Some of this post is archived, some of it new because while I’m working on Interview With a Demon, dreams play a very crucial role in how I access the Guardian for my series of interviews. Come to think of it, dreams play a crucial role in all of my writing. Some of my novels have their birth in dreams, some stories, such as The Psychology of Dreams 101, are all about dreams and dream sequences. Few components of the human psyche have influenced writers over the centuries more than dreams. A Christmas Carol, Mid Summer Night’s Dream, in films, of course, The Wizard of Oz and Nightmare on Elm Street. And the list goes on and on.
We all have our own dreamscape and our own series of recurring dreams, and most people, whether they like to admit it or not, like to play around a bit with dream interpretation. It was an important enough part of the psyche that both Freud and Jung wrote extensively about dreams and their interpretations.
While it is not an exact science, here is K D’s neurotic writers’ version of dream interpretation, which turns out to be one helluva tool in writing a story.
I can divide those recurring dreams into three categories and that they all fit very nicely. For as long as I can remember I’ve had three types of dreams over and over again. They were never identical, but the themes were exactly the same, and I always wake up knowing when I’ve had one.
I have the ‘Old Crush/ Lover Returns’ dreams, I have the ‘stuck at the airport trying to board a plane I can’t find’ dreams. Those two types are frustrating, sometimes stressful and embarrassing, but the third kind can be really terrifying. The third kind are, ‘The House’ dreams. I’ll get back to that later.
It hit me the other day when I was walking to the local shops for a pint of milk that these three types of dreams are my efforts to resolve issues in the three major areas of my life; my passion, my life journey, and my own internal home, the space inside my head where KD, Grace, and Kathy all live. I realized as I bought my milk along with four bananas and some peaches, that these three categories of dreams seem pretty archetypal.
My passion is my writing. It’s the heart of me. Everyone who knows me knows this. But I would never say that I have an easy relationship with that passion. I’ve had dreams most of my life about an ex-lover or, more often, an ex-crush, someone who I really obsessed over and battled emotionally with at some point in my life. In my dreams that person returns to either ignore me, harass me or seduce me away from my commitments and my life. The emotions are high. I battle with trying to understand why I’m being rejected, or why I’m being treated poorly. I battle even more with the crushes and exes who show up to ‘take me away’ from all this, and I realize I no longer want to go with them. For some reason they just never seem to intrigue me as much as they used to. Passion is never what I expect. It’s often illusive, and always volatile. And yes, there are times when I discover that what I thought I wanted just doesn’t get me there anymore. Yup! That sums up my relationship with my writing in a nutshell.
My journey dreams almost always take place in an airport, which makes perfect sense because I’ve been in more than my share. I’m quite familiar with delayed and cancelled flights, with having the gate changed at the last minute, with sitting on the runway in a time warp, with lost luggage and achingly long flights. I know the drill. The airport is never a destination. It’s the place in between. It’s the cross roads, no-man’s-land, the place you endure to get to where you want to be. The destination, the journey, the expectations, those are always foremost in my mind when I travel, but the airport can really fu*k that journey up.
It’s about the journey. It’s about the struggle to make that journey. Everyone’s on a journey from birth to death, and no one gets a smooth ride. Some parts of the ride are rougher than others, and I’ll be the first to admit I don’t do change well. The waiting is hard, the making connections is stressful, and the journey often takes a far different route than I ever anticipated. Until recently I’ve not been aware of these three divisions in my recurring dreams, but I wonder now if I have the journey dreams more often when it’s time to move on, when it’s time to find another place to be, but I’m afraid to make the move. I wish I’d kept track. In my dreams, I’ve waited in more airports than I have in real life, and that’s a bunch.
The third category of recurring dream, as I said, is by far the scariest, and that’s the House dream. Those dreams take three forms. The first is not so much scary as it is frustrating. In them I’m looking for my dream home, and every time I think I’ve found it, there’s some serious flaw that I can’t quite overcome – a swamp in the back garden – or even worse a swamp in the gigantic bathtub, the discovery that the house is the sight of a murder or some other tragedy, the discovery of a treasure trove of items that belonged to the people who lived there before, a house that’s been left like the owners have simply walked away.
The second type of Home dream is finding myself back in my old home town, quite often in my old high school realising that I don’t even know what classes I’m in and that no one cares that I’m an adult now, way past school days with all kinds of worldly experience. They still insist on treating me like a high school kid who hasn’t done her homework … in months.
The third type of dream I like to call the forbidden room dream. Those terrify me every time, and I often wake up crying out, drenched in sweat and struggling to breathe. Those dreams always involve me having lived in a big, usually very old house, for a long time, but within that house, there is one room I never go into. No one goes into it because it’s locked and off limits, and yet every second I’m in the house, I’m aware that the room and what’s inside it. The thing is, I’m never really sure why I fear that room so much. Is there a ghost? An evil spirit? A long dead body? Is there a demon, a crazy person? I never know. And when I do go into the room, which of course I always must, I am so frightened I can’t breathe, and yet I never actually see what’s frightening me.
OK, before you run away thinking I’m a total nutcase, just let me say that I’ve done enough dream analysis to know that the house is me, whether I’m looking for my dream house or thrown back into high school or whether I am terrified of some room that’s a part of me. The house is always me and all my dreams unrealized, all my issues, resolved and unresolved. Everyone has ‘rooms’ they’d rather not revisit. And though those rooms are places of terror in the dream world, they’re often places of true treasure when I’m willing to confront them in the waking world.
Now, where is all this leading? Well as I thought about the connections of these recurring dreams, it hit me that these are all life themes. These are major archetypes in everyone’s life, which means, for a writer, they become major themes for every story.
The passion, the journey, the home – all archetypes, all major building blocks in the Lego of K D’s ‘Create-Your-Own-Story’ pack. The passion can be a lover, an adventure, a personal challenge answered, revenge for a wrong done, the search for the Undiscovered Country. The journey is what it takes to realize that passion, whether it’s through the
Amazon Rain Forest or down to the corner market, whether it’s a novel written or a aria sung. And the home is everything that our characters are, all they fear, all they hope to become. It’s their neuroses, their flaws, and their joys and their hopes. Put those three together and the story possibilities are endless.
The dreams are never comfortable, never easy, and that’s one more reason why they’re so valuable for story. The places of powerful fiction are the places that frighten us, the places that make us uncomfortable, the obstacles in our path, the delays in the journey or the unexpected detours. Story is made up of the rough patches, and the rooms inside us that we’d choose not to visit if we could keep from it. There’s no ignoring those uncomfortable parts of us, no making them go away. But bring the ‘dreams’ into the waking world and transform them into story, and let the fun begin!