I had a dream last night. I was in St. Andrews but it wasn’t St. Andrews, and there were zombies hunting me. The whole world was overrun by zombies. I had a gun but when I fired it the bullets zipped off in odd directions like those balloon stalls at crooked amusement parks. All out at sea there were sharks and you could see the sharks from the shore – big beautiful silver shapes circling in clusters of three. I tried to climb out onto a boat via a heavy rope, and I almost got low enough to touch the sharks, but I couldn’t and didn’t, and when I got onto the boat there were more zombies.

Then I woke up.

I realised then that it was more or less the same dream I’ve had every night. Sharks. St. Andrews. Zombie-like bad guys. Guns that don’t fire.

I don’t really analyse dreams, and especially not my own. That’s because I never normally think about them. Never really remember them in any credible sense. Maybe I wake up in the middle of the night when a zombie gets too close, or maybe in the morning I remember the last snapshot and a poorly written synopsis that fades away before I’ve even made it out of bed. But that’s all. Just disappearing fragments. It was only last night that I realised it was the same dream. Maybe mixed up bit, but the same.

I’ve spent today trying to look back through my memories and find something that I can hold on to and use to drag out the fragments of these dreams and piece them together. I’m asleep for eight hours a night and all I can ever place are images from the last seconds. I believe every memory remains stored somewhere in the brain or body and can – with the right approach – be found once again. So I look back for something to use. A thread to tug on. Always the sea, always bits of my childhood, always random fragments of nothing colliding in a bad B-movie.

Do they even make sense?

Is there a story there?

Aren’t writers meant to care about dreams? Aren’t we supposed to remember them and write about them and take them as the inspiration for our poems and novels.

Kerouac cared about dreams. He said that they were inseparable from reality. He said dreams and memories were the same thing, and look at his books. Beautiful, but wildly inaccurate. Memory Babe, he was not.

Believe it or not, I don’t care about Kerouac.

As I get older those dreams I didn’t even remember when I was a child are now as ingrained in me as the actual memories of being awake. Which isn’t to say that I remember any more than a flash of light or a feeling of terror. I remember my childhood largely from stories and photographs, and occasionally from a smell or even a sound that triggers some chain-reaction that brings the long-forgotten to the forefront. These dreams, I realise, are coming back bit by bit. I remember a dream from childhood now better than I did that morning I woke, moments after the dream ended. Milliseconds.

Or maybe I don’t. Maybe I’m making it up.

Kerouac only remembered one brief thing about his brother – a slap in the face. Yet he wrote endlessly about little Gerard, the child saint. His memories supposedly came from dreams based on stories his mother told. But to him they were true memories. Maybe his dreams were true memories. Things he couldn’t have or shouldn’t have remembered. A view to the past.

Who knows…

I used to think that dreams were your brain’s screensaver as it defragmented or ran a virus scan, but now I’m not so sure. That sounds cool. I’d like to believe it. But I really don’t know what to think. Amidst the zombies and sharks and St. Andrews there are other things. My fears or preoccupations or concerns from the reality of waking life, I think, bring themselves into the dream, in some nonsensical way. Just for a minute. They don’t effect or change the dream. It’s never even necessarily one person. Not a complete place. No exact situation.

Anything that vague scares me, and I suppose I may well have gone these twenty-five years ignoring dreams for that reason. I don’t like that they could mean something, and I don’t like that they might mean nothing. I don’t like not remembering them, like waking up after a drunken night and not knowing what you did, and always waiting for the consequences to show up.

I don’t think about dreams before I go to sleep, either. Never have, as far as I’m aware. I’m not sure what I think about… I don’t think about it during the day and it’s daytime now. But I don’t think I think about dreams. Sometimes if I watch a scary movie I think, “I hope I don’t bring this into my dream,” but then again I don’t think that before I go to sleep. Only in the moments just after watching the movie. And I never do bring the movie into the dream. If I did I doubt I’d ever sleep again. We’re helpless in our sleep.

What strikes me now as odd is that I have never once in my life enjoyed a dream. Or, to be more precise, I can’t remember having every enjoyed a dream. I’ve never woken up and gone, “Aw, shit. Really? I was having fun.” Occasionally I’ll wake up afraid, but more often than not I wake up vaguely aware of the possibility that maybe something bad could happen. Confident in my ability to evade trouble for the time being, but always painfully aware that it lingers around the next corner. A shark in the depths or a zombie in the shadows.

