The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Do you have recurring dreams or nightmares?

I'm going to the Democratic National Debates tonight in Hollywood. Can't believe I'm doing this, but this election cycle is just too much serious fun. Any suggestions on what I should be looking for as Obama and Hillary Gingham Dog and Calico Cat each other..?

I’ve never believed in Dream Books, those compilations of standardized “interpretations” of imagery. But I do think that dreams represent pieces of information being coded from short to long term memory, and the nudges of the subconscious trying to communicate to us about things that we can’t look at directly. Keeping a dream diary, then can be a powerful way of connecting the different levels of our minds.

I first remember interpreting dreams was in childhood. My mother had a recurring dream about being chased by Frankenstein’s Monster. She would wake up screaming and moaning. Not surprisingly, there were real monsters plaguing us: we were broke. She was constantly fighting to find money for the mortgage, or even for food. I still remember mom cutting dandelions off the front lawn so that we would have salad for dinner…
The monsters are coming.

But personally, the recurring dreams I’ve experienced over the years are:
1) Since my mother’s death, I’ve dreamed many times of returning to my childhood home. Her car is in the driveway, but she won’t come to the door. Or…the car is gone, but I expect her home soon.
2) Gardeners are digging up the back yard. I am a serial killer, and have buried victims there, and under the concrete. I am terrified that the corpses will be found. (I’ve had versions of this one since my teens)
3) The living dead are coming for me. I try various means of escaping, evading, or deceiving them. Sometimes they get me.

My rough interpretations of the dreams:
1) Obvious. I miss my mother terribly, and would give anything for another conversation, another hug, another bit of advice from her. Or a chance to apologize for past wrongs.
2) I have guilt about things I’ve done, or fear that if people could really see me, they would reject or accuse me. “Buried” guilt.
3) I have a sense that too many of the people around me are “living dead”: trapped in jobs, lives, bodies, or relationships that do not serve them. I move among them, but feel apart (typical existential loneliness stuff, there). But as I move among them, they inevitably “infect” me with some of their attitudes…I risk becoming one of them unless I can remain apart…but God, that gets lonely.

How about you?


Lynn said...

Oh! Dreams are one of my favorite topics. I did have some scary dreams when I was a kid but I only had one recurring dream and it was rather pleasant even though it was sort of weird. I missed it when I stopped having it, still miss it I guess. I was in a desert, with nothing but a lot of big sand dunes and I would climb to the top of a sand dune and it would morph into a tall building. I would look around for a way to get down but just as I found a ladder the building would morph back into a sand dune. This happened several times. There was another person in the dream, an adult. I never could see him very well; he was always behind me and kind of to one side but I felt that he was someone I trusted, someone there to look after me. The last thing in the dream, I found a lake with a sailboat. Strangely, they were both sand colored too. I got on the boat and a stong wind would blow me away; I felt like I was flying for a couple of seconds and then I would wake up.

Now, I have some pretty interesting and vivid dreams. Some of them would make pretty good science fiction movies. I figure that's just because I watch and read a lot of science fiction.

Another kind of dream I have is what I call endless house dreams. I'll be looking at a house, usually empty, like I'm looking at houses to buy, and I'll walk through it and keep finding more rooms and more rooms but I can never get back to where I started. I don't know what those are all about but they're kind of fun.

Anonymous said...

I frequently have those "hidden rooms" dreams
as well as whole floors of house
between the floors i know

I love those dreams
every bit like being in
my Mind!

the recuerring ddream i have
is about Simer College
where I did my undergrad education
alas the College ihas moved from its bucolic setting in Mount Carroll, illinois to downtown Chicago but still offers
THE BEST Liberal Education in the country.

same curriculum and exams
as the University of Chicago
in the days of Robert Maynard Hutchins

I graduacted in 1960
and still
not a day goes by
that I feel conscious gratitude
for all I learned there
how to analyze and synthesis
knowledge, observations, emotions
so it makes perfect sense
I would return there
when I make important decisions

in the dreams I am always back at the campus
where I attended,
Georgian architecture
building over 100 years old
incredible trees
and I am always taking a "graduate" course
even though in the dream I know
it is/was strictly an under-grad college

the dream always signals either
a major decision just made
or one on the verge of being made


Anonymous said...

