Weird dream topographies

I want to write about and share the weird topographies that I experience in dreams, which I think are recurring for me, and see if other people experience something similar.

On the ILX Inception thread a couple of years ago (and more) I wrote the following about how the topographies in the film reflected those in my own dreams:

[Nolan] didn’t try to make the representation of dreams here too weird and far-out; I know that my dreams inhabit weird emotional territory, have weird physics, etcetera, but the settings are pretty mundane, very much secondary in importance to the emotional territory that the dream is creating or inhabiting, and I think Nolan goes for that here to an extent too by not making the dream environments too Burton or Del Toro weird (much as I adore Del Toro).

The shared dream logic and dream design resonated very much with me, especially the limbo level of Di Caprio and Cotillard’s subconscious romance; the receding rows of buildings, the familiar houses behind fences and moved into strange new positions, all seemed like experiences from my own dreams. I tend to fly, or be being chased, or be in familiar but not quite right situations in my own dreams, rather than have outrageous fantastical stuff happen. This captured the dream state for me as well as anything else, and is up with Waking Life as far as that goes (much as I love Waking Life, a lot of it does not remind me of my own dreams, but feels much more like a cinematic representation of what we think of dreams of being, at least visually; narrative or lack thereof is perhaps closer to real dreaming, but the it’s a film just about dreaming as opposed to a plot within a shared dream).

Last night I dreamt that Em and I had a baby (I think we adopted it in the dream: I think it probably represented my irl new nephew, as it was about the same age and was a boy) and we’d left the baby with my parents in the town where I used to live for a couple of days. When we came back and fetched him he could walk and stuff, which was freaky. Anyway, we were driving what was recognisably our car around what was recognisably but not quite the small town I grew up in – there was a flat area of carpark where there isn’t irl, and roads up the hills and forest behind my parents’ house that follow the actual irl roads relatively closely but not quite the same: one of the dream roads is actually where a dirt track I used to ride my bike down as a kid is irl, near as damnit. I feel like these almost-the-same-roads often appear in my dreams, but I’m not sure if this is because they felt familiar last night because they were so close to irl, or because I actually have dreamt them before.

I used to have a couple of recurring topographical dreams as a kid and young teenager: in one I was in what I can only describe as a big junkyard, with a flat passage / causeway / alley through the middle and loads of junk on either side (the junk was always indeterminate / unidentifiable, like it was toys and cars and furniture covered in junkyard-landscape-patterned blankets). I used to walk through the middle and the landscape would move around me. Sometimes it would be disconcerting and sometimes it would be quite comforting: I think it got more comforting the more I had the dream and started to realise that it was OK, I was in a dream, and almost gained some kind of lucid control over the topography.

The other recurring dream topography was the estate I grew up on, which was modelled after Clovelly in North Devon – lots of white house and cobbled bits and pedestrian areas and hidden garage / parking areas tucked away behind houses and flower beds and little patches of grass with trees on. It won awards when it was designed I think. It’s basically a massive retirement home without any staff now though. But I used to dream bits of the estate that didn’t exist, and there were specific houses and walkways that would feature in dreams over and over again. I knew they weren’t real, and this recognition of unrealness would allow me to also recognise I was in a dream, after I’d had dreams in this topography a few times.

These weird dream topographies are almost weirder for not being that weird: my dreams (the ones I remember, anyway) are almost like the anti-Gilliam or anti-Gondry, they don’t telegraph the fact that they’re dreams by being wacky or outlandish. Maybe this is evidence that I’m not very imaginitive!

Interestingly I don’t think I’ve ever dreamt fake topographies of the city I live in now, only ever the town I grew up in. I guess the landscapes of childhood get writ large in the subconscious.

Tell me about your weird dream topographies.

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3 responses to “Weird dream topographies

  1. It has been said there is nothing more boring than other people’s dream, but here I’m fascinated. I’ve never seen anyone else talk about this honestly. I’ve always believed each individual has a dream geography (as I call it) made up of places from their past, schools, streets, places of importance, usually when you’re a child or young adult. I have never had the ‘naked in front of my peers’ dream, but used to have a recurring ‘stuck in a car rolling backwards down a hill’ dream, but not these days. My dreams are so based in reality that I often dream of cooking and cleaning and housework – but then I have Aspergers and we have notoriously boring dreams. (Not saying you have Aspergers, Nick, sure your dreams are more interesting than mine!) Often dreams are related to what has happened in the recent past – I watched Grizzly Bear on Later last night and then dreamt they were at Number One in the charts, Oh, I could talk about dreams for ages, I have my theories about them.

  2. I think the lack of comments here speaks not to lack of interest but in the fact that what you describe is likely quite common. My dreams exhibit much the same features: childhood places changed in small ways and more commonly experienced than anything more current. Many times I’ve described my dreams to my wife beginning with “I was in the house I grew up in only in the dream it was our house/a friend’s house/a new house/my brother’s house.” I suspect that the brain space devoted to your childhood home is large compared to the brain space devoted to any more recent abode (kind of like how your hands are over represented in your mind but your back under-represented). If you weren’t half-way across the world (I’m in the left bit of Canada), Nick, I’d suggest a chat at the pub/cafe/restaurant as I find the subject fascinating. Plus, I’m a psychologist so I ostensibly have some expertise, having done some reading and actually helped clients interpret their dreams.

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