I don’t know what it means; what any of them mean. Something that persistent surely has some significance. If a dream means something, why don’t they change as I change? If they mean something then why don’t I have the same dreams as everyone else, as a fellow member of this species? I’ve never flown, never fallen and never found myself naked in class. Never lost my teeth or hair. Never been chased.

Just the zombies.

And Sharks.

Places that look like places from my childhood.

Bullets from amusement parks that zip into the ether.

 

**

 David’s first novel, The Dog Farm, is coming out next month. Unsurprisingly, it’s about life in South Korea. Regrettably, it doesn’t feature zombies or sharks. However, if you would like to know more, he has both a blog and a Facebook page devoted to whoring himself.

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DAVID WILLS is the managing editor of Beatdom Magazine, and the author of The Dog Farm and Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the 'Weird Cult'. You can learn more about him on his website.

21 responses to “Sharks, Zombies and Jack Kerouac”

  1. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    This is fun. Dreams are fun. I actually have enjoyed a dream. I’ve enjoyed dreams and woken up and been like… Consciousness? This is bullshit! Take me back to sleep…

    Cool ride, David. Repeat dreams are weird. I’ve never had deja vu in real life, but I’ve had it in my dreams. You go there and go there and go there again, until you get there and realize *I’ve been here before*… Unless that sensation is just part of a dream.

    Dreams are so cool. Reality is so strange.

    • Thanks, Lisa. I’m very jealous of you and all the other people in the world who can enjoy a dream. Reality certainly seems boring compared to what most people seem to dream about. Infinite possibilities, I suppose. I wonder if people become addicted to their dreams…

      I get deja vu a lot, strangely. I’m not sure why or what it is, although I love the Matrix’s explanation. Sometimes it’s overwhelming and yet impossible to explain.

      • James D. Irwin says:

        I get deja vu a lot too. I find it freakier and more troubling than any dream… a few times I’ve been sat having a conversation absolutely certain that I’ve already had that conversation with these people in that place drinking those same drinks…

        I dream a lot, and I’m fairly good at remembering them. I just woke up from a dream in which, amonsgt other things, I was near the university I dropped out of but I couldn’t see it anywhere.

        I enjoy dreams. Ralph Wiggum says it best in the Simpsons. ‘Sleep… that’s where I’m a Viking!’

  2. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    “Dreams as your brain’s screensaver,” there’s a good analogy I never thought of before. Or dreamed of, for that matter.

    My dream guns never fire either and my thrown punches never, ever land where they’re supposed to or have any effectiveness on the thing/person I’m punching. Probably an iceberg of meaning there, but I prefer the screensaver.

    • When I was in high school a teacher used to compare the human brain to a computer. This was in philosophy class. Ever since then my understanding of brains and computers has been really pretty simplistic, and so I do tend to break things down like that. It’s probably total bullshit, but in my Windows 95 head it makes sense.

      The miss firing gun, limp wristed punch and knees that don’t work when you run do seem pretty common, I suppose. Best not to think about it…

  3. Joe Daly says:

    Never?

    You can’t recall enjoying a single dream?

    Maybe your dreams are so bitchin’ that your subconscious doesn’t want you to remember them to keep you from writing about them and thus letting everyone else in on the deal. Think about it.

    Also, perhaps this has been covered before or you have plans to address, but I’ve always wondered how your passion for and interest in the Beats began. Inquiring minds want to know.

    • Maybe it’s happened, but I don’t think so. Or at least I can’t remember it. When I was a kid I used to daydream a lot, but that’s not the same.

      Not sure how to answer the Beat thing. I read them when I was 18 and loved them. I still do, to an extent, although I struggle to read Kerouac these days. Burroughs has always been my favourite.

  4. D.R. Haney says:

    The problem with many theories about dreams is that they try to assign a single function to them. Dreams can indeed alert the dreamer to feelings that he didn’t know he had. They can help to make sense of the day’s events. They can foretell the future. They can also do none of those things. They have to be taken on a case-by-case basis, I think, unless the dream recurs over many years; that would obviously point to a longstanding concern.

