Literally the Best Thing Ever: Dream Interpretation

A free tour of the creepiest, most magical parts of your brain.

Collage by Minna.

Collage by Minna.

Everyone has at least one dream killer in their lives—it might even be you. This is the person who, the moment someone starts describing a dream they had, gets instantly annoyed. Their eyes roll, dart around, or glaze over; they sigh extravagantly; they may employ some of the “Hands” techniques in Tavi’s bitchface tutorial. I suppose it’s understandable—words have a hard time conveying what makes any dream fascinating or cool or scary or unshakeable. As Neil Gaiman wrote in his essay “Where Do You Get Your Ideas?”:

Dream logic isn’t story logic. Transcribe a dream, and you’ll see. Or better yet, tell someone an important dream—“Well, I was in this house that was also my old school, and there was this nurse and she was really an old witch and then she went away but there was a leaf and I couldn’t look at it and I knew if I touched it then something dreadful would happen…”—and watch their eyes glaze over.

I’ve always had vivid dreams. Some of my earliest memories, in fact, are of nightmares I had as a child. I’m a lucid dreamer–which means that I recognize I’m dreaming while I’m dreaming, and can sometimes control how things turn out. It’s not something I ever practiced (though apparently you can try), but my family is full of weird sleep habits (talking, walking, eating, paralysis, and—giving the creeps to everyone I’ve shared a room with—laughing), so I think I inherited that ability. I remember most of my dreams upon waking, so I’m always trying to describe them to other people, who generally look confused or even frightened after a few minutes. It usually goes something like this:

Me: OK, so I was in this city—it’s a city I’ve been to a million times in my dreams, but never in real life. And there was this woman in a purple dress floating behind me, and then everything slowed down and I couldn’t move. And then Joey from Friends was there and he was like, “Hey! Where are all the sandwiches?!” What do you think it means?

My Friend: Stop eating candy and watching Friends before bed, Pix. That’s what it means. [Rolls eyes extravagantly.]

It used to bum me out that other people couldn’t see the things I saw when I slept (especially because I LOVE hearing other people’s dreams—it’s like getting a free tour of the creepiest, most magical parts of their brains), but after trying and failing to explain my dreams to others, I realized that perhaps my dreams weren’t meant to make sense to anyone but me. Just like everyone else on earth who falls asleep and into another world, my dreams are my brain’s own movie studio, jumbling up all of the information I’ve ever collected and spinning it into impossibly strange tales for an audience of one. So rather than bore everyone to death with my tales of places they could never go, I started writing my dreams down in a notebook I kept by my bed. I was about 15 when I started, and I still write the good ones down today. And as soon as I finish writing down as many details as I can remember, I break out the dream dictionary and start analyzing.

Now, I recognize that dream interpretation isn’t for everyone. Some people just dismiss their dreams as a weird blend of the images and ideas they’ve banked in their brains over time, which is totally fair. And maybe I read too many mystery novels growing up, but to me there’s something romantic and spooky about hidden messages, and it’s super fun and interesting to look at possible explanations for the weirdness that takes place when I sleep, especially when I have a dream that you can’t shake.

The key to analyzing your dreams is a dream dictionary, which provides an A-Z list of symbols that commonly show up in dreams (colors, animals, foods, etc.) and the traditionally accepted meanings attached to them. Dream Moods is a stellar online dream dictionary, and I’ve been using it forever. Even if you don’t believe in that there are “secret meanings” attached to specific symbols in your dreams, it’s a cool exercise to see what’s traditionally associated with the images that keep popping up in your subconscious. If nothing else, it may cause you to consider the images you take in during your waking life, and which ones seem to stay with you when you fall asleep. You might not take away any deep spiritual meaning, but you may pick up an appreciation for, say, your brain’s obsession with bears riding unicycles. Or you might you figure out that you have a nightmare every time you eat candy corn before bed. It’s a way of monitoring how your daily input affects your nightly output, so to speak.

The thing about dream analysis is that you tend to get what you’re looking for out of it. The way you read your dreams is kind of like the way you read your horoscope or a fortune from a cookie: It’s all up to interpretation, and many dream-dictionary entries list several meanings. For example, according to Dream Moods, this is what it means when you dream of glitter:


To see or throw glitter in your dream suggests that you need to be more outgoing. Express yourself! The dream may also be a metaphor for fame, glitz, and glamour, as in the glitter of Hollywood.

