There are features of oneiric reality that defy the conventions of written language—dream impressions that cannot be rendered fully comprehensible to waking consciousness. The process of chronicling one’s nightly dreams is thus a continuous negotiation between their characteristic surreality and the limitations of written text.

Dreamscapes are often replete with paradoxical metaphors and anomalous occurrences: objects perceived as simultaneously large and small, dwellings experienced as both expansive and confined, events felt rather than observed, encounters with waking-life acquaintances who are unrecognizable or appear as someone else entirely. Most notably, there are transitions between dream segments that compress time in ways that stretch the limits of perceived duration.

While some of the aforementioned experiences can be sufficiently described using traditional writing conventions, others may necessitate the invention of grammatical artifices to facilitate their transference onto the page. The following example demonstrates several such options for those who routinely journal their nightly voyages:

SE26SA20 0130–1130 0Z01 0Z06
I’m in Claire’s basement and notice a man-made tunnel, at the end of which are gathered a group of men who are neighbors and who are digging in an attempt to find a hidden treasure · I get into a debate with one of the neighbors as to whether they are digging on Claire’s property or theirs — I call Deborah multiple times to ask her about the writing assignment — I’m at an event of some kind and run into Alisa · There’s a long line for the rotisserie chicken and I decide not to wait · I’m conversing with Alisa

SE22TU20 2130–0445 0Z01 0Z06
I’m living in a large warehouse complex with Mina and Grace · The complex is run by an artist’s collective, and there are creative activities occurring everywhere · Mina and I are hanging out at an island bar in the common area of the complex at night ~ Mina and I are at a poetry reading and run into Ron who is having drinks with a friend · Ron is sad because his father is sick/died · Ron and I decide to order beers and get drunk ~ I’m in a small apartment with Grace and Mina and am trying to decorate my bunk bed · The apartment is dirty with mice droppings everywhere · I’m startled by a mouse that I catch and throw down the hall · When the mouse lands, it transforms into a large wet rat, after which I notice another rat running into my bedroom — I’m going through a list of stories/programs with paradoxical titles that I find interesting

SE21MO20 2300–0500 0Z01 0Z05 0Z14
I’m driving around at night while looking for Scott · I go to his house to find him and his wife tells me that he’s out cruising · I find him and we’re driving somewhere on the highway · I take an exit but the road eventually comes to a dead end and I have to turn around · Me and Scott keep forgetting to put our COVID-19 masks on while in the car together

The orthographic layout of these dream journal entries aim to communicate several abstract characteristics of oneiric experience. The format also includes entry-specific metadata that may be useful for those who are maintaining a journal for the purpose of formal dream research.

Each entry begins with a header that contains the date of the dream, the approximate timeframe within which the dream occurred, and a series of abbreviated entry codes. The inclusion of entry codes allows one to easily gather and index specific information regarding dream patterns, their frequency of occurrence, and waking-life factors that may be affecting the content of dreams or one’s ability to clearly recall their details.

When using a word processor such as Microsoft Word or Google Docs, the collection of dream data via entry codes can be accomplished by utilizing the “Find” keyboard shortcut (Ctrl + f). This will prompt a pop-up window containing a field into which a code can be entered to display the number of times that particular code appears in the journal, along with an option to locate individual entries containing code within their headers. The following example lists a number of entry codes that can be used for this purpose and kept on the first or last page of the journal:

0Z01 Normal Dream
0Z02 Nightmare
0Z03 Recurring Dream
0Z04 False Awakening
0Z05 Awakened by Alarm
0Z06 Awoke without Alarm
0Z07 Dream Incubated
0Z08 Dream Initiated Lucid Dream
0Z09 Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams
0Z10 Dream Exit Induced Lucid Dream
0Z11 Wake-Induced Lucid Dream
0Z12 Out-of-Body Experience
0Z13 Meditation performed on this date
0Z14 Reality check performed on this date

The narrative text below the header makes use of the interpunct, tilde, forward slash, and em dash in a somewhat unorthodox manner. The interpunct is employed to indicate general continuity, as opposed to a consistent and uninterrupted narrative. The tilde is used to indicate a significant or meaningful transition within a thread, be it a change of scenery or emotional undertone. The forward-slash is used to indicate simultaneity or paradox—as opposed to its traditional use as a substitute for the conjunctions and/or—and is placed between elements that were perceived in the dream as both-at-once (see second entry). Lastly, The em dash signals the beginning of a new dream thread, which refers to a cohesive story, a series of events that take place within the same general environment, or a sequence of unrelated events that are connected by a particular emotional state.

The examples herein presented are merely intended to serve as a starting point for those endeavoring to capture some of the more obscure elements of their dreams. The repurposing of standard punctuation marks for this purpose is but one of many possibilities. Others could include the use of experimental syntax or the development of a constructed language specifically designed to communicate oneiric experiences.

Featured image by Jr Korpa on Unsplash