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. Creators of all types see dreams as tools for enriching the art 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 have always been blessed with a rich dream life. As a child, I would wake up and regale my family with the lengthy adventures I had experienced the night before. In college, I briefly experimented with lucid dreaming, using some of Salvador Dali’s techniques meant to heighten awareness and induce rich imagery. I’ve used my dream plots to inspire short stories and dreamscapes to inspire fictional landscapes.
My dreams range from the banal to the bizarre. Even though I haven’t had to take a math class in years, I still occasionally dream that I have a test tomorrow and I haven’t been to class all semester. Everyone experiences these dreams; reflections of anxieties real or imagined, current and past. I also have a recurring dream involving Harrison Ford as a Nazi, chasing me down in polished jackboots. Why? Who knows–some childhood trauma, perhaps, inciting a lifelong repressed terror of Mr. Ford.
But my favorite dreams are the ones that rely on imagery, not plot or anxiety. The sky is made of cracked colored glass, staining every person in jewel tones of blue, and red, and green. I used that image in my first completed novel, albeit less grandly. A flower opens and inside is a leopard cub with translucent bumblebee wings (okay, Lisa Frank may have beat me to that image). A lake, frozen in winter, with longhaired figures moving just beneath the surface, silvery and vague.
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. I believe it is possible to use images and ideas from dreams to inspire brilliant stories, 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.
Do you have any strange recurring dreams? Have you ever used dream images or plots in your creative pursuits. Let me know in the comments section below!