Dreaming With Jen Doll: Vermin and Becoming Rain -The Toast

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Previous installments in this series can be found here.

Dear Dreamers,

When last we convened, I asked for submissions of “pregnancy dreams” and promised the topic would be fodder for my next column. Just a bit of clarification: When I say pregnancy dreams, I mean dreams about being pregnant, or having a baby, or having a baby lion instead of a baby human (as a friend of mine once dreamed), or thinking you’re pregnant but, then, not being so. I am not talking about dreams you have while you are pregnant, though those are, to be sure, interesting as well, and you may feel free to send them to me. Consider this post a second call-out for such dreams. I don’t have enough yet to fill a column. But I know they are out there!

The dearth of such submissions does not mean I haven’t gotten others, and in fact, I have gotten many, and they are fascinating. First, I’ll share a dream of my own. The other night, in my dream state, I was vacationing in a quaint but well-appointed cabin positioned at one end of a long, wooden dock. Mine was the last in a row of such cabins, all next to one another, each with their own long docks attached. It was nighttime and I woke up (in the dream, not my reality) and decided I wanted to turn on a light. But when I flipped the light switch, the entire cabin-dock-area was awash in light so bright I knew no one else could possibly sleep. The light switch turned on for everyone, even though I only wanted it on in my tiny cabin for myself. I was hopelessly, haplessly connected to those other people, and to their lights, and they and theirs to me. That led to an internal conflict: Do I keep the light on, so that I can see and do what I want to do, even though everyone else will probably be disturbed? Or do I turn off the light and deny my own immediate desire?

I turned off the light, and then I woke up.

I’ve been thinking about that dream a lot since. I’d like to assume it means I care more for the greater good than for myself, but really, I turned the light out partly because of my own embarrassment that I’d done something so obvious and socially clunky in front of everyone else. I knew they were about to yell at me for my mistake, and so, I avoided that moment by ceasing to give myself what I’d wanted. Yes, maybe there’s something here about how we’re all tied together; how the things we do, whether we want to admit it or not, do impact one another in societies, on vacation, even in our dockside cabins; and how sometimes we should deny ourselves in favor of something that’s bigger, even though that can be frustrating in the moment. I think it’s also about making choices, knowing what you want, and what you can bear to give up. There are times you should fight to keep the lights on, no matter what, and other times that it’s O.K. to turn them off. The greatest dilemma is knowing which time is which.

Now, let’s talk recurring dreams, because all three of the submissions that follow are exactly that. My two most frequent recurring dreams come in two basic forms: One is an anxiety dream in which I am late to something (a flight, an exam, an appointment) that’s entirely slipped my mind, until I remember and it’s too late. Usually I wake up and feel a sense of relief that none of that was real in the first place, though I did sleep through a bio exam in college, once. The other is that quintessential urban dweller’s dream in which I discover a new room or entire wing in an apartment that I’ve been living in, and I’m both thrilled and so mad at myself that I haven’t used it until now. I chalk this one up to the literal: New York real estate.

Other recurring dreams are not so obvious in interpretation.

Dream #1: Everybody Wants to Save the World

The first comes from Linda, or “Dancercise,” who says that though she can’t remember having it in a year or two, she used to have the following dream every couple of months.

“I’m in the house that my favorite grandparents had when I was growing up. There are a lot of people there with me, but no one I know in real life. What we’re doing varies: sometimes it’s eating, sometimes it’s talking or playing cards or watching TV. But whatever we’re doing, someone bursts into the house and says, ‘It’s time.’ We all drop what we’re doing, load up with armor and weapons, and pile into a giant white van with no seats in the back. I know that we’re always off to save the world somehow and that it’s up to us (i.e., there’s no one else that can do what we’re about to do). The dream always ends there, so I never know what exactly we’re supposed to be saving the world from (or why or how), and I never know if we’re successful.”