Like Suzanne, many of my dreams signal some major movement internally that will translate to the external if I let it.

Me re-occurring dreams are usually of houses and mostly my Grandmother's house but there are rooms that I've not seen before. I feel like I am being allowed in to some secret.

Viewing these rooms is a signal that some level of awakening has or is occurring for me. I so love dreams and digging around in my Psyche.


Mike Ralls said...

I don't really have any recurring dreams, but recently I did journal a dream for the first time.


I had a bad day (stomach ache, unsatisfying company and bad food) so when night came I tried to do some meditation. I didn’t do much before I got sleepy and drifted off to sleep with a vague feeling of wanting to be someone else for a while.

I dreamed I was at a rural seaside resort. There was a young pagan girl, and I a non-pagan boy who is preparing surprise for her birthday. Setting up so that her uncle will open the cellar with a key he had thought lost to get her surprise. What is that surprise? Wine? Food? Something that is special to her. The party ends and we are left. We talk. We share. We begin to make love and we grow. Energy fills us. Passion personified.

We were here when the Earth was young
We shall be here when the Gods are old
We are all
We are one

Pulsing. Merging.

Some prophecy or story we had begun to tell starts to come true. We run off to the sea and dive in together. And then I am the strongest bird who has ever lived, only I am underwater. I swim with powerful strokes, and the feeling of flying underwater is unlike any I have felt before. But my love is not with me. Where is she? I go to the surface, and as I hit it I am transformed into a being without form. A shadow. I got back underwater. I know that she is creature of sea now trapped in eternal sky, and I am a creature of sky, trapped in an eternal sea. We shall never see each other without an epic struggle. I seek escape. I am scared, and I want out, out, out,

And then I awake and write down my dream.

Mike Ralls said...

I'm curious: Anyone have any thoughts on what my dream meant?

Mar said...

Steve, POLITICS: I would like to know where the Clinton and Obama supporters intend to go when one or the other is chosen. Gore lost because too many liberals voted for Nader in key states. We can go into voter fraud, losing Tennessee, and Lieberman another day. Who do people think should be VP? Should they form some type of ticket: winner 1 prez, and winner 2, veep?

I actually fear the neo-cons will somehow get one of their own, like Lieberman, on the ticket.

DREAMS, I used to have a reoccurring dream that I was locked in a circus-like cage, and all these dangerous and bazaar things threatened me, and sometimes hurt me. The dream started during a particularly dangerous marriage (threated by guns, not supported by parents who could not conceive of a husband treating his wife -- their daughter -- badly, an so on), and then started up again during Reagan's administration. Haven't had the dream since I married my current husband during the third year of Reagan's admin. However, I don't need the dream now, I felt we live it every day with the Bush Administration.

Commenting elsewhere, I realized that the neo-con commentators, especially those putting out the reverse oreo cookie comments on CNN, anyone on fauxnews, and those small (and large) town thugs who spew out hate, are the brown shirts of the neo-con movement. I want to promote that idea.

Mar said...

To Mike Ralls,
The symbolism all seems religious to me. As a non-pagan boy you probably have bought into the idea that there is only one way to God and you believe that your pagan girl is doomed to damnation, forever beyond your reach.

Whether you decide to accept a many-paths to God approach to religion or not, this is a great high-concept for a novel/story, either fantasy or mainstream. Go for it. I'd love to read the story that comes out of this.

Mar said...

Would appreciate comments from anyone.

How do you get good readers for your work?

You can stop reading here if an answer leapt to mind. Go on, if you want background and maybe some frustrations and, perhaps, sniveling.

I have tried local writers groups, and family members (including my great husband and that was wrong). I know many writers, and have flat out asked. A woman who is a long published (with long gaps some times) romance writer has said that she will do a final read on a mystery novel that has been done so long I had to take all timely comments out. Previously, two other writers actually volunteered but did not do it, probably because of health and time issues, and I am afraid that might happen again.

