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Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

One Year of Dreams

I’ve now completed the first year of a dream journal. This is a project I’d thought about in years past but didn’t follow through. Why this year? Time, energy, verve, imagination of possibility, and this simple fact: I’ve begun to remember a whole lot of my dreams. So first the numbers: 122 dreams recorded between March 28, 2011 and March 27, 2012; an average of 1 recorded dream every 3 days.

My favorite is one I had about my dog, Dracula, a black labby and dead now since Christmas 2004. In the dream (May 5, 2011), I am wrestling on the living room carpet with Drac, just as we used to do, he jumping from one side to the next and I mostly on my belly letting him chew and nibble on my shoulders and elbows. Then I spin around and push him back and forth by his shoulders and he gets into the action and then jumps off me and for a second he crouches, ready to jump me again. Suddenly he raises up and says something to me. In English. I take a moment to clear my head, because I wonder if I’d heard right, or was this something in my head. So I say to Dracula, “Did you say something?” And he says, “Yeah.” I say, “You can talk?” He says, “Sure I can talk.” “Where did you learn how to talk?” I ask him. And he says to me, “Eh, you pick things up.”

At this point I woke up, shook my wife awake and said, “You gotta hear this one!”

Some of my dreams have been long and involved, in which during the recording I got down as much as I could remember (always always always, but without elaborating or making up the connective tissue), sometimes having to jump from one sequence to the next. Of course, dreams can be this way by their very nature. Other dreams have been short and punctuated by a moment that threw me from the dream into wakefulness. This ain’t stepping backwards off a curb, but neither is it being consumed by a shark.

I’ve noticed a common theme in my dreams: desolate landscapes and deserted cities. I used to have a lot of sexually-thematic dreams, but those are in the distant past and very few of this last year’s 122 have any kind of libidinous high-jinks.

Here’s the kicker: I wrote down all my dreams out of a pure interest in story. What had my mind invented on any given night? Period. I am not a dream theorist or dream-interpreter of any kind. I don’t believe in those fields of fantastical study and rip-off pay-per-view psychology. Freudian dream theory, in particular, is ridiculously puerile; while others like to take either an astrological fancy to interpretation or else literal-minded analysis that basically paints you as a bad person. All of that is a mug’s game, and as I’ve said, I wanted to see what stories were coming into my head, and what kinds of characters, settings, dialogue, events, scenes, and conclusions were taking place in my sleep theater.

Here’s what I wrote as an introduction to the journal last year:

“Dreams hold us together. We see people at their most outrageous and their opposite of themselves. We see inside our “selves,” to find that, sometimes, what we know that is true in conscious life is equally true in the subconscious — and then its opposite, too.

Reading much into dreams is a danger. To wake up after seeing yourself, in your dream, in the most compromising moment imaginable, throws no light on you as a good/bad/evil person in a wakeful state. Unusual dreams are merely the price of admission to this life. History shows only catastrophe when people “read to interpret” their dreams and act in some dramatic manner.

Enjoying our dreams as simply replays of bits that have come around in a life is the most fruitful “use” for dreams. Yes, I think dreams are our subconscious entertaining itself. No, I don’t think dreams are some inner “self” trying to get out or, worse, “work out” some personality problem.

The brain is damned-near mystical, and humans continually try to codify its functions, as if putting its uses/abuses/oddities &etc under alphabetic headings should tell us something. Nothing is ever so easy, and this, the mind, is far beyond human comprehension at this stage in Earthly development. For this reason alone, and in this time and age of post-philosophical discovery, going along for the ride because it’s a ride should be damned-well-enough of a thing in itself.”

A few snippets:

(Oct 18, 2011) I’m towing not one boat, but two boats behind a pickup truck. I need to park the rig, which means backing up into a streetside spot. But the turning ratio and angles are all twice backward. Each time I make an adjustment, one of the trailers  starts to rotate left and the other right. I can’t quite see what the problem is, or at least how to solve it, but I’m trying to see out the side mirrors, which makes me dance in my seat. It’s driving me crazy! I see the problem from on high — overhead — and the trailers want to move like magnets of opposing polarity. I’m becoming mentally exhausted with trying to figure out what, how, which way — and nothing in my calculations helps.”