To dream that something is glittering indicates that something or someone is trying to get your attention. Alternatively, the dream may indicate that things are not always what [they seem]. Consider the phrase “all that glitters is not gold.” Don’t be fooled by what is on the outside or how things may appear to be.

See what I mean? There’s a pretty wide spectrum between “get out there and be famous, girl!” and “you might want to beware of a potentially shady person in your life.” But that’s part of what makes dream interpretation so fun—after a while, you start to notice patterns in how you react to the symbols in your dreams, and it gives you a better sense of the true emotions you’re hoping will be validated. Kind of like that trick when you flip a coin and check your gut with the results. If you’re disappointed that the coin landed on heads, it means you really wanted tails to show up. Know what I mean? Same thing goes for dreams: If you find yourself always feeling validated by dreams that supposedly mean “you’re going to get over a breakup” or “you will find success soon” or “you feel misunderstood by those who love you,” well, those are real emotions surfacing, and those are worth tracking alongside appearances by Joey Tribbiani screaming about meatball subs while flying on a skateboard and wearing a robot costume, you know?


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  • Aparna October 28th, 2013 11:24 PM

    I can never remember my dreams but I have really intense daydreams (though this may be a side effect of senioritis) and I completely zone out and can’t hear anything that is going on around me!!

  • soviet_kitsch October 28th, 2013 11:24 PM

    i LOVE dream moods. i’ve been using it every morning after i wake up for months now. my dreams are very trenchant and sometimes prophetic, which is pretty much the bomb.

  • Lex C October 29th, 2013 12:17 AM

    This is beautiful, especially those last sentences. Read Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui! It involves dreams and psychoanalysis; real trippy too.

  • FlaG October 29th, 2013 12:26 AM

    I’ve been known to laugh in my sleep too. Both my mother and my ex-boyfriend have confirmed it (on two separate occasions, btw). Plus I have also talked in my sleep.

    I’ve always found the concept of lucid dreaming incredible, but I can’t seem to ever ‘activate’ it myself :\

  • katie October 29th, 2013 1:06 AM

    my roommate just told me today that I laugh in my sleep. apparently its terrifying. lolz.

  • Monq October 29th, 2013 1:44 AM

    This literally is the best thing ever. I love trying to interpret my dreams (well the parts that I remember at least). It’s very interesting to see the things your subconscious maybe trying to tell you sometimes. Great article, Rookie!


  • hellosailor October 29th, 2013 3:49 AM

    I always have dreams where I’m in love with someone lovely and I feel so happy and all squirmy on the inside but then I wake up and it’s a little heartbreaking. It always feels so real. (Also odd because I’ve never been in love and not particularly in a rush to be.) Guess it’s a sign I’m in need of a little TLC, haha.

    • Jolinnn October 30th, 2013 11:28 AM

      I have the exact same thing! It’s just too sad to wake up then…

  • whyamidreamingwhenimstillawake October 29th, 2013 4:39 AM

    I’m a lucid dreamer too! I only just realised now that I am, but it’s cool! Sometimes I have really interesting dreams that are like a movie playing in my head, and I want to stay asleep to see how it ends.

    On another dream-related note, does anyone ever get that feeling in a dream that they’re sort of… falling really suddenly and violently? And then they wake up? It’s hard to describe.
    Does anyone know what that’s called?

    • caitocaitlin October 29th, 2013 12:58 PM

      It’s called a hypnic jerk! It’s very common, as far as I know. Hypnagogia, the threshold between sleep and wakefulness, is so full of weird phenomena.

      I get sleep paralysis ( sometimes, and even though it’s terrifying and I hate it, in a way it’s interesting to actually experience my own brain being stuck in between like that.

      • whyamidreamingwhenimstillawake October 29th, 2013 6:14 PM

        Ok, thanks!

  • whyamidreamingwhenimstillawake October 29th, 2013 4:39 AM

    Great article by the way pixie!

  • Bethany October 29th, 2013 6:19 AM

    Oh my gosh this article is everything <3

    Also when it comes to submissions do you reply to emails even if the work is not quite right for Rookie? Like some magazines might give a no thank you :) whilst some will only send a reply back if they want to use work? Either is fine of course I was just wondering!

    Oh, and sorry to be a questioning Quentin, but like on average, how long does it take for Rookie to get back to ppl? I know you get sooo much stuff zipped your way so I'm imagining it must take months and months!!

