In her nineteenth year she begins keeping a dream journal.
It happens when a few too many sleepless nights morph into sleep-filled nights, heavy sleep where there’s been a slow-going burnout after weeks of not sleeping properly, and then the dreams show up. They never happen when she lies awake, never happen when she crams eight hours of sleep into five into three.
So she writes, records symbols she remembers in midnight scrawl and searches the internet for meaning in the morning. It becomes a habit to sit up in the 5:30 am haze, decoding her half-asleep writing and entering them in search engines, analyzing herself.
She begins to use it to understand herself. The cat, walking away from her, is her independence; she guesses she’s becoming too codependent, and triggers an argument that leads to a breakup and in the moving-things-out stage, she just leans against the wall, tries to remember what else she left behind.
Can’t remember, so she goes without.
She begins to remember her dreams, later on. They come back to her in bits and pieces, and she can visualize them down to the shade of blue that was in a room, picture the clouds in the sky or the wording on a document. Other times they come back to her in sudden bolts, ones that make her sit up straighter at her desk and discreetly sketch the words into a notepad.
For a while she reads up on what the dreams mean and sometimes it’s so uncanny that she drinks coffee in the evening, makes a big pot of coffee as strong as she can stand it and drains it all, reading fast through a new book, hoping to transfer her dreams over to bookwork.
It works, until it doesn’t. There’s a short period where she dreams of character from her novels, but then she gets too absorbed in the fictional world she’s imagining, so she stops reading and starts trying to control her dreams. Lucid dreaming, she thinks they call it, and so she winds down before bed with a meditation focusing on one topic. Sometimes it works, but then the dream runs away from her so that she doesn’t know what she’s on about.
Other times it’s just a blank, her mind doesn’t know how to interpret it she guesses, and gives up trying to figure it out.
After six months she reads over the journal, thick now with post-it notes and stray bits of paper stuck in, stained with various types of tea drink and tries to find a pattern to her dream-thoughts. There is no pattern, which annoys her because she likes things to be logical and concise.
She maps it out by first chronological order and then creates an index, numbers every page and tapes in an index that she always rotates out to allow updates. After a few weeks though she gives up on the last habit because there are always too many symbols now and she has to have them in alphabetical order. Now, she takes the entire thing online and makes a Word document of every dream interaction, creates a link to a secondary document which has the index.
All the work is in vain, kind of: all it tells her is that her mind is turbulent, almost chaotic. (As if she didn’t already know this)
She shuts down the index she has created, because all it tells her is something that she already knew, and it’s just a reminder that she hasn’t learned anything new about herself. Six months of careful studying and practicing psychoanalytical theory have gone to waste.
Her mind is chaos, and the dreamscape she has tried to create is just the reflection of this, of her trying to create order within it. She takes up regular journaling, writing longhand until her fingers cramp up and crack every time she stretches them out, trying to work out the long tangles of her mind – it’s a useless endeavour though. She may as well be using a hair comb on a haystack.
One night she wanders a museum, trying to earn something and take advantage of the new insomnia that has wracked her mind. There’s a stack of framed documents on the wall, hidden behind thick glass and no doubt protected by alarms.
It occurs to her as she squints at them (as if that will help her see and understand them better) that this is her mind. Her mind is a riddle, one where she understands some of it at any given time and never enough of it to make sense of it all. Writing on the documents is done in centuries-old cursive, the kind where one letter looks like at least two others and she has to puzzle it all out slowly, so slowly that she doesn’t take in the full detail until five or six readings later.
Maps near the written text – letters, she gathers – are just as difficult. They look nothing like the maps she is used to, either sprawling multicoloured blotches or a few thousand pixels on her screen, easily manipulated.
She leaves the museum feeling like her mind has finally clicked with something, as if she understands the documents – if not for what they are, then for how they are.
On the way home she stops in a cafe, uses the internet to buy books on dream theory and studies them intently when they arrive. She reads slowly, bit by bit, and makes pages of notes that make the books physically denser than when she began. It’s all a pile of ideas, and this she can work with.
Dreams are the most beautiful sort of chaos, she decides, the most organic sort of art.