How do others deal with this?

I have a half-dozen SF short stories that should go to magazines, but no one but me has read them.

I really would like to figure out how to do this. Jay Lake puts things on his live journal blog for comments. I just don't think I can do that. Or should I try?

Background. I am published: some fiction, more non-fiction. My published works did not have any pre pub readers. I feel that I have teetered on a cusp for years, since often magazines hold my work for six months or more, then reject it with a note of apology stating that they almost bought it. This happens to most of my stories, over and over again. As I go downhill in my target magazines, I quit sending it out, and that may be a wrong move.

I have to believe there has to be a way to kick my work through the goal posts. I subscribe to Steve's inspirational newsletter, and that is the impetus for this request. I need nitty gritty readers who can help me get the work ready for publication or send it back to the drawing boards with reasons.

I have been to workshops, both prestigious and not, and worked with great writers, but while only I can move my career forward, I would like someone else's ideas to chew on.

I need readers not because I distrust my writing, but I do distrust my word processing and editing with the word processor (phrase repetitions, for example, that are caused by moving scenes), and view point shifts. These are beginner problems, but I cannot see them in my own manuscripts for months or years.

Crystal said...

As a child an aunt of mine used to tease me that if I kept swallowing all of those watermelon seeds I was going to turn into a great big watermelon. It gave me terrible nightmares which taught me that the worst thing about being a melon is having no voice. A watermelon can't scream or tell anyone that it's still here.

Most of my nightmares in school and for some reason recently, are about making huge efforts to accomplish things, to make people happy, to be "good" and having it all collapse unexpectedly at the last minute, and usually for a freakishly unlikely reason, and having everybody angry at me because I should have been able to accomplish more, it looks like I wasn't trying and only I know I was.

The worst streak I had was three months straight of dreams that made me wake up choking on tears and that all seemed really unrelated. I couldn't work them out for the life of me. My dreams don't interpret well by those books. A train isn't a cue to this or that necessarily. Is it speeding out of my control? Am I responsible for protecting it's passengers? Am I forced to protect myself from it's passengers? That's the stuff that interprets it, not whether or not it goes into a tunnel.

Well, it took me three exhausting months to distill the feeling out of those dreams and get it. The moral to every surreal fable was "Happiness Will Be Punished". They started when I'd miscarried at twelve weeks. Once I saw the theme and confronted it, because I don't want to believe that's true, the dreams went away.

Often dreaming is a lot of work for me, I wake up exhausted from all of the mental and emotional work that goes on in my sleep. But hearing what what my subconscious is saying is often the key to letting something go and moving to the next phase. I figure there are worse ways to deal with all the crap and I love the mornings when I can wake up with an "AHA!"


Anonymous said...

Personally I think the living dead dreams are a premonition of things to come. As a writer, surely you are afraid of having your brain eaten.

In all seriousness, on the topic of the living dead, I would recommend checking out World War Z. Great piece of writing by Max Brooks, who is Mel Brooks' son. Really a collection of short stories in a consistent universe. Amazing that he was able to create a fully realized vision of a world by using certain key moments that everyone is aware of.

Steve Perry said...

Well, I've noticed that since I became a writer, my dreams have gotten more detailed -- better plots, more colorful scenarios, and often, resolution to the story, no matter how far-fetched.

Best piece I've ever seen on the subject of dreams was a comic treatment, "The Story of the Lone Ranger and the Difficulty at O'Leary's Birdcage Saloon ..." by Dan O'Neill, in the Winter, 1978 issue of The Co-Evolution Quarterly. Back issues go for $20 to $25 a copy, from what I've seen on the web, and worth it for that comic alone ...

Dan Moran said...

Me, I'm voting for the democratic nominee no matter who it is. So that's where I'm "going." That said, I was OK with most of the Dems in the race to begin with -- ideologically Clinton, Obama, Edwards, Biden, Dodd, Richardson are not far off one another and I'd have been comfortable voting for any of them, as people. (Not so much Kucinich, who's a little off. Gravel I might say something nice about, except I barely know who he is even after he ran for President.)

