“No one wants to listen to your dreams.”
I mean, this is obvious, right? So glaringly true that it’s practically a cliché. After all, This American Life put it on a list of “Seven Things You’re Not Supposed to Talk About” in 2013. In 2015, Amy Schumer worked it into a comedy skit on her show ... and that’s barely scratching the surface of how many comedians have made a joke about this. Hell, given a Google search for the quote that introduces this blog post, we can find any number of articles expressing this thought, from sources as silly as Cracked to those as prestigious as Scientific American. So, there’s nothing else to say about it, really. No one wants to hear about other people’s dreams, it’s undeniably true, end of story.
Well, I do. I enjoy hearing about other people’s dreams just as much as I enjoy talking about mine. Oh, sure: I don’t talk about my dreams with anyone else outside my family, pretty much in the same way that I don’t try to convince other people that Keanu Reeves can act or that Nickelback is a pretty good band, even though those are both things I believe. But there are memes and then there are memes, ya know? And you don’t buck “facts” that are buried in the public consciousness this deep. Not unless you want to get into physical altercations. Hey, I’ll bring up politics at work any tim
And, honestly, I’m only going to be half-hearted in my attempt to convince you that listening to other people’s dreams isn’t the horrible thing you’ve always been told. (And, as always, if half-hearted is still half a heart too much, feel free to remind yourself of the name of the blog.) But it just sort of bugs me how very wrong almost everything about this myth is. Let’s start with a quick overview of how much wrong there is in the articles from the afore-mentioned Google search.
First off, we can dispsense with the silly ones. Cracked says:
There is no greater gap than the one between how fascinating dreams are to the dreamer and how fascinating they are to literally anyone else in the world. Dennis from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia probably put it best: “Listening to people’s dreams ... is like flipping through a stack of photographs; if I’m not in any of them and nobody is having sex, I just don’t care.”
Of course, we must always remember that the entire point of Sunny is that it’s a show about terrible people and how funny it is to watch terrible people do terrible things.1 Those of us who are not terrible people probably agree to a staggering degree that at least some photographs of other people not having sex are worth looking at.2 Also, the author was kind enough to use the word “literally,” which means his statement is trivially disprovable by providing a single counter-example, of which I am one.
The author of the opinion piece in the UK’s Metro was kind enough to do the same, right in the title: “Literally no-one cares about your dreams.” She continues:
There is no sentence less interesting, less exciting or less compelling than: ‘I had the weirdest dream last night’.
I can (literally, even) think of dozens of sentences less exicting or compelling to me. In fact, probably the weirdest thing about this article is that the author ends it with:
For those who are still in doubt about whether or not it’s really such a heinous crime to share the story of your dream, ask yourself this: when someone tells you about a dream they’ve had, do you find yourself rapt, begging them to carry on, to make the story longer and to provide more detail?
Well, ummm ... yes, in fact, I do. In fact, the dream that the author invents to prove how boring dreams are is this:
... they were at the office, but it wasn’t really the office because it was in Yorkshire, and everyone kept talking about sheep.
And, perhaps bizarrely, I really want to hear the rest of that dream.
The article from Vice is a bit of a head-scratcher. Its title is “Why People Can’t Stop Talking About Their Extremely Boring Dreams,” and it admits:
When it comes to sharing our nightly musings, the overwhelming message seems to be: Just don’t.
But then the author goes to interview Alice Robb, author of a book on dreams, and gives us this:
Robb says it can feel “very intimate” to share a dream with someone, especially depending on your relationship with that person. But, she adds, “because dreams so often are really cutting to the heart of our emotional lives and emotional concerns, sharing them is one of the best ways to process and understand them.”
I sort of get the feeling that the author of the article is trying to have it both ways. Or perhaps that she wishes she could advocate sharing her dreams with others but realizes that she’s never going to get anywhere with that message.
The Scientific American article is the most disappointing though. Titled “Why You Shouldn’t Tell People about Your Dreams” and, just in case you missed the message from getting beaten over the head with it the first time, subtitled “They are really meaningful to you but not to anybody else,” it contains a plethora of “facts” that just don’t ring true:
Because most dreams are negative (support for the threat-simulation theory), our bias in favor of negative information makes them feel important.
