On Dreams and Storytelling
Last night, I had some weird dreams - creepy nightmare stuff that stuck with me when I woke up. After getting out of bed, I realized that every part of the nightmare related to something that had happened during the previous day. Yesterday was like any other day, so how had all these random events turned into a series of scary nightmares? I think it has something to do with memory.
I remember learning in health class a long time ago that the purpose of sleep is for your brain to process and store the events of the day. If that’s the case, I suspect that dreams are simply a shortcut to long-term memory. Think back to grammar school when you memorized the planets. The names stuck but the order never would. The solution? “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas.” Actually, Pluto is no longer a planet… but you get the point.
What are we doing there? We’re creating a story to remember something. I suspect your brain does the same thing during sleep. In order to remember these random/chaotic events that happened during the day, your brain uses a shortcut. It stitches together a narrative thread and tells you a story. This story often follows very little logic, but your brain’s doing the best it can with the events of your day.
So let’s go back to the planets: Who is this mother? Why is she so intelligent? Who’s telling us this and why are they getting nine pizzas? Is it a reward for memorizing the planets in order? That memory shortcut has a lot of plot holes, too, but it gets the job done. We use storytelling to remember because a story is a lot more exciting than a string of planets. There’s something about this educated mother and her nine pizzas that’s enthralling.
If dreams are nothing but a memory trick, then we’re all storytellers… we do it every night during sleep. Sometimes we put together beautiful stories that linger with us the next day. Other times, our narratives form a scary story that jolts us out of a sound sleep in the dead of night. And often, we tell ourselves really bad stories littered with plot holes and absolute chaos.
If my logic is sound, then since birth we’re programmed to tell stories to one another… because stories, by their very nature, stick with us. Our brains love them - they’re used as a memory tool because they enlighten, frighten, entertain, and enthrall. We can’t forget a good story.
So the next time you have a nightmare or a beautiful dream, take a moment to soak in the beauty of storytelling. While your dream may be nothing more than a shortcut to remember something, you’ve just created a story. Why not write it out and share it with the world?