I've had years when there were more Republicans I liked than Democrats. This year I had a bunch of Dems I could have tolerated, and 3 (Obama, Clinton, Edwards) who I like a great deal.

I expect almost all of Hillary's supporters will line up behind Obama if he wins. Not so sure it's the case in the other direction -- Obama's supporters are really fired up about their guy, but that makes the post-nomination make-nice a little harder, if you don't win it all.

Dan Moran said...

I'm not a big fan of dream analysis. It's sort of like looking at what's left on the floor of the garage after a big construction job and trying to figure out what it all means....

Mark Jones said...

My only recurring dream is one of the classic anxiety dreams: finding myself back in school. Either at the end of the college semester and realizing I haven't been attending my classes, don't even know where they are held--or at the beginning of the semester, again not knowing where my classes, my dorm room or the admin offices which would have the info can be found. It's an oppressive feeling and waking up such dreams is always a great relief. (Funny how when I was a kid, the idea of working for a living and not getting a summer vacation seemed awful--but now you couldn't PAY me to go back to being a student like that.)

Anonymous said...

I remember my mom feeding us dandelion salad. I hated her diet choices for years. Never ocurred to me we might have been broke.
I thought she'd just believed Euwel Gibbons or something.

Lynn said...

I'll spare you the awful stuff that that tries to claw its way out of my unconscious at night, Steve! However, my husband has a very interesting theme running through most of his dreams. These dreams are in a post apocalyptic setting or in the aftermath of some disaster or epidemic that leaves few people alive. In the dream he is usually a 'super hero' type of character, who is working his butt off to help build a new civilization, OR he is a regular Joe and the kids and I are with him and everyone is struggling to survive. Every once in a while, we are with him when he has 'super powers', but not often. The dreams are detailed and interesting, but I feel a little bad because they make me think the poor man has too many family worries.

I often blog about my own dreams in an effort to help myself. The latest dream themes are repression and denial, and also of being somewhat lost, trapped and/ or desperate. I wish I could have my seven year-old's dreams. She dreams of flowers, butterflies and lovely exotic pets (the animals are imaginary ones and they have tea parties with her). Sometimes she sighs or giggles in her sleep.

When I was a kid, I used to have recurring dreams of the women in my family being aboard a plane that was crashing. I also used to dream of eating ink-filled berries and choking or being poisoned because of them. Another recurring dream was coming home from school and being locked out of my house. My family, who were zombies, were locked in, and my mother would be at the window screaming for me to help her. I'm so glad my daughters have better dreams than I did!

Steven Barnes said...


Send your stories in to the magazines to be read and rejected! Keep writing, keep reading, and eventually you'll get editor's comments scribbled in your margins or on the reply note. Pay attention.
This is a fine road to publication, even if it isn't as sure as it was in the 60's. You can get a professional eye--for nothing!

el viejo soldado said...

I have this weird dream of "Little Davy", a character in Shirley Jackson's, The Lottery, a play I recall circa 1969/1970.

The dream isn't actually so much about the character as it is about the neat little guy who played him. Can't recall his name right now ... but he kinda reminds me of YOU. A good dude and all-around nice guy. Humor in spades. A hail-fellow-well-met. Hard on himself at times. A searcher of sorts. Not John Wayne in the 1956 film of the same name, but more of a cool Don Quixote, but w/o the hallucinations.

Don't really know what became of the little prick, personally, but I've heard rumors he's doing well, and still a pretty neat kinda guy.

Anonymous said...

I am a concerned friend of a young man who is threatened by the same nightmare every evening. He tells me that he is running from something (never seen it). He and his friends are scared and running away from this "thing". Usually his friends are dying around him and he is terrifed. He wakes up usually after screaming and such. He is 18 years old always looks like he hasn't had enough sleep. But the nightmare is really bothering him. The family doesn't have much money and seeing a psychologist is not in the budget whatsoever.

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