What’s in a Dream?

I took this awesomely interesting psych course years ago that had a few chapters on dreams. That was just the coolest thing to me–that people studied dreams.  We only touched the subject briefly, but I read those chapters on my own.  And I learned that one could “train” oneself to remember their dreams, and even cooler, one could learn to control the dream.  For three years, I wrote in a dream journal everyday.  At first, the dreams were brief, only half-remembered.  As time went on, I was writing down two or three dreams every morning.  I could wake up, roll over, go back to sleep and pick up where I left off.  Now some of my dreams were grossly effed up—I mean, Jung and Freud would’ve had a field day, I would wake the next day, write it all down in my journal and wonder “what the bleep is wrong with me?” Why would I dream that?–and that reminds me, I should burn the book before I die.  But some dreams were amazingly entertaining, or frightening, or achingly beautiful.  When I filled up the book, I stopped and haven’t tried since then, and I hardly recall my dreams anymore.  I should really try to make some time and start back up.

Okay–first off, EVERYONE dreams.  You will hear a friend or perhaps even you say, “I don’t dream.”   Well, that’s not true.  Everyone does, they just don’t remember.

Second–Why do we dream?  Ahhh…we’ve asked ourselves this question, but have yet to come up with an answer.  The current theories are:  They serve no purpose, it’s just the brain entertaining itself.  And:  It’s our brain weaving the days events, our emotions and the like, into our memories, and perhaps, in doing so, helps us deal with any stress we may be dealing with.  Our brain is basically cataloging the events, much as a computer would.  Another theory is that our brains are interpreting stimuli as we sleep, for example, we may hear a radio playing in our sleep and our brain incorporates that into a dream.  A modern theory, and the one that I like, incorporates several old theories into one:  our brains are connecting loose connections between thoughts and ideas, which are then guided by the emotions of the dreamer.

Dream interpreters have been around for as long as there have been dreams. And why not?  Dreams are fascinating!  In Greek and Roman mythology, Dreams were a direct line from the gods.  People believed they were messages from the deities.  Interpreters would interpret the meaning or message of the dream.  Actually every culture has it’s own dream interpreters.  Don’t forget:  Joseph (owner of the multicolored coat)  got himself out of slavery into a cushy position by the pharaoh for correctly interpreting his dream  (through the power of God, of course).  Who knows, perhaps Joseph was just very intuitive, or perhaps he saw the signs of a famine in the making,  or maybe he truly was given the answer by God–he was revered for “his gift” of dream interpretation.

Joseph interpreting the Pharaoh's dream

What is the purpose of dreams?  There will never be an answer that will satisfy everyone.  Are they entertainment–a movie for the mind?  Are they simply what our brains are playing while storing junk in our memories?  Are they whichever God you worship sending you a message?  I don’t know–but I can and will tell you my own personal beliefs.  Dreams are a combination of all those theories.  The dreams I had of my dad for years after his death helped me deal with my grief.  The dreams I had of vampires after watching the week long Buffy marathon were simply entertainment.  The dream I had of showing up to school naked was my young self dealing with stress at a young age.  The effed up dreams I had just made me realize that I have a really sick imagination,  but don’t necessarily have any deeper meaning than that(God, I hope they don’t).  More than anything else, writing down and re-reading my dreams for three years, helped me learn a lot about myself.

You know how we all, as humans, share certain dreams-like the one where we are falling, only to awaken on the floor.  Or the one where we got to class or work naked?  I bet cavemenwere dreaming the same thing–Grog awakens on the floor of his cave having rolled off his animal-skin bed, or Grog wakes up sweaty and terrified from a nightmare in which he found himself the only naked neanderthal in the hunting party.  Well, that last one may not be too accurate, I imagine public nudity was probably not a big deal for historic man. Hmmm… that could mean, the naked dream we all have is a relatively modern stress dream.  And to that end-does that mean Americans suffer from that nightmare more, since Europeans claim that Americans have more hangups about nudity than they do?  Food for thought.   Still, Gary Larson could have made that into a funny cartoon.

Doesn't have anything to do with my post--I just love Gary Larson's The Far Side

Well, I hope I didn’t bore you too much with random thoughts.  This is a horror blog–dammit!  How can I relate dreams to horror?

