Are Dreams Really As Weird As All That?

Hello Vanderworld readers. Sorry I’m so late to my own guest blogging gig. But now I’m here, and better late than never. I’ve done the guest blogging thing before — here’s my intro in case you don’t remember — and for those of you who are seeing me for the first time, I’ll elt you in on a secret: I’m totally black.

I know, it was a shock for me, too.

But today I am not going to talk about “black stuff,” I want to talk to you all about dreams.

This weekend many of my friends went to go see the new Christopher Nolan flick Inception, and most of them came back raving about it. I plan to see the movie soon, but in the meantime I’ve been poking around at the reviews to see what people are saying. Some folks, like Rex Reed, are so apoplecticly upset about this movie that they aren’t making much sense. Others are less angry about the movie, but many critics wrote something along the lines of this riff from the NYTimes’ A. O. Scott:

Mr. Nolan’s idea of the mind is too literal, too logical, too rule-bound to allow the full measure of madness—the risk of real confusion, of delirium, of ineffable ambiguity—that this subject requires. The unconscious, as Freud (and Hitchcock, and a lot of other great filmmakers) knew, is a supremely unruly place, a maze of inadmissible desires, scrambled secrets, jokes and fears. If Mr. Nolan can’t quite reach this place, that may be because his access is blocked by the very medium he deploys with such skill.

Not having seen the movie, I can’t speak to whether Nolan’s idea of the rigid dreamspace isn’t weird enough, but each time I see this criticism I balk at it. Yes, dreams can be really weird and trippy and balls-out insane, but most of my dreams are a lot like real life, except they skip around in silly ways. Dream logic is not Earth logic, but mine does often have a sensible logic. Am I weird?

I feel like I’m not, because when I hear people talk about their dreams, it’s not always filled with Freudian symbolism and backwards-talking dwarfs. Often the weirdness comes from them being in places they shouldn’t be — my grandmother’s house when I was 10 — or around people they don’t have much contact with — Stephen King gave me his scarf to keep warm — or doing things they wouldn’t normally do — I was performing in the Oscars but didn’t ever go to rehearsal, crap! Everyone has trippy dreams, I’m sure, but I’m not convinced that a very realistic dreamscape is unrealistic in itself.

Still, I am willing to entertain the possibility that I am weird. I am a semi-lucid dreamer, as in I can often direct the way my dream will go, though not always because I realize I’m dreaming. I can remember many times in dreams where I thought “It would make sense if X happened right now” and then X will happen. I often wake up and remember my dreams progressing in a very linear fashion — very fiction-like — and making sense most of the way through even if I don’t direct them. Some of my dreams would make decent short stories if I could actually remember how they began.

Maybe Christopher Nolan is like me, and thus Inception‘s vision of the unstructured dreamscape isn’t off the wall because his own dreamscape isn’t. I don’t think it’s necessary to have trippy dreams all the time to be creative. Honestly, I enjoy the break. But now I wonder: how many people out there are having these crazy dreams all the time? Is it just me and Chris who have boring dreams?

10 comments on “Are Dreams Really As Weird As All That?

  1. Shira says:

    Sometimes I have the crazy dreams. More frequently, I have fairly normal dreams like the ones you describe.

    Keep in mind that I categorize stuff like spontaneous marching bands as normal, because that is normal for Boston.

  2. John Vise says:

    Structure and logic aren’t necessarily the same thing. I’ve had many balls out crazy dreams that made perfect integral sense while dreaming, as well as epic stories that spanned years but only left me glimpses on waking. Yet, who is to say that one mind dreams like another? That all minds or dreamrealms work at all the same seems to be a massive assumption.

  3. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    I had a series of dreams where I drove a pick-up truck to the corner convenience store to buy groceries every night. In the passenger seat was a different super model in some avant garde fashion thing every night. They never spoke to me, but stared straight ahead. Then I’d take the groceries inside and the super model would get in the driver’s side and gun the engine and drive off like somebody’s house was on fire. I really didn’t get it.

  4. Divers Hands says:

    I remember being at a talk given by Neil Gaiman in Toronto right around when his ‘American Gods’ was published. Someone in the audience had a question about the influence of his dreams upon works like the Sandman books and ‘Neverwhere’ and Mr. Gaiman pointed out that while dreams influenced his work, his work wasn’t actually based upon them because dreams were not typically “story shaped”.

    I of course find this to be bullshit.

