"There is nothing more boring than other people's dreams," goes the accepted wisdom. But I can't find it in myself to feel bored when someone says, "I dreamed that whenever you got annoyed you started shooting lizards from your eyes" or "I dreamed I was eating a coathanger."
There are many more boring things, such as other people's family trees and Bono and road cones. I've always remembered a Jenny Bornholdt poem in which she dreams that she tried to fax her publisher a cake. I remember vivid dreams for weeks, especially those that leave residual dread or happiness or shame upon waking, like a recent scene in which I was scolded by a beekeeper for training all of his bees to sit and stay, like dogs. "You're distracting them, you idiot," he hissed. I woke up feeling chastened.
Popular culture demands that we fill our lives with things that are interesting. Like moths to the flame, we blunder towards noteworthy podcasts and surprising facts and counterintuitive perspectives. We run from the rewards that a boring conversation about dreams may offer.
For many years I had alarmingly vivid dreams. At night Ferris wheels full of sheep would careen towards me menacingly over dark paddocks. People around me would turn into melting human candles. Instead of hands, I had two irritable pelicans. I think all this was in part due to an anti-depressant medication I was taking. Recently I tapered off the medication for six months, promptly lost my marbles and had to go back on it. Now the dreams are back and they're sillier than ever. Before I go to sleep I feel both curiosity and unease: what's in store for me? Is my father going to float through the window disguised as Microsoft's Clippy again?
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The modern dream theory popularised by Carl Jung asserts that dreams offer a true reading of the psyche and that our dreaming selves therefore have important insights for our waking selves. Given the content of my dreams, I would prefer this not to be true. But I also doubt that our dreams are wholly meaningless blather. I like the sleep researcher Matthew Walker's argument that dreams are like "overnight therapy", allowing us to reprocess stuff we've experienced, taking the sting out of difficulty and pain and confusion and helping us to carry on tomorrow.
If I try to imagine the worst dream journal in the world, it would be the dream journal of Donald Trump. What is his inner life but a parking lot full of burning tyres? But a close second would be a research project that collates dreams about Trump.
It was started by psychotherapist Martha Crawford who, just before the 2016 presidential election, had a dream in which she agreed to do a caretaking job for a friend. On her first day she found Trump lying on a couch, asleep, wearing a huge adult diaper. She felt intense pity for him. She filled a large bowl with kibble – he was woken by the rustling sound – and gave him a cheap pre-paid phone for emergencies. Crawford woke up feeling, understandably, disturbed. Later she reflected that perhaps her dream was pushing her to view Trump's deviant behaviour as sad and feeble, as something that could be excused because the man was infirm.
"The dream pressed me to confront my own complicity," she writes, "My desire to consciously view Trumpism and the resurgence of right-wing extremism as something ageing, feeble, and powerless – nothing to take seriously." She wondered about others' dreams of Trump and what they might say about collective efforts to process him, about what our intuition has to say of him "outside our consciously formed opinions".
Many of the dreams are horrible. Crawford is not the only one to have dreamed of Trump as a massive baby. But some are strangely empathetic – Dream Trump will console someone after a break-up, or give them a generous tip at their bartending job. Then we'll be back to: "I had a dream last night that I was in a plane that was going down and Trump was there and he punched out a kid and took their parachute."
Most people probably have little patience for research into this sort of thing, because it seems like woo. But even if a dream was utterly random, or made dazzling by medication, it can still prompt you – as it did Crawford – to ask yourself questions about what's going on in your life and why you see the world the way you do. That can be useful in itself. Isn't it worthwhile – interesting, even – to ask the question: "What was going on in my brain just then?" Imagine if Trump asked himself that. I wonder what residual feelings his dreams leave behind, upon waking.