(March 6, 2012) Robert De Niro sits on a two-person sofa close to a TV in a small room. He’s watching a baseball game, the green infield and outfield grass pocked by players moving into position for the start of an inning. De Niro has a brown stick in his hand, no thicker than a chop-stick, the end of a broken sapling branch. When the first batter steps to the plate on-screen, De Niro cocks his wrist back. At the pitcher’s release of the ball De Niro swings the stick and the on-screen batter swings his bat, hits the ball to the left and b/w the 2nd & 3rd basemen for a hit. De Niro chuckles and jumps in his seat. The next batter comes up and De Niro cocks his wrist. The pitcher throws and De Niro swings, the batter swings and hits the ball up the middle and through to the outfield for a hit. De Niro laughs wildly, like a little girl, lifting his legs to measure his joy.

(Sept 21, 2011) Travel by air has changed. I am strapped to the back of a jet engine, commercial size, with no wings or fuselage, just the engine, and I’m flying close over the land. The sensation is akin to a roller-coaster ride, although the terror of sitting bareback on a screaming jet engine, clutching onto pieces of metal, makes the hair on my skin stick up like nails. I’m not alone in the air; four or five others ride on their jet engines, in equally swaying, random-controlled fashion. The ground is 100ft below, sometimes as shallow as 20ft. Trees and cars and roads flash by, almost beneath my nose as though images on a river. I’m terrified and have no idea how this engine can possibly land. My hair is pasted back to my head, my fingers are white from their iron grip, my knees & hips hurt from pressing inward for traction. Nevertheless, I feel a continuous exhilaration.

The dream journal continues. I have just half a journal filled, with a mate still in its cellophane waiting its turn. Most entries are about a page, with some as many as four pages long, while a very few have only a three- or four-line “image” entry. What I wanted from these dreams is actually what I’ve got: bits of story that can be possible scene-seeds, or novel starts/chapters, or character nuggets. Likewise, I have got a good laugh to re-read some of these, many or most I’d forgotten about since recording them. It’s not that my mind works in strange ways, but more that any mind finds odd notions of “clarity” during sleep. Sure dreams are clear; they have their own presence and coherence. Dreams make perfect sense! Just as long as they remain dreams. And …

if I had a nickle for every time I woke up in the dark of night with the words “Man, I’m glad that’s over!” on my lips, I’d be able to buy a Starbucks coffee.


  Arlee Bird wrote @ August 7th, 2012 at 4:31 pm

I like the approach to recording your dreams.  I used to keep a dream journal in high school and college.   Since those long ago days I will sometimes write down a dream that seems to particularly stand out.  I have such a fascination with dreams that I’ve even started a dream blog

If you’d be interested in doing a guest post there I’d be glad to welcome you.  Just let me know and we can set something up.


Tossing It Out

  MarkBeyer wrote @ August 7th, 2012 at 7:29 pm

Sounds like you’ve had some success with those dream journals, Arlee. Thanks for stopping by the site and telling me about the blog; I’ll check it out. And I’d be happy to write a guest post. I’ll be in touch.

  Sunni Morris wrote @ August 7th, 2012 at 4:57 pm

Well that was interesting.  I record my dreams also and have for at least 20 years.  I wanted to see a commom theme also and have used bits and peices, or characters, in my novels.

My dreams can be pretty far out there and some are very funny when reading them later.  A few seem like a nightmare later, but I am never afraid at the time and don’t think I have nightmares.

Unlike you, I do believe they are trying to tell us something, or can be about a subject that really touched us that we read or heard about in the news and it stayed tucked away in our sunconscious.

Unlike you, there are very few that I can say, “I’m gad that’s over.”  Usually I wish they could go on because I want to see what happens and get disgusted with having to get up.

My common theme is crowds and lots of people around.  This could be a street faire, concert, airport, shopping center, etc.  But my dreams flash around and I may be in another location in the blink of an eye.

I think your boat dream was your subconscious trying to work out a problem you are/were having with something at the time.

I love the dog dream!

I think all dreams are there to show us or help us with something and are not just pure entertainment all the time.

Anyway, that’s my two cents.

Sunni Morris

  MarkBeyer wrote @ August 7th, 2012 at 7:27 pm

Thanks for your comment, Sunni. While I used to read dream interpretation books, the idea of using dreams as ways to “get at a problem” simply became an exercise in undeservedly deep crypto-analysis. Which problem? Where from? and ultimately, Does it matter? My answer was No, it doesn’t matter. Those kinds of problems I much more enjoy working out through a character in one of my novels. Now that’s the kind of therapy I enjoy.

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