Linda, I wonder if you’ve stopped having this slightly apocalyptic dream because whatever change it was that you were considering in the back of your subconscious — Did you move? Breakup or marry? Get a new job, or leave an old one? Something else that means your life is inextricably different now? — has happened. In the start of the dream, you are in a place of comfort, your favorite grandparents’ house. It’s a memory of childhood, but everyone surrounding you is new. You’re doing something relatively mundane, and then in a moment, all is different. There is purpose, you have goals, you have responsibilities, and, the good news is, you’re about to do something great. Whether you achieve that goal or not doesn’t matter in terms of this dream, and that’s why I think you’ve stopped having it. It’s about growing up, and the momentum to get to the next place, and how you are the only person who can live the life that you’ve decided to live. As for why there are no seats in the back of the van, well, there’s just more room that way.

Dream #2: I Become Rain

The other day, dreamer and friend Francesca Stabile reached out via gchat to ask if I wanted to hear her recurring dream. I said yes, of course. Our gchat conversation is included below:

Francesca: So it starts out and I’m in a gray concrete room with like super high ceilings and there are giant crayons and they are like all lined up and dancing so they go from tip to bottom, like sideways, kind of kind of making an arc I guess, and then I start floating up. And there are three engines in the air, gold, silver, and bronze, and I get sucked up into the gold engine and chopped up into a million pieces and turn into rain.

Jen: Like car engines??? omg

Francesca: Yeah like car engines. But they kind of look like a boat engine.

Jen: Does it hurt?

Francesca: With like a propeller. It doesn’t hurt, it just kind of happens.

Jen: Is there music? And do you then wake up?

Francesca: No, it’s just like happening, and it’s kind of whooshy, a noise like air being pushed around, and then I wake up when I turn into the rain drops. I have had it for a while, ever since I was little.

Jen: How do you feel when you wake up”

Francesca: I have it like once a year at least. When I wake up I usually just think about it and feel confused because I don’t know what it means.

Jen: Do you remember how old you were when you started having it?

Francesca: I think I was around 6 or 7.

Jen: In each recurrence, is it exactly the same?

Francesca: It is exactly the same.

Jen: Does it have anything to do with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?

Francesca: I don’t know! That’s kind of what the part with the engines reminds me of. But it’s less of a flailing…

Jen: And you’re the only person around? Do the crayons react?

Francesca: It’s just me. I’m going up, looking down at the crayons. The crayons never stop dancing.

Jen: This is VERY STRANGE and VERY INTERESTING. Your mood in the dream is just, thinking? You’re not trying to stop it?

Francesca: Yeah, I’m just like observing all of it.

Important point #1 about this dream: When you die in your dream, or get sucked into a boat-car-engine-propeller and chopped up and turned into raindrops, you do not die in real life (a common dream superstition). Instead, you wake up and are confused. Which seems appropriate, except that I think this dream, despite its surrealist trappings, is quite simple. This isn’t really a dream about death, it’s a dream about life, and the way we need to choose the path that’s right for us — and how that path and we ourselves may take many different “forms” over the years. This dream says you’re adaptable and creative. (I think the presence of the dancing crayons means you aren’t meant to have a “traditional” job, that creativity is important to you, and that you’re not going to be about just phoning it in.) Rain, in dream lingo, represents forgiveness and grace, some sadness, but also renewal. And, dude, you’re the rain. So in this dream, maybe, you’ve been born again, to start a new venture or endeavor, one with more creativity than what you’ve had previously. That you’ve had the dream since you were quite young suggests that it might have something to do with that Willy Wonka movie, but also, your distance in watching yourself float upward to change says to me that you still may not feel entirely in control of your destiny. The minute you become active and not passive, and can adjust your own path in this dream — the minute the crayons stop dancing and pay attention — is the minute shit is gonna really start to happen, bigtime. BTW, it’s super fortuitous that you got sucked up by the gold engine. Drinks are on you next time!

