I’ve been having these really strange dreams lately.
Now that, in itself, is not a particularly interesting statement. Most people’s dreams are strange. In fact, it would be far more interesting to hear about someone’s mundane dreams – the dreams where you’re stacking the dishwasher, or talking to your financial advisor about stock market fluctuations. But considering my dream life is quite odd to start with, this new odd dreamscape is making me a little nervous.
I remember nearly every dream I have. It’s the most common morning conversation between my husband and I, usually while we’re watching the sun rise on our drive in to work. “Last night I dreamed I was at this wild party thrown for someone I used to know in high school, and there was this whole table laden with food, and I spent the entire dream choosing what I was going to eat, and never got to eat anything! Now I’m hungry. We should stop at that bakery for pie.“ He, in contrast, has remembeed less than ten dreams since we got married, and they’re usually nightmares of some sort.
(He probably remembers more, but I suspect most of them are R-rated and therefore not appropriate sunrise-driving-conversation topics.)
Unlike most people who recognise familiar people in dreams by their appearance or face, most of the people I recognise in my dreams I do so by intuition. Ofthen the person looks nothing like they do in real life. Sometimes they will have additional details that I will also perceive by “knowing” rather than seeing them or being told about them. As part of my eye condition, I don’t see any colours, but I might “know” that someone is wearing a red scarf.
I also have a lot of recurring dreams – usually not so much the exact same dream, over and over, but dreams that are very similar, with similar themes. Recurring dreams are usually nightmares – although this is probably because people are much more likely to remember nightmares – but mine are around 40% nightmares, 60% plain old ordinary weird dreams. For example, I have a recurring dream about walking through a kind of dry field and then coming across this large climbing frame – like a kids jungle gym – which I then start to climb on. And it’s quite fun but as I’m rolling through tunnels and swinging on monkey bars and climbing nets and things, the climbing frame just keeps getting longer and longer, and I can tell it’s a kind of path toward something, but I never find the end of it.
Sometimes in the recurring dreams, I relive some of my favourite memories, just slightly oddly. Those are awesome. There are a few memories in particular that show up a lot. On the other hand, sometimes I relive traumatic events. They always come as I start to think I’m putting those things behind me, and they bring back all that raw, horrific emotion. It’s as if my consciousness doesn’t want to forget, as if I know that those things are a vital part of what makes me who I am.
I’ve also had prophetic dreams before, although not so many of these. I had one about the two towers the night before that happened. I was working in one tower and my boyfriend at the time was in the second tower, and I could see through a window that he was making out with another girl. I was really angry, and then his tower fell to the ground and my tower was rumbling and everyone was yelling to get out. I ran down the stairwell, papers flying all around me, everything shaking. I was tearing down the stairs but they just kept going and then I woke up, and my Dad was yelling to get up and see what had happened on the news.
So that was freaky.
And then I have consecutive dreams. I don’t even know what you’d really call them. I can’t find much scientific or psychological study on them, apart from Freud, and truthfully, I don’t want that man anywhere near my head. These consecutive dreams tell a continuing story over a series of dreams, live a TV series. Each dream picks up when the other one leaves off.
I experience a consecutive dream about once every three years. They might be 3 dreams in the same night that flow on from each other, or a few dreams over a course of nights. The longest I’ve had has been about a week. But the dreams I’m experiencing at the moment have been running consecutively for two weeks now, with some nights containing three of more dreams that all run in sequence.
In the current dream sequence, my husband and I are house-sitting for a very rich family that we clearly know but have never met. This house-sitting seems to go on for an indeterminate length of time. The house is enormous, and although the kitchen, living room, garden/pool area and master bedroom remain the same in each dream, other rooms and areas seem to come and go as they please.
In some dreams we have different friends over for parties or board games. In other dreams we are exploring the rooms of the house, opening new doors to discover strange and sometimes sinister spaces. In some dreams … well, some are not rated PG.
90% of the dreams have been relatively pleasant, although a few have been quite disturbing, which I think is owing to the fact I was reading a Darcy Coates novel immediately before turning out the light. The changing house might also have something to do with House of Leaves, which I finished late last year.
After the first five nights of dreams, we actually brought the house from the people who owned it, and we’re now living there full time, along with a couple of ghosts and several cats and occasionally one of those giant blind penguins from Lovecraft’s The Mountains of Madness.
So what the fuck is going on in my head?
What are Dreams, Anyway?
Cats dream, too.
Scientifically speaking, dreams are very poorly understood. We know they are stories and images your brain makes while you sleep, and we know that most other animals experience dreams, too. Dreams contain themes, stories, characters, places, objects and concerns that mirror our waking lives but are also completely bizzare and unfathomable.