I feel really sad that this author’s dreams apparently reinforce this belief for him, because very few of my dreams are negative (at least of those that I remember; common theory is that you forget most of your dreams). Many of them are utterly bizarre, of course, and sometimes they’re vaguely discomfiting, but that’s very different from “negative.” Of course, this author disagrees with my assessment of “bizarre” too:
We tend to think of dreams as being really weird, but in truth, about 80 percent of dreams depict ordinary situations.
There’s a scholarly article linked there as well, to “prove” the point, but I can only surmise that there’s a different definition of “ordinary situations” going on here, or that we’re just counting percentages differently. Perhaps 80% of the dreams I can’t remember were about ordinary situations. It may even be true that 80% of the dreams that I would never even want to share with anyone else are about ordinary situations. But, come on: if I want to tell someone about my dream, it’s because it was downright weird. Why would I want to regale you with a dream about an ordinary situation? Why the hell would I even want to relive that dream ... because a big part of wanting to share your dreams is wanting to hold on to them. Telling someone else about your dream manifests it, gives it reality in a way that almost nothing else wil
But here’s the most bizarrely incongruous passage. Admittedly, this is the end of one paragraph and the beginning of another, but the author is the one who butted them up against each other, not me:
Just like someone having a psychotic experience, the emotional pull of dreams makes even the strangest incongruities seem meaningful and worthy of discussion and interpretation.
These reasons are why most of your dreams are going to seem pretty boring to most people.
What the hell? “Most people” find psychotic experiences with strange incongruities and emotional pull boring? Really? Apparently I don’t know “most people,” because very few of the people I know would find that boring, and any I can think of off the top of my head who would aren’t people I wish I knew better, if you catch my drift. How much imagination do you have to lack if you’re thinking, “you had a psychotic experience? that also carried emotional weight? oh, puhh-leez
Nevertheless, it would be foolish to completely ignore such a prevalent opinion, even if I do feel there’s quite a bit of bandwagonry going on here. So, if you find yourself about to hear about the dream of a friend of yours, and you’re dreading it, here are some tips that maybe will make it a more pleasant experience.
A dream is not a story. It seems ridiculous that I have to point this out, but a lot of the complaints I hear about listening to other people’s dreams revolves around what an incoherent mess it is, and how there’s no proper ending to them. Well, duh ... they’re dreams. Dreams don’t follow internal story logic. Dreams don’t have nice tidy beginnings and middles and ends, rising actions and falling actions and character growths. They’re just little snippets. Enjoy them as little snippets: little disconnected slices of unreality that can be appreciated in isolation and examined, not for meaning, but for intrinsic interest. And, speaking of “not for meaning” ...
Stop trying to interpret the dream. This goes for whether you’re a listener or the dream teller. Dreams don’t have to mean anything. Sure, maybe sometimes they do, but there’s no way for you to tell whether this particular dream has a meaning or not, so stop trying to psychoanalyze it and just go with the flow.
Never ask “why?” This is sort of the combination of the above two points. When someone tells you their dream and you respond with “but why did that part happen?” you’re missing the point. It isn’t a story, so there is no logical answer, and it probably doesn’t have some deeper meaning, so there’s no deep psychological motivation to be found either. It’s a question that can only make the teller feel dumb, and, I hate to tell you, but it doesn’t even have the side benefit of making you look smart, because it sounds like you’re trying to make dreams make sense, and smart people don’t do that.
And, finally, one tip for all the folks that, despite their better judgment, have decided to share their dreams anyway:
If your dream isn’t weird or unusual in some way, then don’t bother. Being a dream doesn’t exempt boring conversation from being boring.
I actually debated with myself on whether or not to share a dream of mine with you, dear reader. On the one hand, it seems practically hypocritical not to support my premise with some actual, personal proof. On the other, I recognize that I won’t sway everyone (or perhaps even anyone), and no point gifting people with a juicy dream if they’re not going to appreciate it. I’ve decided to split the difference and give you just a few snippets from the dreams that I’ve had over the years. After all, even the entire dream needs to be examined in terms of snippets, as I’ve explained above, so why not cherry pick what I consider to be the most interesting bits and leave them for you here? Perhaps some of these will intrigue you and make you more interested to hear what other people might want to share. Just don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “that does sound interesting ... I wonder how it turned out?” Remember: dreams don’t have endings. It didn’t “turn out” any particular way; it just trailed off, or transmogrified into a totally different dream, or I just woke up. Still, these are some of my favorite dream moments.