    I used to be at a loss when it came to interpreting dreams, but I’m fairly good at it now. The symbolic language of dreams is pretty simple, finally, and one we, for the most part, all share, as per Kerouac’s Book of Dreams. But I know you don’t care about that, so I’ll now shut up.

    • One thing that has actually interested me a little is the influence of various substances – namely, cheese – upon dreams. Like, if dreams do mean something, how and why are these things able to exert such an influence on the dream.

      I care more for Burroughs’ opinions than Kerouac. Kerouac, I’ve found is quite similar to me or at least a younger me, and so less interesting. Burroughs’ is a little weird and wiser.

  5. Becky Palapala says:

    I don’t understand why people think dreams have to do just one thing.

    Seems to me they could have a number of functions (or non-functions as it were) that could occur simultaneously.

    Like, for example, why separate the dream from the information-sorting? Maybe the dream IS the information-sorting. Highly allegorical, imaginative, metaphorical, just as the brain tends to be when sorting things out, contemplating, making decisions when awake.

    I mean, people daydream, imagine, visualize a million different things in a day. The ability to ponder scenarios that have not actually occurred–imagination and hypothetical situations as major functions in decision-making–is said to be what separates our cognitive processes from most all other animals on earth, and we make virtually no conscious decision without using it.

    Maybe dreams can be thought of, at least in part, as extensions of that, maybe just with the added benefit of the deeper concentration or fewer distractions that sleep offers, leaving us to wander into further and weirder and more allegorical imaginary scenarios.

    Of course, this doesn’t explain why dogs and other animals presumed not to have imagination nevertheless dream…

    Or, maybe their dreams just lack this particular function. Or maybe they DO have imaginations.

    I don’t know.

    But I care about Jack Kerouac.

    I think it’s interesting he strikes you as young or immature. I have the opposite perception of him. It’s tough to argue that his EQ was particularly high, given his apparent chronic and deadly escapism, but he’s one of very few people whose wistfulness never strikes me as frivolous or nauseating, which is pretty magical, since I find almost everything–especially sentimental things–frivolous and nauseating.

    Also, I very rarely remember my dreams, but I virtually never have nightmares or even dreams that unsettle me. I do have, from time to time, dreams that are so pleasant that when I wake up, I want to press my eyes shut and go back to them.

    Lots of times such dreams involve hanging out with dead people. Like Jack Kerouac.

    • You’re probably right. Dreams probably do fulfill various purposes. Memory-sorting is a likely candidate or one purpose.

      I always hated the dream analysis thing. It seems to me that people through these assumptions about. “Oh, you dream about sharks? Must be something to do with your mother. Zombies? Well, obviously you have some fear of illness.” It’s the same reason I hate the sort of people who say, “That earthquake was god punishing us for _____.”

      I used to love Kerouac and it’s not that I necessarily think of him as immature, but rather I liked him when I was younger. I’ve found a lot of people who also preferred his books in their youth. But then again, I’ve known plenty for whom the opposite is true…

      I think my distaste for Kerouac comes from studying him too much. I know too much of the bad stuff and it’s stuck in my head. I also thought his work was pretty fucking sloppy at times (most of the time). He and I also share too many personality traits and I hate people like me.

      But yeah, his enthusiasm (short-lived as it was) never hit me as embarrassing, either, and I do also hate sentimental crap.

  6. Matt says:

    Ah, dreams.

    I almost never remember mine, and when I do, they’re usually kind of surreal. I’ve often described them as what you might get if you fed Salvador Dali and MC Escher a shitload of high-grade absinthe and locked them together in a room full of art supplies for a week. Fuck if I know what they “mean.”

    Like some of the other commenters, I always scoff at people who insist on assigning a unilateral function to a dream, because they almost inevitably forget a fairly major detail: animals dream, too. Should I interpret my cockatiel’s nocturnal chirps and twitches as signs that she’s not getting enough food? That she partial views me as a predator, and I need to be more benign?

    Brains are weird structures, all full of odd chemicals, and no two consciousnesses are quite alike. That’s good enough for me.

    • Animals do dream. My cats dream of food and chasing stuff. That’s a fair accurate description of their minds as I know them, though, so maybe analysis works…

      I grew increasingly weary of drawing conclusions, so I prefer just to listen or state possibilities. Or admit my ignorance. I have no fucking ideas what dreams are.

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