Dream #3: Vermin, Schmermin

From Toast reader Kristen O’Toole:

I dream about cockroaches with relative frequency — this began about a year and a half ago, after I moved into my current apartment and had to deal with roaches in my home for the first time. (I also moved as a result of a break-up and am living alone for the first time in my life, and while I like my apartment and neighborhood, I think the roach dreams are related to post-break-up life-dissatisfaction feelings.)

Last night I had a new vermin dream, though. In it, my brother was staying with me for an unspecified reason, and we were both getting ready for work, which was stressful because I was already late and having someone else in my tiny apartment sharing my tiny bathroom was not helping me move quickly. In the bathroom I found two mice, a black one and a white one, running around each other (not unlike the black and white mice I had for a science project in 8th grade, who fought and squealed when placed in the same cage. They were named Bill and Hilary.). There was also a very large green snake that appeared to be dead lying on the floor, and as I watched it began to move slowly, also sort of melting, so that it seemed to just be a snake’s shed skin while at the same time I knew it was still alive. I freaked out and insisted that my brother deal with the bathroom situation, while feeling bad and wondering if he would be able to handle it, since in reality my brother has a pathological fear of snakes. My brother did something — shooed away the mice and picked up the snakeskin — and came out into the kitchen. The snake, somehow regenerated and now cut in half, came up out of the sink drain, flew across the room like an arrow, and bit my brother. We went to the hospital and I called work to let them know why I wasn’t coming in. My boss immediately offered me a place to stay. At some point I went to brush my teeth and more bugs were coming up out of the drain. Possibly one of them spoke? But only to tell me they were coming in via the drain, which was obvious.

We knew we needed to move. We took our things, leaving my cat for the time being, and went to my boss’s place, where he had a very nice guest room for us, but unfortunately also 3 bengal kittens, so we knew we couldn’t bring my cat. I was sad about leaving my neighborhood and wondered if the cat would even be okay for the time being, alone in my weird gross apartment. We went to see a possible new apartment that was part of a community in which a lot of young people who looked like they were on Skins hung out in the share spaces, but also was haunted. The air shimmered in places were ghost-beings were “coming through” (from where I do not know) and they seemed to attach themselves to the Skins characters, so that they had shimmering haloes wherever they went, which were some kind of spiritual parasites. Back in my boss’s beautiful guest room, we discovered we had them too.

Sometimes my dreams are very literal and easily interpreted but I don’t know what any of this means and would be interested in your thoughts. I also usually wake up with a strong sense of whether a dream was good or bad, regardless of the actual events of the dream, and this one gave me a feeling of total horror.

Well, of course you did! This is a scary dream, what with the bugs, the snakes, the displacement, the spiritual parasites. Throughout it, you’re trying to depend on others to help you out, but you’re not entirely able to do that, in ways that aren’t really their fault, or yours, either. You say that you’ve moved as a result of a break-up and are living alone for the first time in your life, and I think you’re right, the strange creatures encroaching on your private space, that your very own home — the place that is most supposed to feel safe and comforting — has become a terrifying place, means that you are in a state of intense flux with regard to your present emotions. That is never a comfortable feeling, but your dream is telling you, if in a very strange way, that you’re going to be O.K. For one, you have people in the dream, like your boss and brother, who try to help you. And yet, you don’t still feel quite safe enough — the spiritual parasites are everywhere, including in YOU. Now, it would be tempting to say this dream bodes badly, but I actually think it bodes well, because you recognize your own halo. You are right smack-dab in the middle of something that your brain and heart and even your soul are working overtime to figure out. Treat yourself well and let them.

Dreamkeeping: If you’ve already sent me your dream for interpretation, rest assured, you are likely to see yourself in a future column. Until then, sleep tight, and, as my mother used to say, don’t let the bedbugs bite. But if they do, hit them with a shoe. Because, obviously.


Tell me your dreams! Send requests for interpretations and questions about your weird and wonderful sleepy mind-muddlings to Jen at dreams@the-toast.net. 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.

Illustrator: Esther C. Werdiger writes, draws, and podcasts in New York. She’s not quitting her day job, because that’s how she has her visa.

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.

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