I woke up from a dream about water-balloon fights and bears the other night, and my sleepy brain immediately exclaimed, “You should write a blog post about bears!” Well, I’m not going to do that, but I will write a blog post about dreams.
Dreams are one of life’s great mysteries. Freud saw them as the key to unlocking the unconscious mind and revealing the true desires of the Id. Psychics and mystics believe dreams can tell the future or reveal important truths about one’s life, and that lucid dreaming can be a gateway to astral projection. Creatives of all types see dreams as tools for enriching the art, literature, or science they seek to create. Richard Feynman famously experimented with lucid dreaming to enable more creative problem solving; Salvador Dali used dream incubation techniques to inspire new works straight from his unconscious; Christopher Nolan’s personal dreamscape directly influenced his blockbuster film Inception.
Stephen King writes,
I’ve always used dreams the way you’d use mirrors to look at something you couldn’t see head-on, the way that you use a mirror to look at your hair in the back. To me that’s what dreams are supposed to do. I think that dreams are a way that people’s minds illustrate the nature of their problems. Or maybe even illustrate the answers to their problems in symbolic language.
I always admire people who can effectively translate their dreams into coherent art, writing, or ideas. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series does all three of these things so wonderfully, as does Alan Moore’s Promethea. Kubla Khan, my favorite poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, was born in a dream and evokes a land of sensation and mystery. As a child, The Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds transported me to a hallucinogenic world of rocking horse people and cellophane flowers.
The manuscript I’m currently working on has a lot to do with dreams. And it’s been challenging so far to use them in such a way that is both meaningful to the plot and interesting to the reader. Dreams can come in so many different forms. They can be banal and nonsensical (like my bear-centric dream from the other night). They can be fraught with anxiety (like my recurring nightmare about an upcoming final in a math class I haven’t been to all semester).
And sometimes they are full of incredible imagery. Vague, dark-haired figures moving beneath the frozen surface of a vast lake. A sky made out of cracked, multi-colored glass, staining all the people in shades of crimson, jade and sapphire. A dying stag, his sweeping antlers drooping as his knees give out beneath him.
These are the dreams I treasure, the dreams I write down and dredge up whenever I am in need of a creative boost. Because I believe it is possible to use images and ideas from dreams to inspire brilliant stories or works of art, but it can often be challenging to make sense out of the often disjointed manner in which dreams present themselves. All we can do is keep remembering our dreams, marvelling at their strange beauty, and letting our creative selves do the rest.