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Summer Nightmares

It’s been a crazy busy summer so far, and it shows no signs of letting up. As exciting as it’s been to buy a new house and sell our old one, it’s also been stressful. And when I’m stressed out, I have more dreams. More nightmares, actually. I know that several of my readers love to interpret dreams as much as I do, so I’m going to share two of my recent ones here.

It’s a seller’s market in our city this summer, and bidding wars are common, with nice houses being snapped up within hours of being listed. We were told we’d have to act quickly with a firm offer and no conditions, but I didn’t believe it until I experienced it for myself (and lost the first house we bid on). I am bad at making quick decisions. I am especially bad at making quick decisions about major purchases. I almost never buy anything, even shoes, the first time I see them. I usually wait 24 hours to make sure I really want them. Thus, it was terrifying to make offers on houses after looking at them quickly and only once.

We were successful with the second house we bid on. The backyard is as lovely as the house, filled with lush, leafy green plants and a big patio. But a few weeks after the buyer accepted our offer, and before seeing the house for the second time, I had an ominous dream.

Dream #1

This isn't exactly how the garden looked in my dream, but you get the idea.
This isn’t exactly how the garden looked in my dream, but you get the idea.

It is moving day. We go into the backyard and see nothing but bare earth with a few patches of dry yellow grass and a folded-up landscape cloth. The beautiful landscaping we saw the first time was fake, staged to make it look good. I awake gasping for breath, spooked by the barren wasteland that was so vivid in my dream.

A few days later, I told a psychologist friend about the dream.
“What do you think it means?” I asked in a hushed voice, waiting for the profound dream analysis that was sure to ensue.
“It means that you’re afraid the owner took all the plants,” she replied dryly.

She was right. Sometimes a backyard is just a backyard.

In addition to the house stress, I’ve been feeling stressed out by summer in general. Summer is my least favourite season, for these reasons:
1. Heat
2. Noise
3. Groups of people
Put all three together (e.g. an outdoor picnic or pool party), and you have my worst nightmare. Actually, if it’s a pool party, there’s an additional reason to hate summer:
4. Having to wear a swimsuit in public
The second nightmare I had relates to all but the last of these reasons, and it’s more complex than the first one.

Dream #2

This looks like fun to some people.
This probably looks like fun to some people.

My brother drops by and asks if he can stay with me and my husband for a while. (In reality, my brother died three years ago. I used to dream about him regularly, but he hasn’t shown up in my dreams lately, so it was good to see him again.)

The only trouble is there’s no room in the house for my brother to stay. A friend is already staying in the spare bedroom, and the overheated house is packed full of noisy people who seem to be relatives but look like a large, amorphous mass.

I don’t want to turn my brother away, but I know I can’t deal with one more person in my house. I ask him to wait a minute while I talk to my husband. I go into another room, where I’m again surrounded by people. I tell them the problem and say I’ve decided to tell my brother he can’t stay with us. “That’s the right thing to do,” someone replies, and I feel better. However, the same person adds, “but it’s not the loving thing to do.” Huh?

Returning to my brother, I tell him there is no room for him to stay with us. He accepts my decision but looks disappointed. I am consumed by guilt. I try to explain, “If you’d called first, or let us know in advance, we would have made sure we had room . . .” but it doesn’t help.

The meaning of some parts of this dream are obvious to me. All summer I’ve been surrounded by people, and as an introvert, I haven’t had the solitude I need to recharge. By the way, if I hear one more person explain that an introvert is someone who doesn’t like people, I will scream or slap them (yes, I realize this will prove their point). But seriously, introverts really do like people. I would argue that we actually like people more than many extroverts do because we tend to value deep, personal conversations and hate superficial small talk, which is often the only kind of conversation possible in groups. Where introverts shine is in one-on-one conversations in quiet spaces where they can really get to know the other person.

But I digress. In addition to feeling overwhelmed by too many people this summer, I’m also haunted by my husband’s fantasy of filling our new, bigger house with refugees (he’s only partly joking). I’m sure I also have some lingering guilt about not thinking about my brother often enough or feeling sad enough according to the Rules of Grieving.
The only part of the dream I haven’t been able to interpret is this. My brother wasn’t alone. With him was a young Black woman wearing some sort of tribal costume. I tried to speak to her but she didn’t know any English. At first I assumed she and my brother were a couple, but there was no basis for this belief judging from the way they acted. I don’t want to resort to the cliche of the racialized, exoticized Wise Woman, but who was she supposed to be, symbolically? I don’t know. Any ideas?


  1. Abby

    Hmm…for the second one, the only thing I can think of is that she’s a symbol of your brother feeling farther away from you, since you didn’t know who she was or how to communicate with her. But that’s just a guess!

  2. Susan Örnbratt

    Interesting post, Clarissa. I’m fascinated by dreams. Mine are as vivid as yours it seems. Maybe it’s a writer thing. I often have chasing dreams that scare me. I’m not sure what the woman with your brother symbolizes. I suppose there could be many interpretations. She does seem rather stoic though. Maybe a guardian of some sort? Interesting also about the introvert thing. I know that people think of me as an extrovert yet often I think they are blind to reality when all I really want is quiet, calm time. I often get the question, “isn’t it lonely being a writer?” Yet I never feel lonely when I’m actually writing – ever.

    • Clarissa Harwood

      Hi Susan. Vivid dreams may indeed be a writer thing, since we have vivid imaginations! As for the introvert/extrovert issue, I think it’s impossible to tell from the outside whether someone’s an introvert or extrovert. We can all appear extroverted in public because that’s whats expected of us. I think it all comes down to energy: in general, does being with people drain you or does it energize you? As much as I enjoy being with people when in my normal, not-crazy-summer state, the experience definitely drains me. I’m fascinated by that question about being lonely as a writer (nobody has ever asked me this). How can we feel lonely when we’re surrounded by our imaginary friends? 😉

      • Susan Örnbratt

        I think that I’ve been asked the “lonely” question so often because I have taken a leave of absence from my job teaching elementary school. As temporary as my leave might be, I think people are curious how it feels to go from a highly active, highly social, high pressure job all day, every day to sitting alone at home writing. It’s just something they can’t imagine, I suppose. They can’t imagine the fulfillment a writer gets at being so immersed in your work, in your characters, in the technical side of writing and its artistic/creative side that you lose all track of time. As you say, how can you be lonely when surrounded by your characters? I completed my most recent novel two weeks ago and now I’m editing/polishing. Even in this process, the hours fly by that I get frustrated there aren’t more in a day. Perhaps it’s just something you can’t understand unless you’re a writer. Thanks for the post and happy writing. 🙂

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