I Believe I Can Fly

Former “Pro Dreamer” Talks Lucid Dreaming
Most aspiring lucid dreamers have intense training regimens. Others, like our Associate Editor, prefer to wing it. Soar through the story of this dreamer's awakening as they reflect on how they gained lucidity, where it went, and what changed—including their relationship with dreaming.
Drawing containing arrows in various colours representing changing dream directions via lucid dreaming. Excerpted from dream journal.

White butterflies dance in the innocent spring air, kissing the tops of flowering corn stalks in my backyard. The dirt is cool on my hands as I tend to the carrots in the wooden planter just outside the shed. 

Momentarily alone under the shade of the quince tree, I continue loosening the soil as my mother showed me. I pull one up—my, have they grown! My mom will be so proud. As any responsible garden helper would, I wait patiently for her return, spinning the carrot by its greens. She will be right back. I am safe, surrounded by all my little bug friends and chicken wire fencing. I turn toward the sunlight and hold the carrot up to get a better look. I am admiring my carrot when suddenly, it seems that someone has turned off the light in the sky. 

In the distance, about three blocks away, a pair of giant legs blocks the sun. A second later, a giant yellow shoe rises up, up, up, and I follow it until I have to look higher than the apartment building across the street. With all my four years of wisdom, I recognize his puffy red shorts as a flying red flag. 

It’s Mickey Mouse. 

…And he’s huge! 

I call for my mom as the earth trembles. Mickey’s foot comes crashing down on one building, then another. No one can hear me. Glass windows shatter in silence for now, but he is almost here. Where is my mom? Mickey’s foot hovers above my aunt and uncle’s building. Is that where she went? Someone stop him! I place my carrot in the basket beside me and hide behind the quince tree, holding onto its trunk for stability as I try to remember where my mom and dad are. 

Unable to warn my family, I watch the supersized Walt Disney character almost surely destroy everything I know and love as he plants his foot in my garden, and then he is gone.

And then I wake up, and my mom has to explain to me what a nightmare is.

My next four years were full of them.

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Initially, I’d learned how to lucid dream in an attempt to counter my nightmares. At eight years old, I couldn’t go one night without a bad dream, and both myself and my mom were losing sleep over them. She’d introduced the concept of lucid dreaming slowly, first teaching me how to jump into a different dream after I’d woken up in the middle of the night. 

Every night, I’d wake her up and alert her to my crisis. After letting me explain myself and give her an overly detailed account of my nightmare at 3 am, she’d mumble her response. It was always the same:

“Change the channel.”

And then she’d roll over. Which is what I was supposed to do. 

So I did, and it worked. Or, at least, I was convinced that it did. 

Others might suspect that, to my mom, it only mattered that I was convinced enough to let myself fall back asleep. I disagree. 

That lady worked in mysterious ways, and she was no doubt prepping me. For what? To become a professional lucid dreamer, obviously. Isn’t that what every parent wants for their child?

(Plus, “changing the channel” echoes the wake-back-to-bed (WBTB) method of lucid dream induction.)

More importantly, I convinced myself that I was in control—that I had the power to change my dreams. 

And I did. For a while. 

As it turns out, I have more than one nightmare channel. Some of them, just like the Yule Log station during the holidays, play on a loop. (Boy, was eight-year-old me obsessed with that log.) 

By then, my nightmares were far beyond cartoon characters. I’m not sure which made my mom suggest I try lucid dreaming instead, but a recurring dream of a joker-esque clown decapitating my dad and letting his head roll around on our kitchen floor comes to mind. 

(As if this wasn’t alarming enough, I’m not even afraid of clowns. Never have been. Not even Ronald McDonald—loved ‘em.)

Before I could start controlling my dreams from the inside, I had to teach myself to remember the outside. As a vivid dreamer, I had no trouble remembering my dreams upon waking, but it took some effort to remember reality while I was dreaming. 

To do so, I unknowingly incorporated elements of the mnemonic induction of lucid dreams (MILD) technique into my routine. Every night, I repeated some variation of the phrase, “This is a dream,” until I’d fall asleep in the hopes that my dream self would remember this. Eventually, it worked. 

The first time I realized I was dreaming, I thought exactly that. I was in the middle of a conversation when it hit me. 

“Wait,” I said, half-mumbling at the kitchen tile as the other party continued talking. “This is a dream.” Before I had the chance to process, I looked back up at them, surely flashing crazy eyes.

“Ha!” I exclaimed, my pointer finger in their face. “You’re not real!”

Then I shook them by the shoulders real hard so that they would believe me, and I rode off into the sunset on a unicorn. (Okay, maybe the last part didn’t happen. A girl can dream, though.)

It was much easier after that. Still, I spent the next few good dreams I had politely informing all my dream friends of their irrelevance. I think I may have actually exercised my first bit of dream control in summoning them just to do so. 

I got pretty good at telling the bad guys, too. Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to care. 

I still had to escape them, and I was getting fed up with my fake friends. Luckily, I’d already come up with a solution for both—something I’d been secretly dying to test out since I first started lucid dreaming. I decided to use my newfound skill to make my impossible dreams possible. I couldn’t outrun my dream demons, but maybe I could fly away. 

First, of course, I had to convince myself.

(I Believe I Can Fly…)

I did not, however, touch the sky. I quickly found out that it was very difficult to get myself off the ground. I flapped my arms to no avail, my maximum altitude no higher than my own head. Barry B. Benson was right—flying is exhausting.

