dreaming a normal dream about having a lucid dream? Or, is that what lucid dreaming really is? A dream about thinking about the nature of dreams?

  • Accounting Ninja

    Now that I’m grown and stable in my life, my dreams are bland, weird and easily forgotten. As a turbulent teenager, I kept a dream journal and had much more vivid, meaningful and sometimes even movie-like dreams. Sometimes I wish I dreamt like that still, but I’d rather have my emotional stability and happiness than return to those painful times.

    There was one recurring nightmare I kept having when I was six. I was outside my apartment building at night, and something horrible started chasing me. I ran as hard as I could round the back, feeling the evil presence get closer and closer, hearing its growls get nearer as I ran furiously. It always ended the same way: as I ran back to the front of the building, IT would get me, and I would wake up very upset.

    Someone, and I wish I could remember who, told me about “lucid dreaming” when I confided in them about the nightmare haunting me EVERY night. They said you could control your dreaming that way.

    So one night, the nightmare began again. I heard IT coming for me, but instead of running around the building and playing out the usual events, I stayed put, shut my eyes tight, and chanted over and over “I’m flying. I’m flying.” I was so scared, but when I finally opened my eyes, I saw my house far below me. It was no longer nighttime; it was a bright sunny day and I floated above my neighborhood. IT was gone, and I just knew it was gone for good!

    I woke up, and I never had that dream again.

  • JoshB

    My dreams very rarely have any meaning, and so I very rarely remember them.

    The most memorable dream of my adult life came a few years ago. I was working at a job (in real life) that I found soul crushingly boring. In my dream, I was at that job, and it was exactly like real life. I was bored, to the point of frustration and despair, in my dream.

    And then I woke up. I had that “oh, thank god, it was just a dream” moment of relief. Then I looked at the time and realized I had to be at work in a couple hours.

  • Left_Wing_Fox

    In my experience, as Left_Wing_Fox mentioned, it also helps to play a video game for several hours before falling asleep, something I almost never do anymore.

    Heh, I wish those were lucid dreams. If they were I could stop working in the dream. :D

    I’ve only ever had lucid dreams twice. Too often I accept whatever weirdness happens in my dreams without question, to the point where sometimes I’ll accept that reality for a few minutes after I’ve woken up. That slippery acceptance of what is and is not “real” is a big part of the reason I refuse to try hallucinogens.

  • Isobel

    My dreams are often very long and very involved, full of people I know very well in my dreams but don’t actually know in my waking life. Like Left Wing Fox, my dreams morph from one place/subject into another – I’ll be walking down the road to the Station in my dream, take a turning and end up in a scenic stop in America that I thought was beautiful, or people turn into other people while I’m talking to them.

    I often used to dream about my teeth and hair coming out (which is odd, as I’ve got very thick non-sheddy hair and very good teeth). I also had flying or ‘skimming’ dreams a lot. Usually it was a windy day, and I’d be blown into the air and then realise I wasn’t out of control or being guided by the wind, and could go where I liked. I get a feeling in my stomach like driving over a little hill in the road, that I remember when I wake up.

    I also have some control over my dreams, which is when they get really weird as what starts out as my thoughts/intentions gradually morphs out of my control.

    I also remember a recurring dream I had as a child, where I was being chased up an incredibly long flight of stairs by something terrifying that I couldn’t see. Eventually the stairs would run out at a precipice and there was nothing for me to do except jump. I haven’t had that dream in years but I must have had it on a weekly basis between the ages of about 5 and 15.

  • Christina

    My shrink used to say that every thing and person in your dream is a part of you – she was a Jungian, if that makes a difference – and I find it a very useful way to look at my dreams.

    And if you don’t usually remember them, put a pen and paper next to your bed and reach for them the instant your alarm goes off (or you wake up naturally) and write down what you remember. If you do this for a while, you’ll start to remember your dreams with much more clarity and consistency.

    I had a recurring dream for decades that was not so much the same, but in the same setting. Whatever my dream was, however complicated or bizarre, at some point in the dream my mind’s eye would pull back and I’d realize that it was all going on in the same house I’ve been dreaming about since I was single-digit years old. I could draw an architect’s map of the place, I know it so well. Very interesting in light of paragraph #1. Good shrink.

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