Your brain and body cycle through different stages of sleep all night. REM sleep (no, not named after a soft-rock band, it stands for Rapid-Eye-Movement, because that’s what your eyes do during this sleep stage) is the deepest form of that sleep, and an ordinary adult will enter this sleep phase about 4-5 times a night. Each time you enter REM phase, you’ll have a dream, and each phase is a little longer, so your first dream of the night (which might be about 20-30 minutes after you go to sleep) will be short, only a few seconds, but the last dream of the night is about an hour, and that’s the one you usually remember.
As to why we dream, that’s a much more complex question. Scientists speculate that dreaming is a form of offline memory processing. It’s out brains sorting through stuff that’s happened to us or what we’re thinking about and tidying everything up. The sensory experiences we have – the dreams – are the brain projecting this organisation.
Others classify dreams as a unique state of consciousness – one where you exist in three temporal dimensions, at the same time experiencing the present, remembering the past and preparing for the future.
Apparently, people with sleep disorders like insomnia remember more dreams than your average human. Which might explain the vivid dreams of my youth.
When I was about ten, I ordered a book from the Scholastic catelogue on dreams. It was a fascinating read, because it explained what (little) scientists knew about dreams, and went in to how you might be able to interpret some dreams. I was starting to understand that my dream patterns weren’t necessarily a commonality between all people, and I became interested in the idea of finding out more about them.
The book suggested keeping a dream journal, which I have done off and on for years (although I was plagued by quite brutal insomnia until the age of 21, so there wasn’t as much dreaming done during those years). I remember this book explaining that if you wake up immediately after a dream, you’re more likely to remember it vividly, but waking up even 15-20 minutes after a dream finishes means you’re unlikely to remember it at all. This is why people more often remember their nightmares – because you tend to wake yourself up in the mdidle of them, so they are fresh in your mind.
You can buy dream dictionaries online, in which you can look up what you’re dreaming about, and they offer an interpretation. But this book I read – along with every other scientiic text on dreams – stresses that the symbolism of your dreams is highly personalised.
For example, many of my dreams involve tables laden with food that I never get to eat, or a house burning down that I then have to run into and rescue things that are precious to me in descending order (so first it might be a cat, or a friend, trapped inside, and then my laptop/iMac with all my writing on it, and then my photo albums, and often by the end of the dream I’m sitting in a room full of my stuff while the house is burning around me, sorting through stacks of books to decide which ones I’m keeping and which can burn). Most of my nightmares involve either living in haunted houses, or horrible things happening to people I love that I am powerless to prevent.
I can figure out what some of this stuff is about, but other parts are a complete mystery.
Dreams as Prophecy
The idea of dreams being prophetic isn’t just for fantasy novels, it’s been a pervasive theme throughout history, and there have been numerous accounts of prophetic dreams.
Joan of Arc predicted her death in a dream. The Roman Emperor Marcian dreamed he saw the bow of Attila the Hun break on the same night that Attila died. Abraham Lincoln dreamed of his own death just days before his assassination.
Dream have also imparted many famous authors and artists with the inspiration for their greatest works. Robert Louis Stevenson based his story The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, off a dream. Much of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos came to him in the form of dreams. Misery – my favourite Stephen King books – came to the writer while he dozed off waiting for a flight.
Often, I wake up and think a dream would make a great plot, but when I go back over it I realise it’s kind of ridiculous. But I’m always very aware of how a dream makes me feel, and I often try to recreate the atmosphere of certain dreams (especially some of my recurring dreams) in certain stories. The Engine Ward series is actually full of bits of dreams.
As for my consecutive dreams, I suspect that I’m more stressed-out then I’d like to let on about our current house building adventure. And these dreams are a way of my head assuring myself that once the damn thing is done, there’s going to be a lot of happy memories to be made there with family and friends. The place will grow and change. I don’t have to do everything right now.
And that I probably shouldn’t read horror novels before going to sleep.
I’m not sure how much longer I can expect this weird consecutive dream to go on for, or what strange oddities it might be replaced with. But dreams will continue to fascinate me, and will always serve as a source of both inspiration and trepidation.
I’ll leave you now with some dream resources and a couple of my favourite songs about dreaming:
Dreamt heater – Images and Words
Iron Maiden – Dream of Mirrors
Medical News Today has quite a robust article on dreaming that explains a lot of the functions and scientific knowledge about dreams. This is where I got most of the facts for this article.
Dreammoods – an online Dream Interpretation Dictionary.
What about you? What are you dreaming about? Have you ever had a recurring or prophetic dream?
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