A dreaming mind, illustrated

A woman flies

Roz Chast (via the author)

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As a child, Roz Chast lost an Oreo in the liminal space between dreaming and waking life.

“I was just on the verge of biting into it,” Chast said. “I woke up and I was sad because it wasn’t real. What was that?”

In her book, “I Must Be Dreaming,” the New Yorker cartoonist lets us into her personal dream world through her drawings.

Dreams are funny, confusing and surprising in Chast’s world. And they are occasionally disturbing and maybe necessary to process both our everyday and most bizarre thoughts, she tells Shannon Henry Kleiber of “To The Best Of Our Knowledge.”

Ever since i was a kid, I was interested not only in the content of my dreams, but in the fact that one dreamed at all. Why didn't I switch off when I fell asleep, like TV channels did at the end of their programming day? What was this mishmash of stuff that projected itself inside my head like my own weird theater that showed nonsensical movies on a nightly basis?
Copyright Roz Chast, 2023. Reprinted by permission of Bloomsbury.

Dreams can be rooted in stress and worry over daily life, but often Chast emerges back into reality, amused by the mishmash of her personal dream logic.

“I’ve occasionally woken up laughing from a dream because there’s something about it that just makes me laugh — in addition to the fact that it’s surprising and kind of peculiar,” she told TTBOOK.

According to many people, dreams as a conversational topic should be avoided, along with aches and pains. Only shrinks are interested, and maybe not even them. Maybe it's because as Heraclitus*  once wrote "the awake share a common world, but in sleep, we each turn to a private world of our own." This private world aspect means that something I might "learn" in a dream - that I can fly by jumping in the air, going horizontal, and swimming my way down Broadway hovering ten feet off the ground - may not be scientifically accurate. 

*(a Greek philosopher from 500 BC who also believed that sleeping and dreaming were proof that life and death were not opposites, but different points along a continuum. "Proof is a strong word, I prefer "inkling")
Copyright Roz Chast, 2023. Reprinted by permission of Bloomsbury.

“Dreams are famous for being a bad conversational topic. And I think part of it is the way sometimes people tell their dreams … is not structured the way like a traditional narrative is,” said Chast. “I think that there’s enough information in a dream that if you want, you can tell it in a way where it is a little bit of a story.”

Chast’s own dreams, recounted in cartoon panels, only make sense if one accepts that taking flight or riding a subway car full of humanoid chickens as matter-of-fact occurrences, not in need of preamble or explanation.

I've never had a dream in which I did not appear, even ones in which I am disguise or merely an observer of some sort of dream drama. I suspect this is true of everyone.
Copyright Roz Chast, 2023. Reprinted by permission of Bloomsbury.

Dream logic connects unconnected and unrelated images and ideas in the subconscious, but Chast said this doesn’t prevent us from trying to share them in conscious life.

“I had a dream where this interior designer told me very seriously, ‘Cushions are the juice of the house,’ and it just almost makes sense. It really doesn’t make any sense at all, but it sounds kind of close to something that might make sense if you just look at it a little from the side, maybe,” she said. “But I love stuff like that.”

There's an added problem: attempting to tell one's dream as one remembers it is almost impossible. We're imposing our waking consciousness on something that is very different. Dreams are not only notoriously ephemeral, but they have a different kind of logic, a different kind of language. I think of them as raw material. When I was sixteen, I took LSD for the first time. I was with my older cousins and their friends. We all took it together. I was and still am an anxious, cautious person. But I was also deeply curious about things my parents and people like them never seemed to think about. LSD certainly opened doors - ones that I didn't even know existed. As the drug took effect, I asked my cousin: "are we awake or asleep?"
"We're awake, but we're all in the same dream."
Copyright Roz Chast, 2023. Reprinted by permission of Bloomsbury.

The idea of connection beyond our understanding appeals to Chast, and dreams connect to that idea for her.

“I don’t think that dreams are necessarily predictive, but they give us insight into our own consciousness, into what we’re thinking about, which is more personal unconscious, which would be Freud,” Chast said. “And they connect us all at some deeper level, which would be more of a Jungian thought.”