24 Feb
Photo: Stéphan Valentin

I read something once, I forget who said it or where I saw it, but it was something to the effect of that the peculiar thing about recurring dreams is that, no matter how many times you dream these same things, they always take you by surprise.

This is somewhat true for me. I have a handful of recurring dreams but in the moment of the dream, it feels like the first time it’s ever happened. And yet it also feels inevitable. This is the part where I tell you about my dreams. This is the part when I learn what camp you fall into (I have observed that there there are only two, this is very black and white and no middle ground): you will yawn and your eyes will glaze over and the bounce rate of my site will rise precipitously, or you will dig in and commit, no matter how boring and mundane my nocturnal reports turn out to be. I fall into the latter category. I will listen to anyone’s dream despite how ridiculous and nonsensical they might be, even if they are so tedious and tiresome that they are actually putting me to sleep. Dreams are fascinating.

My main five recurring dreams, however, are pretty boring, so I won’t go into them at length… but I am very curious about other people’s recurring dreams. Research has shown that there are common dream themes; do yours fall into any of these categories? Are they similar to mine? Are they quite different? Are they dull affairs or are these things you dream frequently full of adventure?

At least once I week I will dream:

-That I am still working at my high school fast-food restaurant job, and have been doing so on and off for years. I haven’t checked the schedule recently, so I show up for a shift on the off-chance that I am supposed to be there. At some point during the dream, I realize I haven’t collected a paycheck in many years.

-That I am simultaneously paying rent on two apartments. I had somehow rented out another, completely forgetting that I was already living somewhere else. This frequently involves a side dream in which I panic, suddenly remembering a pet who hasn’t been fed for a while, but I can’t recall which place they are living in.

-That I have to move back to New Jersey, for some reason. When I was younger, I dreamed that I had to move back to Ohio. Basically, I am moving back to a place I don’t have any ties to anymore.

-My sisters are visiting and messing up my house, and I am getting very frustrated and upset.

-This last one is not a frequently recurring dream, but it does happen from time to time, and it is always, 100% the harbinger of a nightmare. I will walk into a dark room, flip the light switch…and nothing. The light does not come on, and although the scenario after that point is always different, the broken light switch is always a signifier that the situation is about to go to hell. I have gotten very good at waking myself at this point, as soon as I realize the room did not light up! Also, I have realized that I tend to have this sort of dream when I am overly warm at night. I now keep a fan on no matter what the time of year, I tend to wear airy pajamas, and I don’t bundle myself too tightly in my blankets. It’s been years since I’ve had a really awful bad dream, and I attribute that to learning how to pull myself out of it and keeping myself cool at night.


I have taken to sharing my more interesting dreams over on Twitter over the last few years. The one above I tweeted about just last month, but good lord, I’ve got 140 character dream diaries going back almost a decade over there. Before that, I used to share them on Tumblr but someone was rude to me about it once, and I got super butthurt and gave it up. Twitter is much better at ignoring me, and I am OK with that! Here are a few for your enjoyment, puzzlement, or just for you to ponder “good lord, what is WRONG with her?”

-“Last night I dreamed I attended a production of ‘P.G. Wodehouse’s Dracula.’ “

-“Last night I dreamed I was aboard a warship that was actually just a jaunty ferris wheel that had become unmoored and was floating aggressively across the sea.”

-“Dreamed of ascending a never-ending spiral staircase in a grotty old pawn shop/museum in order to view a murderbone exhibit. Bones of murderers? Bones used for murder? I woke up, so we will never know.”

-“Dreamed that Han Solo gave me a cb radio and a pair of track pants. I never saw him again.”

-“Also dreamed I sat in as an observer at auditions for a show called America’s Next Top Witch. The potentials looked like Rock of Love contestants, only spookier and I’m not sure how this is possible, but also sluttier. I could tell it was going to be an incredible show.”

-“Dreamed of a much-coveted bangle but I could only buy it in two colors: poison or live snake.”

-“Last night I dreamed that I contracted the legal services of Hooker, Hooker, Corncob, and Charles.”

-“Dreamed I flung myself through the window of my high-rise suite, thinking, “wow, it would be cool to float through the creepy midnight clouds like the vampire gang in The Lost Boys”. And it was way super cool.”

-“Last night I dreamed of thwarted attempts at peeing in a massive gravy boat. 9/10 of my dreams are me trying to take a wee; it’s a wonder I am not a chronic bed-wetter.”

-“I dreamed three things: spiders as big as coconuts; my mother’s last grocery list; a heart pricked thrice and baked with raisins.”

Simon Drax says

Your morning dreams on Tumblr were dark and bright beautiful jewels, always welcomed and always treasured, as are your romps with Morpheus now, now, so dream on, dark sister...

idolon says

Holy shit - ‘P.G. Wodehouse’s Dracula'? That must have been amazing!

Melmeister says

I think "Hooker, Hooker, Corncob, and Charles" should be the title of your memoir's dream chapter.

Since you asked what my recurring dreams are:

1. Returning to Rancho Mirage Public Library, and California. As I am returning, I realize, "Wait, why am I doing this? Indiana, take me back!"

2. Not showing up to work at Kay-Bee Toys for years, and then suddenly remembering that I need to check the schedule

3. I just found out that Tom Baker died. Sometimes I then find out that he faked his own death. Or that he died more recently than he did in real life.

4. Some variation on it's the end of the semester and I haven't done any of the work

5. Shell-hunting on beaches. I just dreamt of this last night. And then there was a tsunami! caused by a Carnival ship that crashed into the shore.

6. Houses full of kittens--tiny, tiny kittens, almost minnow-sized, many of which I step on or lose or forget to feed. In the end there is only a handful left.

7. I have to pee! Desperately! and I can't find a private place, or a clean place, to do so. I think these dreams occur when I actually have to pee.

I think there are a few similar themes in our dreams.

S. Elizabeth says

Oh yeah! Me too on the tsunami dreams. Usually I am in a high-rise condo and the waves are just outside my window. It's terrifying! I wonder if it is because we grew up in Florida?

Deirdre says

I have been having post-apocalyptic dreams since childhood, although before I read The Stand in my teens, I didn't understand them as such--they were just dreams about living in an old Greyhound bus station with my Girl Scout troop and stuff like that. The setting and stage of civilizational collapse vary--usually it's been many years and people are roaming the country in tribal groups or living in places like old malls, hotels, universities, parking garages, or the aforementioned bus station; but sometimes things are in a gang-warfare state of active collapse and my friends and family are trying to get to another part of the country where it's calmer. What's really uncanny is when I've dreamed a particular scenario years ago, and it shows up in a book or movie that I have no familiarity with.

S. Elizabeth says

Oh, that's so strange and interesting! You know, that's one scenario that hardly ever shows up in my dreams, huh!

Jennalee says

I would LOVE to see America’s next top witch! Do you have any advice for people who struggle to remember their dreams?

S. Elizabeth says

I would say make it a part of your morning ritual, as soon as you wake up. Write down any detail, so matter how small, slight or vague! Sometimes I will find that even just teasing those insubstantial filaments out of my head and putting them on paper will trigger even more memories of the dream. And if not, that's ok, too. Just try this for a few mornings and it's possible the practice of actively thinking and remembering and writing about them will help with better recall. I find if I fall out of practice, it's such a struggle to conjure up the smallest piece of it, but the more I do it, the easier it flows.

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