    In fact, I have dreams that follow certain narrative structures or tropes so closely that I actually end up having deja vu within the dream because I already know how the dream has to end. I actually suffer from an unaccountable amount of deja vu in my dreams, because at some point in a recurring dream I’ll find myself realizing that I have already been through this. Oddly, I still never seem to be able to change the drive of such dreams, even after recognizing that I am dreaming and entirely aware of what is about to happen.

    What truly fascinates me about my own dreaming is the certainty of them. In dreams I will come across novels, comic books, television shows which do not exist, but that within the dream I not only recognize, but can also bring forth the history of such works: knowledge of the authors, artists, actors, previous issues or episodes, news worthy tidbits concerning them. I recall dreaming about a type of non-existant soda, encountered in a never heard of chain convenience store, that not only did I know the taste of without opening a can, but could remember commercials and jingles for from my childhood. Rules, laws, social expectations of a given area aren’t just known, but treated as de facto common knowledge. The really odd ones are the places with bizarre laws of physics or impossible activity that are accepted as simply the way things are, and have always been. But it is all so certain. Information that anyone who had spent years exisiting in these places would know simply by cultural osmosis.

    I am always curious if other people find themselves plagued by this inarguable sense of ineffability. This absolute certainty that this is how the world is and works, complete with background and history.

    Of course, I also frequently find myself recalling moments from dreams in waking life and then having to piece together why no one knows what the hell I am talking about. In all fairness, I did a lot of hallucinogens in college. For science. I swear.

  5. Laurie says:

    Mine are a mixed bag. Sometimes I dream in the way that you describe, semi-lucid and reasonably sensible – often these are story dreams. Sometimes I have the story dreams, but the setting or events will be too abstract to even make sense to the waking mind, and/or my mind just throws random bits of the story at me out of order. Sometimes my dreams are just balls out insane, make no sense, and are full of the uncomfortable symbolism and fears and desires described in the quote.

  6. Dylan Fox says:

    My dreams are more often about feelings than anything else. I mean, stuff will happen to them, but it’s the feeling driving them and the feeling I remember when I wake up. The stuff that happens is normally pretty normal and linear, but the feelings don’t often fit the action.

  7. Brendan Carson says:

    This is exactly my experience – there have been dreams from which I can derive a deep symbolic meaning, but most of them are a shuffling of the same cards we get in mortal life.

    One thing that used to worry me before was the thought that on average, my dreams are vaguely unpleasant – the dominant emotion was probably anxiety or that weird “I’m going to feel guilty later” feeling. I think that that’s because we suppress a lot of feelings, and a big part of what we suppress is that vague formless anxiety. Happiness doesn’t get suppressed as much.

  8. Rochita Loenen-Ruiz says:

    I sometimes have full-colored dreams and dreams that are so real that I wake up either crying or laughing. I have dreams where I am home again. Those are the ones where I wake up and wonder where in the world I am. It takes a while before I re-orient and understand that I was only dreaming. *sighs*

  9. silviamg says:

    I am a lucid dreamer, and the dreams I use as inspiration for stories are the rare ones that don’t make sense, and I can’t control, because those are the ones that generally contain the good ideas. So, trippy dreams are the ones that are useful to me.

  10. V. says:

    My dreamscape is often quite realistic. There’s very little frolicking with fantasy creatures, most of the time, and a lot more being late to work because I overslept and no one called to ask why I wasn’t there and then I got distracted and then a few hours disappeared and then I was in the coffee shop picking up this girl far more smoothly than I ever manage in person before I remembered again that I was supposed to be at work and then I forgot to take the train and so I had to swim the river…etc. These dreams are realistic enough that in them I sometimes think “This is exactly what it’s like in my anxiety dreams…I wish THIS was a dream!”

    Something that doesn’t ring very true for me in a lot of movie dream sequences, and sounds like it would feel more real in Inception (I also haven’t seen it yet), is the level of confusion. When things go oddly or the scene shift abruptly in movie dreams, the dreamer often seems bewildered. But in my dreams I take all of the scene changes in stride; it’s only once I wake up that I realize how much things jumped around. Similarly, when we recount our dreams to each other, we often marvel at how strange the things that happened were, trying to make sense of why our brains would combine those elements — but much more rarely does someone say “and I was so confused, I couldn’t figure out what was going on.” It seems like most of the time we buy into it while it’s happening, and so it frustrates me that movie characters often don’t. So perhaps the dreamscapes in Inception are less like other movie dreamscapes and more like (at least my) real ones?

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