That’s easy: A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Yeah, we haven’t talked about nightmares have we?  Dreaming about going to school naked makes us anxious and embarrassed.  But it does not horrify, not truly.  At least once in our life’s we have awoken in a sweat, terrified by what our brains conjured up for us in our nightmares.  We can explain away nightmares easily by saying our brains re-interpreted our stress or trauma into monsters in our nightmares.   Sure, looks good on paper, but anyone who has ever had a nightmare or night terrors, wonders if that explanation is enough in the dead of night. Maybe, just maybe we got a glimpse into a nightmare world.

In A Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddy Krueger, a dead child murderer, stalks the children of his murderers and kills them in their dreams.  Now in this movie franchise, the dreamscape is an actual if not physical place, one in which the dead, in this case Freddy Krueger, can physically harm and kill his victims.  To the waking world, the teenager has died in unusual circumstances, Freddy’s special finger knives leave their marks, but those not in the dream don’t know how kid died.

One by one, the teens fall asleep and succumb to Freddy’s nightmare never to awaken in some really awesomely gruesome scenes.  As I kid, I was totally impressed with the then-unknown Johnny Depp’s death scene…all that blood just gushing from the bed.  How in the hell could a person have so much blood?

Somehow, this monster can manipulate dreams and the teens are helpless against him.  They try to stay awake.  The main character, Nancy Thompson, spends a few days drinking coffee in an attempt to remain awake and stay alive.  But humans need sleep, and against her own will Nancy is forced to sleep.  Her mother has her committed and she is given a sedative.  In the nightmare, Nancy grapples with Freddy, and when she wakes she finds she has pulled his fedora out of the dream into the waking world.  So Nancy, the Final Girl in this film, realize she can fight back.  She proceeds to booby trap her house.  She then goes to sleep in order to pull Freddy from the Dream world into reality.

My All-Time Fave Scene from ANOES

In an interview with Wes Craven he said that the essential premise of A Nightmare on Elm Street was “based on a series of small articles that ran in the Los Angeles Times about people inexplicably dying in their sleep.” 

The articles are proof that sometimes truth can be stranger than fiction. There is an unsettling sameness to the stories, which Craven clipped and saved. First a young Asian immigrant died after telling his parents about a disturbing nightmare. Six months later another young man had a disquieting nightmare and died in his bed after going back to sleep. “The eeriest case was a boy who had a nightmare that was worse than anything, ” according to Craven. “His family tried to quiet his nerves, and he refused to sleep. He stayed up several nights, and they sent for a doctor who gave him sleeping pills. The kid threw them away. Finally there was a night when the kid could not stay up any longer, and he went to sleep. The house was quiet at last. The parents were relieved that their kid was getting some rest. Then they heard this horrendous scream from the bedroom.” 
The parents ran in and found the boy thrashing in his bed, only to fall still a moment later and die. “An autopsy revealed there was nothing wrong with him, no heart failure or any reason for his death. He was just dead.”

“I became fascinated with the idea of harm happening to a person in such a way that people would not be able to clearly discern if the harm came in a dram or if it came in reality. Those two notions became the backbone of the idea of a killer murdering someone in their sleep. “

Is this true?  I have found many articles on line about sleeping death syndrome, but they are all about Asians.  Everything else I have ever read is that if you die in your dream you don’t really die in real life.  The only explanation I could think of is that perhaps fear killed them.  Or perhaps they all suffered from sleep apnea.  Who knows?  But I know that it inspired a kick-ass, if cliched movie franchise and induced nightmares in kids all over the world.  And for me, personally, a new way to torture my little sister.

Tell me your worst nightmares.

This must be for adult collectors. Because who the hell would buy their kid a doll of a child murderer? Sick! I want one!

One thought on “What’s in a Dream?

  1. I heard about a study where people who had the death penalty were strapped to the electric chair and when someone poured water on their hand they died from fear….I don’t know if it’s true I saw it mentioned in a film. Maybe it’s like that in extreme dreams. It’s the fear that gets you. I don’t think I’ve ever had a really bad nightmare. All my scary ones were where I was lost and couldn’t get home.

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