I have always had vivid dreams. As a child, my dreams would sometimes be so vibrant that I could not separate them from reality. I would insist to my mother that I had done something, get angry because I had dreamed something was in one place and in real life it wasn’t there, or I would be convinced that certain things had happened to me when they really did not. Man vs. dream: the story of my life.
I first became aware of the idea that my dreams were more dramatic and realistic than those of the general population when I was young (maybe eight or nine) and always had new dreams to share with my best friend Maureen. “You have dreams every night?” Maureen asked, stunned.
“Yeah, doesn’t everybody?”
“Well maybe, but they don’t remember them.”
Oh, I thought. It had never occurred to me that I might be different than most people. I was further disappointed when I learned that most people didn’t have nightmares every single night. (I did.)
“You mean you have good dreams?” I asked Maureen.
“Yeah, people give me things, like bracelets. Once I got a bracelet in my dream and then three days later on my birthday I got the exact same bracelet from my aunt. So dreams can tell the future.”
The next night I had a dream that aliens captured me and took me onto their space ship. I cried to my mother for two hours, thinking that in a couple of days, the dream would come true. “I promise you that aliens will not come capture you,” my mother said, “And if they did, I would go with you.”
That must have not been too comforting, because I started having a recurring dream in which I would be playing with some brightly colored wooden blocks we had in my house. A witch would come to our house to kidnap me and I would always hide in the castle I built. I became so terrified of the blocks that I never touched them again.
Eventually I got over my nightmares. They didn’t go away; I just accepted them as a part of my life. Plus, because I had disturbing dreams most nights, waking up became a very pleasant thing. Even now, waking up is my favorite part of the day. I don’t even care if I’m tired. Knowing that I am entering reality, which is usually far sweeter than any world that might exist in my dreams, is comforting, particularly since I end up dead in many of my dreams.
This semester, my dreams have started to make a shift from the horrifying to the horrifyingly weird. Six weeks ago, I dreamed that my twin sister (she frequently makes appearances in my dreams) and I ended up in some dystopian world in which we had to hide our thoughts from more intelligent beings. Not long after that, I dreamed that I tattooed thin horizontal stripes over my entire behind. “Well now that was smart,” my mother said in the dream, “It’ll look great after you have children and start putting on weight.” That dream was awful. Every woman I told shivered with me at the thought of having horizontal stripes permanently penned to her body.
A couple of weeks ago I decided that it might be a good idea to try to decode these dreams. Maybe my body was trying to tell me something. Maybe in that dystopian dream, I was being called to action to save the people. The next Keanu Reeves. Except female. And a bit more facially expressive.
I went online and googled “dream interpretation,” which came up with a variety of dream websites, most of which looked illegitimate because they were geocities pages. I randomly chose and looked up “tattoo,” in attempt to find the meaning of this horizontal stripe dream. The website indicated that tattoos normally indicate a fear of making a permanent decision, or confusion about a time of change in one’s life. “Oh my gosh, this is me!” I yelled to my roommate. My fears about taking out all of this money to pay for med school are manifesting themselves in my dreams!”
“Sarah, don’t be stupid. Those things are like horoscopes. They’re vague enough that you can take any aspect of your life and relate it to any of those symbols.” Fair point. Also, the website had typos, so it couldn’t have been that accurate. I needed a dream guide with a real author who had actual credentials.
While in a used bookstore two weeks ago, I picked up a copy of 10,000 Dreams Interpreted: A Dictionary of Dreams and Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams. I was determined to get to the bottom of this stuff.
Over spring break, I spent a bit of time reading through these books. They’re total crap. First of all, the dream dictionary seems to lack a lot of common symbols, but then has explanations for things like “crying” and “disaster.” Maybe I’m just being dense, but I would think that any nightmare could fit under the category of disaster and probably includes some crying.
I looked up “tattoo.” According to Gustavus Hindman Miller, “To see your body appearing tattooed, foretells that some difficulty will cause you to make a long and tedious absence from your home.” What?
The book didn’t have “dystopia,” but since I die a lot, I looked up “death.” “Dreams relating to death or dying,” Mr. Miller writes, “are misleading and very confusing to the novice in dream lore when he attempts to interpret them.” Clue #1 that this guy has no clue what he’s talking about. No wonder this piece of crap ended up in a used bookstore. He follows that sentence up with three paragraphs of words put together to form grammatically correct sentences that mean absolutely nothing. See Dead. I went to “Dead” on the previous page. “To dream of seeing the dead, living and happy, signifies that you are letting wrong influences into your life, which will bring material loss if not corrected by the assumption of your own will power.” What?
Freud was no help either. I looked up a couple of my dreams in his poorly-organized opus and apparently I’m suffering from a possible “masochistic trait in my character.” Duh. I go to MIT. But kudos to him for correctly predicting my personality.
After fifteen years of crazy dreams and absolutely no success in discerning their meaning, I think I’m going to go with the perfectly eloquent Havelock Ellis said in 1911. While dream-symbolism is useful for neurotic people, it has no meaning for normal ones.
Maybe I’m a bit crazy, but I think that I’m going to trust that these dreams are the product of a free-thinking, creative mind, and nothing more.
So I’ll go to bed tonight and dream big. And I’ll wake up in the morning, refreshed and relieved that I get to live in the real world.