“Did you have a nightmare?” I asked.
She nodded. “I’m driving a car from the back seat and I can’t see out the window and my feet don’t really reach the pedals.”
I lowered myself onto the futon and eased my arm around her. “I have that dream all the time. Many people do.”

As a psychology graduate with a particular interest in psychodynamic and psychoanalytic theory, the content and meaning of dreams have always fascinated me. Are our dreams telling us something, attempting to reveal inner truths to which we do not normally have access? Are our brains working through issues and problems that our conscious minds cannot handle?

Try as we might to cling to our individuality, thinking that our dreams are wholly unique and truly our own, the fact of the matter is that many common themes start to emerge when you ask other people about their dreams. This is especially true when it comes to recurring dreams, like seeing a caged animal or having the experience of standing in front of an audience with no pants on.

The above passage, taken from Beauty Plus Pity by Kevin Chong, is mostly inconsequential for the main narrative of the novel, but it struck me because I too have that same dream. Or at least a variation of it. While I don’t experience the part about not being able to reach the pedals, I do get dreams where I’m trying to drive a car from the back seat and I can’t see where I’m going.

What does it mean? Is it that I feel like I’ve been handed the steering wheel to my life without actually seeing the road in front of me? Is it that I feel like “backseat drivers” are in control of my life, even though they don’t have the perspective that a real driver requires? I’m not sure and I don’t think I’ll ever know for sure. Dreams are funny like that.

In another recurring dream, I find myself in front of my old high school. The problem is that the school not only appears to be abandoned, but every door is locked. Do I have unresolved issues from my teenage years that I cannot unlock and explore? Do I feel like my youth has been locked away forever? Or that the safety of youth is no longer accessible and I must fend for myself out in the terror of the real world?

Even though the circumstances of Beauty Plus Pity — which you might remember as being a part of my reading list — are quite different from my own life, I find that I identify strongly with the protagonist, a budding male model named Malcolm. Maybe it’s because he’s also an independent artist in constant search for work. Maybe it’s because he also lives in Vancouver.

Maybe it’s because he’s also a Kwan with “M” as his first initial.

But trying to figure out why I’ve formed this strange connection with a fictional character is like trying to figure out the meaning of my dreams. They’re both exercises in futility and challenges well worth exploring. So, keep dreaming. Let your mind wander and you may be surprised by where you end up… even if you can’t see out the front window.

Freelance journalist Kevin Chong was born in Hong Kong and currently resides in Vancouver.

Image credit: Ricepaper (YouTube)