Journaling 2: These Dreams

A couple days ago I pulled out an old journal I kept, back in November and December 1998, and I posted on this blog about the entries I found there. One surprise for me was just how often I recounted my dreams in the journal. I’ve always been someone who has strange and vivid dreams. I’ve even been known to have lucid dreams. Over the years, I have gone through periods when I wrote them down. I’d forgotten that the end of 1998 was apparently one of those periods.

I didn’t discuss the dreams in the earlier post, so I’m going to talk about them now. All of these dreams went on much, much longer than I will describe here, with a lot of sensory detail, large casts of characters, complex plot lines, and multiple, atmospheric settings. But I know nobody likes to hear the play-by-play of other people’s dreams, so I’ll spare you that and just hit on a few common themes.

In one dream, I visited an actual old workplace of mine and rode the elevator with a former co-worker. She told me she’d just married journalist Cokie Roberts’s ex-husband, and that she and Cokie hated each other. There was more to it than that, but really, this one was just kind of silly and random.

Some of the dreams were more disturbing. In one, my sister Karen and I were on an airplane that was sitting on the runway. A New Year’s Eve party was being held inside the plane. We watched on a television screen as the ball dropped in Times Square, and then noticed outside the windows that a hot air balloons were rising outside, a whole fleet of them, some of them looking like very large pumpkins. Then the plane began taxiing to take off, despite our fears that one of the emergency exits was not properly shut. That was soon forgotten, as an earthquake began outside, and as we lifted off, we watched the devastation on the ground.

Below me, buildings were crumbling. Roofs were collapsing…. As we overflew the far outskirts of town, I saw a house I recognized — a big, elegant colonial mansion — being knocked aside, as though a hand had toppled a little wooden model of a house on an urban planner’s three-dimensional model of a city. In the next scene the earthquake was over and we’d landed and rushed home to my mother…. I was relieved to see that she was OK. In the kitchen I saw a pile of dust and plaster fragments on the floor and looked up to see a hole in the ceiling.

november 19

As I said, this dream took place in 1998, which was nine years after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that my mother, my sister Karen, and several other family members lived through. In Los Gatos a couple of days after the 1989 earthquake, I had seen the damage firsthand and experienced a violent aftershock. So it makes sense that earthquakes could be connected in my mind to my mother and older sister. But I have no idea now what events in 1998 would suddenly pull them into my dreams. Thanksgiving was a week away; maybe it’s normal for my subconscious mind to be thinking about family at that time of year.

A lot of the dreams were about crime or courtroom cases. On November 22 I wrote about a dream in which my husband Bob and I lived in on the third floor of a brick apartment building (we never did). A man claiming to be from Goodwill came to the door to solicit donations, was invited in by Bob, and brazenly stole bags of our belongings. I chased him, but he escaped in a truck with the name of a water-delivery service — not Goodwill — on the side. (The name on the truck was Evenflo, which in the real world is a company that makes baby bottles, but in my dream delivered bottled water.) I was so angry at my husband for being gullible enough to invite this con artist into our home, enough so that I was still angry at him when I woke up. I hate it when that happens.

On Thanksgiving Day, November 26, I wrote about a dream I’d had the night before, in which I attended a murder trial. The victim was the son of actor Anthony Hopkins, and the accused murderer’s opportunistic father was capitalizing on his son’s actions by rushing to publish a true-crime book about the case. Since I’m a writer he gave me an advance copy of his book to critique, and I told him the title was really, really bad: I Am the Father of the Man Who Killed Anthony Hopkins’s Son. Really bad? Yep, I called that one right.

The fact that I distinctly remembered reading the manuscript title — and the company name on the truck in the earlier dream — is unusual in and of itself. Just this week, I read about research showing that few people read and write in their dreams. Writers, especially poets, are an exception. I certainly am. I frequently read and write in my dreams. I also dream in color, which is also supposed to be rare.

In another crime-related dream recounted in my journal, a group of my friends held up an armored car. I was taken to the station to be questioned as a possible witness. The police detective was Jimmy Smits, playing Detective Bobby Simone on NYPD Blue. I’m noticing a theme here with celebrity guest appearances!

Another dream was set in the 1950s. I was an artist. I was 21 years old and lived in a poor part of town with my father, my 9-year-old twin sisters, my baby brother, and an older brother who was a socialist and union organizer. (In reality, I was not yet born in the 50s, and I have never had twin sisters or any brothers at all.) My father railed about my brother’s liberal politics until my brother finally moved out. I missed him terribly. One of his friends and co-conspirators, Gary, went on trial for treason, accused of being a Communist. Gary and I fell in love and secretly planned to marry, despite the fact that he was on trial for his life. After a long, complex trial in a big, smoky courtroom with a throng of reporters and photographers out front, Gary was found guilty and carted off to prison. One of his friends, an older man, ran after the van, wanting Gary to see a friendly face as he was taken away. The final passage of my retelling:

But he couldn’t keep up with the van as it sped up, and…then he fell, face-down, in the street. Nobody else seemed to notice, but I ran to him and held him in my arms as he caught his breath.

november 26

I had very little personal experience with the judicial system at the time, but I guess I was watching a lot of crime shows. In 1998, that would have been Law & Order and NYPD Blue, at least.

On December 3 of that year I wrote about finding an old, single journal entry written on a steno pad, and I transcribed it into my journal. The first thing I noticed about this journal entry is how much more neatly I printed when I was transcribing rather than creating as I wrote! The old entry on the steno pad was not dated, so I don’t know how much earlier it was. But the subject matter was very different than my dreams at the end of 1998. It begins like this:

In my dream I was on an island. I was not quite human, but more than animal. Perhaps I was not even less than human, only different. I think I was a Neanderthal in the era of Cro-Magnons. I remember running through the fields of this new place, watching strange, upright animals of a very light color…. I was curious about them, anxious to communicate. Eager to be friends. At the same time, I was afraid.


The dream went on for some time, until eventually these new creatures turned on me and tried to kill me. I escaped, but in the end, I knew they would search for me and find me. And destroy my way of life and that of others like me.

I would like to go through other old journals when I get a chance, to see what common themes ran through my dreams and nightmares at different times in my life. I remember that in college, many of my dreams were set in shadowy, cavernous spaces, often with a single ray of light slashing down dramatically from some high, unseen window. The plots were full of mystery, horror, surrealism, and suspense, with scripts that could have been written by Kafka. Orson Welles would have directed. But I also remember a dream so mundane that when I described it to a friend the next day, he responded, “That wasn’t a dream. That was last Tuesday.” In high school I often dreamed about flying. And when I was younger, I remember a continuing series of dreams about the same character having further adventures each night, coherent, sequential adventures that made sense, like episodes in a television show.

I haven’t bothered to write down my dreams much in recent years. Maybe I should.

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