Sunday, November 20, 2011

Adventures in Amateur Dream Analysis

"I search for the time on a watch with no hands..."
~~These Dreams
~~performed by Heart, written by Bernie Taupin & Martin Page

I blame Marci George. 

She was my Intro to Psychology teacher in my senior year of high school and her ability to break down even the most convoluted dream in a matter of seconds was awe-inspiring. On the first day of the dream analysis unit, she asked for volunteers to share their dreams. One brave soul* raised his hand and assured her she'd never be able to figure out what his dream meant.

The dream involved him and his fellow wrestlers from the school team finding themselves in a war zone being barked at by a colonel no one liked or respected, eventually they were rescued by a helicopter and, when they landed in a field, there was a case of beer on a table under a spotlight, the table surrounded by a high chainlink fence with barbed wire on the top.

"That's an easy one," said Marci George and she went on to tell him (and the whole rest of the class) that the dream was about his frustrations with the wrestling season, maybe especially his issues with his coach and his feeling that the team was under attack. The beer at the end? It represented celebration of a victory that had so far been denied them.

In high school, I was almost catatonically reserved, so while I didn't react on the outside, somewhere inside was a cartoon version of myself with her mouth hanging wide open. How did she do that? What secrets did Marci George have to know to tap into someone's psyche using only a three-minute dream summary?

I've read a lot about dreams since then. I even invested in one of those "dream dictionaries" at one point or other, with common dream symbols and their "universal" meanings laid out in alphabetical order--I found it disappointingly simplistic and not at all useful. I began chronicling my own particularly vivid dreams in my spiral notebook journal in hopes of some day salvaging some deeper meaning from them.

I'm still not sure what Marci George's secret was, but I know that at some point, I realized I could do it, too. First, I could do it with my own dreams and then, eventually, other people's as well. For a long time, I made it a point to keep my interpretations to myself, partly because I didn't want to make anyone uncomfortable and partly because I didn't want to be humiliated if my guesses were completely off-base.

When she was in seventh grade, Daughter-Only discovered her mother's hidden talent, when I was unable to keep it to myself after she shared what I thought was an especially obvious dream.

I can't remember all the details of the dream she shared, but I think it involved a friend of hers being stranded in the middle of a lake or something and there were phone wires down all around, including in the water and Daughter-Only was standing on the shore trying to figure out some way to reach him. I told her I thought the dream meant that she was having trouble communicating with this friend for some reason--and she immediately got that look the cartoon inner me must've had when Marci George dissected the wrestling warrior's dream in front of the whole class senior year.

"Mom! How did you know?" Apparently, the boy in the dream, who in real life was a good friend of Daughter-Only's had recently begun "dating" (seventh grade version) a girl who did not want him talking to D-O anymore.

Daughter-Only was hooked--on the whole concept of dream analysis and on what she at first perceived as her mother's superhuman power. (Like a lot of "superhuman" powers, it turns out to be a lot simpler from the inside than it looks from the outside.) She told lots of her friends and even some of her teachers and for a while there, would bring home lists of dream summaries for me to analyze.

I protested--a lot--about my lack of real (or any) training and about how much harder it is to figure out what a dream means when you don't actually know the person who had it, but in the end I found the dreams irresistible and took a stab at every one. In every case, Daughter-Only reported back that the dreamer was in complete agreement with my guess.

After a while, Daughter-Only's interest died down a little--there was even a point where she seemed to be creeped out by the whole thing, saying, "Mom, I don't even want to tell you what I dreamed about because you'll analyze it."

I said, "I don't have to do that if you don't want me to."

"Even if you don't say anything out loud, I'll know you're doing it in your head." She wouldn't have believed my denial and she would've been right not to.

Then came the ninth grade trip to the state Odyssey of the Mind competition--a nearly three-hour bus ride during which she and her teammates somehow stumbled on the topic of dreams. Daughter-Only began texting me details.

One girl had a dream in which a particularly obnoxious teammate (who, mercifully for everyone, was being transported by his parents) had grown a snout and a curly tail and was standing atop the Empire State Building giving a speech when he fell off. At the bottom, there was a table of judges who gave him very low scores.

I texted back: She's afraid of Obnoxious Kid "hogging" all the attention, showing off at the competition, figuratively falling on his face and making the team look bad in front of the judges. Bullseye!

A boy dreamed he was running through the woods from Indians one of whom fired an arrow that struck him in the wrist.

I texted back: Does he do something competitive where his hands are important? Video games? Musical instrument? Some kind of sport?

The answer: Marching band. Regional finals in three weeks. Bullseye!

It went on like this for another few dreams, then came this: A girl dreamed that she was at a hotel out of town with her mother and her sister's ex-fiance. The three of them were sharing a room, but none of the rest of the family was present. The girl went to go for a swim and found her 55-year-old mother making out in the hotel pool with one of her fifteen-year-old classmates.

I texted: I think I know what it means, but I don't think we should tell her.

Text came back: She really wants to know.

I texted: I will tell you, but I really don't think you should tell her. I think it means she is uncomfortable with the way her mother interacts with younger men, maybe especially her sister's ex-fiance.

Predictably, Daughter-Only failed to heed my advice. (When we talked about it in person later, she said that she had at least whispered the interpretation to the girl rather than blurt it in front of everyone.) Even more predictably, the girl turned herself inside out denying that my guess was even a possibility.

Completely unpredictably, given what she claimed was my failure with the first dream, the girl then told Daughter-Only a second dream. A dream I (in my wholly amateur fashion) found revelatory of another whole set of deep-seated insecurities.

I texted: I think it's time for you guys to play the Alphabet Game instead.

*The brave soul was not a friend of mine--I remember him solely for the dream and for one other thing: in the yearbook, under favorite color, he wrote "plaid." PLAID!!!


  1. Enjoyed this post. good luck with NaBloPoMo - I'm doing it too.

  2. I just think my dreams are weird. Maybe I'll try to find some meaning in them. My husband hardly ever remembers his, I wonder what that mean?

  3. Have you read C.G. Jung's work on dream interpretation? In all your free time, you should check it out.

  4. Suzy--Thanks for visiting. We're in the home stretch now!

    Jewels--Mine are definitely weird, too. Sometimes I think my brain is like a lint trap, catching bits of fluff that end up tangled together in there. I always wonder about people who say they don't dream or who can't remember them--does it mean that there is stuff going on there that is too scary to process?

    SS--Jung's been on my To-Read list a good long time now. I'm hopeful that I will eventually get there. :)

  5. Youngest sister11/25/11, 12:14 AM

    For the plaid thing, a friend of ours has a five year old daughter whose favorite color is rainbow. : )