I dreamt that I wasn’t me, but that the actual me was also in the dream, and I ended up killing myself. I dreamt I was driving a sports car and sometimes it would take off so fast I couldn’t keep up and then I would have to chase it down and get back into it. I dreamt that I was with an old man and two younger men (his sons? grandsons? nephews?) and the old man told them they were forbidden to be angry until sundown (because of the religious holiday), and so they sat down until dark came and then the old man sprang up and shouted “Now we go get the bastards!” I dreamt I was writing a script that was being produced while I was still trying to finish it, and one of the characters was a disgusting cartoon cat named “Stash.” I dreamt that I dropped a pill in the carpet and, when I went looking for it, I found three completely different pills, one of which was a shiny rose-pink one partially covered with a hard white candy coating designed to resemble foam. I dreamt my vacation cabin was invaded by badger-like creatures that hunted like the velociraptors from Jurassic Park. I dreamt that my little sister was upset because she had to do a magic trick in front of her classmates and she was afraid they would find out that she was actually a witch.3 I dreamt that I was in love with the manager of an all-girl band, and at the end of the dream she turned into a ferret in my arms. I dreamt that a sister and brother swam out to the middle of the ocean to a house that sat up on stilts, too high to reach, and they rang the underwater wind chimes that were the secret way in. I dreamt about hoods made out of writhing tentacles that were forced onto your head, making you catatonic. I dreamt that we were attempting to defeat a demonic carpet using holy water and blessed post-it notes on which had been written the address of Hell.
Somtimes I dream about famous people. I dreamt that I was a noble at the time of the French Resistance, and my friend was played by Ryan Gosling. I dreamt that Alex Keaton (as portrayed by Michael J. Fox, naturally) grew up to be an alien geneticist and lived in Eureka. I dreamt that Terry Jones tricked me into giving him the answer he wanted about Parliament. I dreamt that President Obama helped me investigate a mystery during which we uncovered a body but we couldn’t notify the authorities just yet, because we were too close! I dreamt that I was telling Liam O’Brien about a dream I had in which I tried to ward off a bullet by holding up my hand and (of course) the bullet went right through it.4 I dreamt that I met actor Clifton Gonzalez Gonzalez and was trying to remember what movie I knew him from and he was helpfully recreating some of his past roles to try to jog my memory.
Sometimes all I get out of the dream is litte more than a name. These are all names from my dreams: Stephen J. Tourettsal, Mark Hanahan, Renwe, Johnny “D-Legs” Crab, Freefall,5 A.B.E. (whose name was short for “Android Beyond Expectations”), Dar Beck (a weatherman), Memory (the ex-girlfriend of my eldest child), Merlock and Etheros and Devane (ethnic Riufus6 from Latvia and/or Russia), Boxilea Toxicity Brown (“Boxy” for short), Aryn Gill (an anthropomorphic duck wih a human sister named Deborah who had had small role in Pretty in Pink), Mitch (a female aerospace engineer; apparently her real name was Abigail Mitchell, at least according to Samuel L. Jackson, who shouted it out during an emotionally charged scene), the Captain Alexander (a drink, made with Alexander rum, of course7), Briscol (a town), Nacho de Vaca (a medieval town in Spain), fontana blue (a color), Pedrolischizenko (a dog whose owner only spoke to him in Hungarian8), SQL Snitch (a database of criminal informants), macrocellular degenerative evolution (an alien genetic disease), YaHaNaHael (a monster), Pontebello (a fancy book about cake and Hermetics).
Sometimes I all remember is a quote: “Men and women cannot coexist without blood somewhere.”9 “When a statement conveys a Great Truth, it matters not if it is a little lie.”
None of these are sensible, and very few of them have any deeper meaning. But I think they’re all interesting, at least. If any of my friends have bits and pieces of vignettes that are as interesting at these, I would love to hear about them ... cultural taboos be damned. Dreams are insane, and surreal, and wonderful, and perturbing, and occasionally all those things at once. I’m glad I know as many of the
1 Whether you actually find this funny or not probably varies from person to person.
2 If you somehow don’t believe that, just go find any of the number of sites full of staggeringly beautiful nature photos. Here’s one to get you started.
3 Note: I do not have a sister, little or otherwise.
4 Note: the dream I was explaining was not a previous dream I’d actually had, but rather part of the same dream.
5 A character who I ended up adapting for my ongoing novel; you can see a cameo from him in Chapter 2 concluded.
6 Note: not a real ethnic group.
7 Note: not a real rum.
8 Note: I do not actually speak Hungarian.
9 To be fair, I was much younger when I dreamed this one.