    Thank you and sorry for asking so many questions!!!


  • pizzaface October 29th, 2013 6:49 AM

    Wow, I loved reading this! Great article!
    Though I never remember what I dream :( And learning Lucid dreaming seems kinda scary to me….

  • pizzaface October 29th, 2013 6:51 AM

    For the people who know that they talk/laugh in their sleep, there is this app you can install and it records you in your sleep whenever it ‘hears’ a sound.
    And then when you wake up you can hear what you’re all saying :)

  • elliecp October 29th, 2013 9:55 AM

    this is the coolest! I’m really into interpreting my dreams, as I often have quite weird and vivid ones…so I’d love to find out what they mean! <3

  • Mary the freak October 29th, 2013 11:36 AM

    This is totally awesome!

  • whiskeytangofoxtrot October 29th, 2013 1:44 PM

    I love creating epic adventure sagas while lucid dreaming!

    I also get crazy anxiety dreams about work that usually involve labrynths (sadly sans David Bowie) and timed puzzle solving.

    Waking Life, by Richard Linklater, is a FANTASTIC movie about dreaming.

    • whiskeytangofoxtrot October 29th, 2013 1:46 PM

      I also love that the word for sleepwalking is ‘somnambulate’ That word rolls around in the mouth well.

  • Monroe October 29th, 2013 6:04 PM

    I’ve never met anyone who had dreams like me. My dreams are like a horror movie playing out. There is no chaos or unexplained stuff or random jumps to a different scene. And they are almost always bizarre and horrible. I’ve had dreams of screaming aliens, children killing each other, gas chambers, cannibalism, beheading, etc.. Sorry to be disturbing, but I’m just wondering if anyone else is like this?

    • ghostgrrl October 30th, 2013 2:40 PM

      I have really awful dreams a lot too! I mean I also have nice normal ones, but the ones I remember are so scary! When I was a kid I had recurring dreams of being chased around by this creep who was definitely going to kill me. Recently the ones I can remember are this one dream where my brother was slitting me open with razor blades, one where my mom was covered in these disgusting boils and she kept saying “I’m fine, I’m fine there’s nothing wrong with me!” (I’ve analyzed that and I’m pretty sure I know what it’s about). I always have dreams about zombie apocalypses also. Do you ever have any nice dreams?

  • Naomi Morris October 29th, 2013 8:30 PM

    i am so into this

  • Monroe October 30th, 2013 5:47 PM

    now that you mention it I don’t think I can remember ever having a dream that I enjoyed. I’ve had weird ones that aren’t necessarily bad, but never a true good dream.
    And I have never had a zombie dream, but I’ve had TONS of apocalypse dreams. (In a recent one an angel ran around the earth at like a billion miles an hour until it split apart..)

    • ghostgrrl October 30th, 2013 9:19 PM

      I never have any really very happy dreams, either. A ‘good dream’ for me is like making out with a cute dream boy. Apocalypse dreams are so horrible! I usually end up having to kill my family members bc they get bitten by zombies. Your dream is so weirdly specific! I also have colored dreams like they will be sepia toned or black and white. Whenever I have bad dreams I wake up and can’t go back to sleep. Do you think that your dreams count as night terrors?

  • ChuckyCheese October 31st, 2013 2:20 PM

    Don’t forget Dream Bible. Here’s another glitter definition for you. Something a bit more positive I’ll bet.

  • Pocket Cow October 31st, 2013 6:25 PM

    I’m also a lucid dreamer! Handy when it comes to nightmares. I can always recognize I’m dreaming and wake myself up! Also, a few nights ago I had a dream I was alternately Paul Dano / observing Paul Dano fall in love with a girl and take her to prom in a rural midwestern American town. It was weird waking up because “I” fell in love and didn’t want it to end…. Hmm.

  • Monroe November 4th, 2013 10:35 AM

    I wouldn’t call most of them night terrors, though there was this one that was so horrible and REAL that I woke up crying and in shock. (it was a dream where by the end I knew it was a dream, and I tried to wake myself up, but I couldn’t) But usually I think they’re just bad dreams that are very graphic.

  • PartyHasArrived November 5th, 2013 12:28 PM

    I can’t believe someone likes writing down their dreams, too! Am I the only one who controls them, though? Like making myself fly and stuff?