I have a long standing fascination with dreams. I think many of us do. It’s something that regardless of age instills a sense of wonder. There’s a great mystery to sleeping. Why do we do it, what happens when we’re asleep, what causes dreams, and why do we dream what we dream?
Dreams can help us solve problems, or understand something at a more direct level, a layer below thinking and cognition (or maybe above?) How often do we try to “sleep on it”? Through dreams, I have found the missing pieces that tie my narratives together, and had flashes of inspiration that became stories all to themselves.
Jeff Vandermeer talks about the power dreams had in shaping his Area X trilogy. According to him, he had a dream about descending into a tower and seeing words scrawled on a wall, and when he woke up, he wrote the first 10 pages of the novel. What sort of confluence of passing thoughts and influences combined in the broth of his subconscious to bring the story together? What exactly triggered this sort of response, which a writer like him was able to chart down and turn into a finished piece? It’s likely we’ll never know.
That aspect of writing is as compelling to me as any other: how a writer is able to bring loose bits and bobs together, random threads and images and lines of dialogue, and turn them into a singular quilt. I’ve mentioned before how one of my other favorite writers, Ben Lerner, described the process of writing fiction as the formation of a constellation, and that’s how a lot of my work goes too.
Are dreams fiction? Of course, the events of dreams don’t literally happen, but they are sensory experiences that are “true” for the dreamer. Dreams can be a product of and have an effect on our memories. Sometimes I’ll remember something, especially from what I assume is early in my life, and occasionally I’ll have a tough time figuring out if it truly “happened” or was just a dream. There are times we have dreams and wake up feeling sad, or angry, or lonely. They can even have an effect on the physical world, such as waking up in a sweat after a particularly affecting dream.
I think most interesting of all are recurring dreams. Something that you experience again and again, sometimes separated by months or years. What occurred to make you feel the same thing again? Is your brain still turning over the same thoughts, which combined in a similar enough way to give the same experience? Or maybe you had the same trigger you had before. Or maybe recurring dreams are just dreams that leave you with a better memory of the experience, and a sense of familiarity when you wake up.
I think most people have had a recurring dream before, something that sticks with you. I’ve never really kept a dream log before, but there are dreams that I wake up from with such a sense of importance and urgency that to not write them down, to not document them somehow feels like a loss. Often, I don’t know why I’m left with a memory of my dreamed experience; just the feeling of weight or importance, or that this was somehow resonant or descriptive to my human condition.
For all the importance dreams have, it’s sort of a faux pas to write about them. Or at least, to write them into fiction. The “dream sequence” is a bad trope in both film and fiction. Yet, dreams remain a huge part of our lives, whether we remember them or not. I think anything that has such an outsize role, or that leaves such a mark on our minds is of importance and should be chronicled.
I have a few memories of dreams that were specific to a point in my life, though I rarely know what tied them to that period over any other. I had a long standing dream while growing up of being on a specific swing set, on which I’m being pushed at first before I start swinging of my own accord, and I keep going higher and higher, never going over parallel to the ground, as if the top bar is raising with me. And then there’s no ground at all, it’s all swinging upward, all blue sky and white clouds, no sense of speed or weight, just air.