I have a recurring dream. It’s not the one you’ve probably heard mentioned, that stock high school mortification dream where you’re walking through hallways and past rows of lockers, everything peachy-keen except for the part where you’re butt-naked and everyone is gaping at you. Despite your condition, in that dream, you keep parading through the hallways, privates unleashed, unable to do anything about it, and in the back of your mind you know this is not good, not at all — at some point, if not already, there will be hell to pay for this little jaybird jaunt.
No, my dream is weirder than that. In it, I lift my index finger to the corner of my right eye to pop out a gas-permeable contact lens (even though I haven’t worn these in years), and when I do, a steady stream of contact lenses begins to flow from my eye and won’t stop. The lenses pile up, up, up, on tables, all around me, even underneath me. I find myself sitting on a veritable mountain of tiny circular plastic discs, which oddly enough I can see quite clearly. My feeling in this dream is slight annoyance, a bit of horror, some embarrassment, and a whiff of WTF. Because, WTF.
In the dream, I realize I have forgotten to remove all of the contact lenses in my right eye throughout my entire history of wearing contact lenses, from seventh grade on. Instead, I have simply continued putting one on top of the other on top of the other each morning. And somehow, in this strange dream world, I have also failed to notice what must have been practically a mattress of contact lenses (given the intensity of the eye-stream) all piled on one lonely pupil. Until the dream. Until the contact pile topples, and out they come.
This dream brings up some interesting questions:
1. What the fuck does it mean?
2. What do any of our dreams mean?
3. If one has impaired vision and requires contacts or glasses to see, does one have impaired vision in a dream, when not wearing glasses or contacts? (Apparently not.)
I’ve always been fascinated by dreams. When I was nineteen, my college roommates bought me a copy of The Secret Language of Dreams (Indiebound | Amazon). This was not my first book on dreams; I have others. I know you’re not supposed to reveal your hippie-dippy dream love (no, I do not own a dreamcatcher … yet). And you’re most definitely not supposed to wake up first thing in the morning, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and announce to your bed-companion, “GUESS WHAT I DREAMED!” A dream described, a dream tweeted, a dream Facebooked or Tumblr’d, may not, in fact, be fascinating to all, no matter how fascinating it is to the dreamer.
The events of our dreams may be arbitrary, and so are our reactions to them. But maybe, as Shirley Jackson wrote in the first sentence of The Haunting of Hill House (Indiebound), they are also necessary: “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.” The average person will spend a third of her life sleeping and roughly six years dreaming. Six years doing something many of us barely think about beyond that first weird sensation of the morning: Was I just on a cruise with my former boss and Gregory Peck and Paula Deen? If so, who invited Deen? Why was I wearing a purple wig? And why a cruise, for the love of God? Has my subconscious been paying absolutely no attention to anything in the last year?
For the purposes of this column, I’ll be focusing on human dreams and not the subconscious mind-blatherings of katydids or larks, though they, too, may dream about Gregory Peck. If they’re lucky.
Scientists who study sleep and dreams differ in opinion about what’s going on in our brains at various points throughout the night. Along with the basic, physical logistics — when dreaming actually happens and why — there are numerous symbolic interpretations. Freud and Jung and other “dream experts” have their own feelings, and we do too, about why we dreamed what we dreamed, what it means, and what we should do about it. Freud, for his part, can stay out of my dreams, because I’m pretty sure that contact lens thing is more about me than it is about him.
So! This is where, once a month, we’re going to talk about dreams. Everything and anything of interest to you, to me, to us, is fair game. Why do some people hate hearing about other people’s dreams so much? Why do some people (supposedly) dream in black and white, and others dream in color? If you die during a dream, do you die in real life? Can you learn how to “lucid dream” — i.e., insert yourself actively in your dream and control your actions and even change things (and maybe fly), and if so, how? Is REM sleep truly the only time you dream? What happens when you get mad at someone in a dream and then can’t stop being kind of pissed at them in the waking world, too? Are you allowed to hold a dream-grudge? Can you ever “get back into a dream” you’ve woken from? Is there dream-etiquette?
What do our weird, crazy, strange, interesting, occasionally mortifying, rarely dull dreams mean?
