Saturday, September 10, 2011

Don't Wake Me If I'm Dreaming

In the novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell, two characters (Emma and Stephen) are forced each night to attend balls in the Faerie kingdom of Lost-Hope, where they dance all night long. During the day, they have no knowledge of this ‘second life’ they lead — and understandably, they’re exhausted!

Ever since I was a child, I’ve had vivid dreams — and multiple dreams — every night. Some are just odd or whimsical, some frightening and foreboding. I often liken my overactive ‘dream life’ to the fate of Emma and Stephen. It sometimes seems that I lead two lives and that if I didn’t dream, I might feel more rested. (Hey, it’s a theory.)

What I find most fascinating about dreams are the unique, extremely specific details. Last night I dreamt that my cousin Kathy and I visited an antique shop. I entered a storage room to view an antique table and chairs from China. The details were so clear: the black and red lacquer finish, the intricate carvings on the tabletop, the red silk of the chair covers, the ‘feet’ of the table legs that resembled lion’s paws. Next, I browsed dusty shelves where I found an old leather-bound church hymnal. It was square and the spine of the cover had pulled away from the browned and aged pages inside.

Have I seen these items somewhere before? Or are our minds capable of storing a million (billion?) tiny bits of data that we draw on to construct these dream worlds? Do we tap into a collective unconscious as Jung would suggest?

I don’t have the answers but as a writer, the questions compel me. When I construct a world on paper, what images do I rely on? My own memories? The images absorbed through movie, television, books? Or, do our imaginations — like our dream worlds — draw on the collective unconscious?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you dream? Where do you think your dreams come from?

1 comment:

  1. The best description of dreams that I've heard from came from an episode of Radiolab. If you think of your brain like a big filing cabinet, sleep is the time when everything that you did and saw that day is filed away. Dreams result from mis-filing -- people and details in the wrong places, in the wrong times. Not exactly scientific, but I like it a lot.

    I do dream, but they are usually not very vivid. I usually have 1-2 dreams each week that I remember. I almost never have nightmares, and I can count on one hand the number of scary dreams I remember having.

    When I was in elementary/middle school, I was convinced that somehow people's dreams were connected -- that if I had a dream about someone that it absolutely meant that they had a dream about me too. Alas, I finally had to accept that the cute boy in my math class wasn't dreaming about me in return :)