Dreams and great fiction

Only once in my life have I had the slightest impression, during a dream, that I was dreaming. Jarom, on the other hand, always – or nearly always – knows he’s dreaming (known as lucid dreams). One of my friends even has a “pause” feature in her dreams when something doesn’t line up with reality, so she can explain to herself that it’s ok in a dream.

I, on the other hand, have incredibly vivid dreams in which I am completely immersed. For me they are reality while I’m dreaming. Sometimes this is not so great; as a kid and even for the first few years after I got married, I’d dream that there were spiders or bugs in my bed and wake up (partly – enough to scream and thoroughly freak out) to get away. Other times my day is colored by the feeling of my dream.

Until recently I felt guilty for being so strongly impacted by dreams. When I’m awake I know they aren’t real, and realize that many of the elements just didn’t make sense, and yet I was getting wistful and a little disappointed that the dream didn’t continue. I wanted to experience the rest of the story.

Then it occurred to me that the way I feel during a dream is similar to the way I feel when reading a really great book for the first time. Good examples for me are The Name of the Wind and Inkheart, both of which I read without stopping on fantastically enjoyable late nights. Even though I love rereading these books, there’s nothing quite like the first read – getting to know the characters and watch the story unfold. Although in an especially good book, it seems more like participating in the story than watching it.

Aha! That’s what my dreams are like. They are new stories I’m participating in for the first time. There are repeating elements, of course, but this only lends to the sensation that all of my dreams are simply chapters in a very large book, and they are related to a single overarching plot. By my estimate, until about 2010, 1 in every 5 of my dreams took place in the ballet studio I danced in growing up. Given how much time I spent there, it makes sense that so many of my dreams used it as a setting. Even in the past few months I’ve dreamed I was back at the studio – this time as an adult, awkwardly trying to resume dancing after so many years. High school is another frequent setting, although here again I am cast as an adult – married! – finishing a few high school classes after graduating college and having kids. My identity as a college graduate, wife, and mother always plays into these dreams, as does a theme of having forgotten about a class I was taking (usually calculus or AP physics). I also often dream I’m in a large grocery store, a combination of Costco and my local supermarket, and there is drama of varying sorts. Interestingly, Evan and June rarely show up in my dreams (so far), but Jarom has been a frequent character for the past . . . 14 years.

Last night I dreamt that one of my friends was setting up a practice as a dentist, that I had a puppy named Mel, and that I helped host a dinner party which somehow involved watercolors. These are just a few basic elements of the dream, of course; the plot isn’t there – only some facts that provide a sort of framework for the actual story.

Having realized why I enjoy dreaming so much, I don’t feel quite so guilty about being grouchy when someone wakes me up right in the middle of a fascinating dream.

What do you dream about?