As David Fontana wrote in The Secret Language of Dreams, “We live in two worlds, the waking world with its laws of science, logic, and social behaviour, and the elusive world of dreaming, still shrouded in mystery behind the veil of sleep. In the dream world, fantastic happenings, images, and transformations are normal currency. Often such dream experiences are suffused with a depth of emotion or visionary insight that can surpass waking experience.”
Other times, you just dream you’re playing Tetris all night long. But who says that’s not important? In any dream interpretation, it’s not just about the dream and the symbols within. It’s about you,too; very much about you. Dreams tell us things about ourselves.
As for my dream about contacts, well, according to one online dream dictionary, “To dream of wearing contact lenses foretells that strangers will cause changes in your affairs. If you dream of losing a lens, or not being able to see clearly through them, it signifies that you are having trouble making good judgments these days. Don’t rush into any big decisions!”
There is misery in company, at least. I am not alone in my dream. None of us are.
From another site: “I dreamt that I was in the office and I was taking my contact lenses out. I normally wear green contact lenses, but the ones I took out were clear and from behind my eye a contact lens made its way to the front. I took it out, but more and more contact lenses kept coming to the front of my eye. I took them all out and had a high pile of them, which were the size of dinner plates and they had gotten hard. But when they were in my eyes they were normal size. I carried them in a pile and I threw them into the bin at work.”
And yet another: “…in every dream they would change into something different, and I’d know there was something wrong with them, but I would still try frantically to put them in. I had a dream where they because little white shirt buttons. And one where they became large, blue, round jewels, like the Hope Diamond.”
But in the dreams I have most often, the lenses remain lenses, but grow large and cloudy. I worked at the library back then, and I had one dream that I had opened my lens case at work and that they had changed and grown huge; two inches in diameter. I still put them into my eyes, though, and tried to reshelve books, but I couldn’t really see them.
I had one of these dreams last year, when I was having too much trouble with my lenses and switched back to wearing glasses most of the time.”
Of course, it seems a little bit obvious, right? If you dream about your contact lenses, that may mean you’re not seeing things as clearly as you should be. And indeed, a kind of literal support for this interpretation comes from our very own Mallory, who told me that she, too, used to have a dream like mine — until she got Lasik, after which she’s experienced “nothing like it.” That the dream could go away with Lasik makes me wonder: What if it’s simply about how totally weird it is that we lens-wearers put something on top of our own eyes, like cyborgs in training, in order to see a little better? (Side: how weird is it that we trust our eye doctors, who instruct us to do such things, at all?)
But regardless of terrifying laser-based eye surgery, all humans continually struggle with vision, and its best friend, decision. If you’re having this dream on a recurring basis, it’s very likely that something you consider an established reality has recently shifted and changed — maybe nearly imperceptibly. Yet, this is almost always the case. The world is changing around us and we can’t stop it, and in our lives and bodies, we are forever changing, too. How can we trust ourselves? Who are we, even? Ahhh! There’s where the most terrifying interpretation of this dream lies. The call is coming from inside the house. The call is coming from on top of your own eye. One of the greatest fears in human life is the fear that there is something wrong, untrustworthy, questionable, or disastrous in our own selves. If you can’t trust your contacts, who can you trust?
On the plus side, if we didn’t change — if the contacts didn’t eventually flow out of the eye, a waterfall of gas-permeable plastic — we’d be stuck walking around with mile-high-and-rising Coke-bottle eyeballs forever. So maybe this dream is a little bit about freedom. Coming unstuck from the crap that’s on your eye, or your mind.
Or, you may simply be craving dessert: “I wear contacts and dream about them from time to time. The funniest/weirdest dream I’ve had about my contacts is that I was trying to put them in and realized they were Nilla Wafers! What? Why?!”
To all the contact lens dreamers, I say this: Time to make an eye appointment.
Tell me your dreams! Send requests for interpretations and questions about your weird and wonderful sleepy mind-muddlings to Jen at email@example.com. Whether we write about your dream here is at the discretion of The Toast’s Dream Correspondent, but all dream emails will be read and pondered dreamily.
Jen Doll is a contributor to The Hairpin and The Atlantic Wire. Her first book is due out in Spring 2014. In her dreams, she has perfect vision.