This year I decided to set out on a journey of self-improvement. I took a playwriting class, bought a cookbook, started typing everything I ate into an app, signed up for a corporate gym membership, took my first selfies, made myself go to bed before 10PM every night, bought seven nonfiction books, and called my grandmother on her birthday.
What do I have to show for it? Basically nothing. Except for my dream journal. Bless my dream journal. Oh sweet dream journal, keeper of secrets, prompter of aspirations, gateway into the subconscious sexual fantasies of strangers.
is it self-improvement if it doesn't make you a more efficient worker?
Two weeks ago, I began experimenting with keeping a dream journal using the Dream Journal Ultimate app and it’s incredible. This is the one form of self-improvement I attempted that actually, at some point, led me to something outside of myself. (Not counting the fact that the gym membership led me to Kelley G, my spin instructor, whom I love!). I wasn’t simply more efficient, but, dare I say it, better realized.
The Dream Journal Ultimate app has lots of great features, such as the option to set a PIN to protect your digital dream journal. It seems like a wildly unnecessary security precaution, unless you’re afraid of Leo DiCaprio casing your brain for dream theft, though I admit a password does conjure a pinch of that familiar thrill of keeping a padlocked diary in middle school. A "reality alarm" interrupts a perfectly good night’s sleep to remind you to jot down your nighttime memories. The loud chime woke me up in the middle of a dream only twice, and both times I really resented it. Maybe it’s the colder weather, but I seem to only have dreams about snuggling now! Sure, I probably wouldn’t have remembered in the morning if an app hadn’t buzzed in my ear and made me write them down. But ultimately, I choose uninterrupted nights of healthy sleep over remembering dreams that I wish I’d never left.
Basically, the app would be largely forgettable if not for its best feature, the one that makes the case for using this app instead of a notepad: the "dream wall."
In Dream Journal Ultimate, you can choose to set individual dream entries to "public," making your dream recaps available to curious strangers — like me. Maybe you’re hoping for a little interpretation advice, maybe you just had a dream so weird and funny you can’t resist the urge to share. It’s a good way to get a chance to talk about your dreams with someone who is not your personal friend or lover — personal friends and lovers always tire of dream share time so quickly!
Dreams that are "public" show up in an endlessly scrolling feed called "the dream wall." You’re required to make a quick judgment call before you post as to whether your dream is appropriate for the eyes of children. I don’t mark any of my dreams "18 and older" because I don’t think we should be shielding America’s youth from the realities of crippling loneliness. Let them read about the time I dreamt that I was watching Vanderpump Rules and eating steamed carrots in my bed with nobody hahahahahaha. It’s good for them!
what's the ulterior motive to sharing a dream?
Anyway, the fun part about seeing the "18 and older" label on everyone’s public dreams is that there is really no way to know why a dream is only appropriate for adults until you click on it. Sometimes it’s because the dream is violent, sometimes it’s because the dream is thematically weighty, in one instance it was because the dream contained spoilers for X-Men Apocalypse — but most of the time it’s because the dream is sexual.
I guess it shouldn’t have been surprising that people who had been invited to anonymously share the weirdest products of their sleeping brain with a sympathetic public really went for it. One user wrote about having sex as a fish, another wrote about being spontaneously pregnant with quadruplets in high school. My favorite dream-recorder’s poem was basically a poem:
I love all the dreams — the raunchy, the funny, the benign — because there’s no ulterior motive to sharing a dream. We are not discussing how well we succeeded at the Raw 30 Diet or comparing jogging routines or logging how many Theodor Adorno essays we have gotten through this month. We are just saying "My brain told me this weird story, what do you think?"
Sometimes, before bed, I like looking for patterns in my dreams and in the dreams of strangers. It reminds me of Sudoku, or high school English, where we spent weeks mining symbolism from the surface of mid-century lit. Dream Journal Ultimate does absolutely nothing to make me more productive. I am not a faster worker or a hotter person or a better member of civil society, but I do have a little non-demanding community of strangers who are willing to share their strangest nightmares, fantasies, and absurdist non-stories with me.