I thought it would help if I started from higher ground, so I added a location to my evening self-hypnosis session—a choice which proved less fruitful and more fruit full. Later that night, my subconscious began to question my conscious decisions as I sat in an apple tree I’d climbed easily several hundred times before in my real-life backyard.

A 1.89 L bottle of Allen's brand apple juice on a grey pillow.

Interestingly enough, some believe that drinking apple juice helps increase dream lucidity, seemingly based on an unsubstantiated link between apple juice, acetylcholine, and vivid dreams.

On the bright side, these flight attempts helped bury my nightmares. As I got closer to achieving my goal, I got better at turning scary situations into silly ones or leaving them all together, dipping out of the nightmare once I realized it was just a dream. Really, though, I was simply too focused on getting my feet off the ground for my subconscious to send in the spookies.

My human form just wasn’t fit for flying—curse those darn laws of aviation—so I had to transform into a bird. Rather than imagine myself as a real creature, however, my developing gamer girl brain instantly settled on Wingull, the Seagull Pokémon. 

As Wingull, I soared against the sea, typically only ever a few feet above the water. Despite these limitations, I labelled it a success and called it a night. 

For a really long time. 

Lucid dreaming was a lot of work, and I soon grew out of my routine. Part of it was just coming up with the idea—the intention I’d set beforehand. Over the next few years, I remained somewhat lucid in most of my dreams. But without direction, even my good dreams became disappointing. I’d realize I was dreaming mid lollipop lick or halfway through opening a present from Santa, saddened that I couldn’t bring it back to the waking world. 

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Over the last 15 years, my dreams have become increasingly vivid. I have no trouble flying now, and I often do so unintentionally. (I take most of my flights in vampire form. Sometimes I’m a bat, but not always.)

There are lots of things I can do in my dreams that I previously couldn’t. I’ve been to a random food court and tasted a soup I’ve never tried before, and I smell things whether I want to or not. Sometimes I wake up and smell the roses, and other times I’m left with the scent of burning flesh. I can feel pain. I can browse my phone and read texts clearly, something I’ve seen Instagram meme accounts herald as impossible all too often.

(To debunk another myth, I’ve also seen my reflection in the mirror and yet here I am, still alive.)

Before I started lucid dreaming, I almost always saw myself from the back of my head—sort of like in a third-person shooter game, except instead of a constantly raised weapon, I had an ever-present ponytail. 

I haven’t seen the back of my head in years, and although I can dream in first-person shooter mode instead, the vast majority of my dreams are in what I call “full-screen” mode, where I have some sort of awareness that the events unfolding in front of me aren’t literal, and I am instead playing a video game that takes up my entire view. (Usually, it’s The Sims.)

After having so many of these dreams, I find that I often use this to justify strange dream scenarios even in first person perspective. I’m jumping from platform to platform to avoid lava on a different planet? Must be Super Mario Galaxy or something. At that point, I don’t question it. 

I think there’s still some part of me that’s always aware that I’m dreaming, or at least that I’m not experiencing the reality I know. I had video game dreams when I was younger, too, but as I’ve grown up and gained privileges, another justification has emerged. 

Even when I know something is off, I’m so quick to pass it off as a side effect of my own in-dream intoxication. Regardless of whether or not this intoxication is canon, I tend to assume my confusion and warped sense of time stem from one too many drinks. If I think about it and don’t recall drinking, or don’t believe I’m drunk, then I must have been drugged, have a mind-bending illness, or be insanely sleep deprived.

Partially obscured journal entry titled "The Mirror Dream"
Zoomed dream journal entry featuring a product photo of an arctic blitz Gatorade bottle and a screenshot of a google search result that reads "Dog Biting At My Crotch dream meanings"

Selections/proof from my English 125 assignment-turned-dream-journal.

This can get scary when it factors into my nightmares, which I definitely still have. I get over them pretty quickly now, but I went through a real rough patch that peaked in my second year of university. I’d find myself in imminent danger, face to face with some devilish creature, or worse—a man that wouldn’t leave me alone. 

In situations like these, once the part of my brain responsible for fight or flight kicks in, I know without a doubt that I am dreaming. Moreover, I know I can control it. 

So that’s what I’d do. I’d force myself to wake up. But instead, I’d wake up in the dream. My bedroom was never what it was in reality at that time, and I knew instantly it was wrong and therefore I was still dreaming. Despite waking up in a different bed, it was the same dream—the villains followed, often only getting worse. 

I’d spend the majority of my dreams stuck in this loop, blipping across dream dimensions just to end up in the same place as I struggled to return to reality, completely aware but no less terrified—and no less tired upon finally waking.

Eventually, these dreams became much less frequent. Lucid dreaming didn’t save me, though. During this time, I made a lot of life-changing decisions. I ended my eight-month long binge-drinking streak of 2020; moved into an apartment free of men asking me to cuddle; and started a new job that was manageable along with my course load, paid well, and was never boring. I started to actually enjoy my life, and a few months later, I realized my dreams had lightened up. 

In a way, I suppose I saved myself.

Since then, I haven’t felt the need to return to lucid dreaming. But when pitching my ideas for this issue, I thought it would be fun to try again. I very incorrectly assumed it would be just like riding a bike. 

Over the past two weeks, I tried almost everything. I started with just my dream-realization mantras alone, believing that would be enough. It wasn’t. 

At first, it seemed to do the opposite. I completely believed that my best friend and I rode horses through the fall fair gift shop and boarded a hovercraft full of cows headed toward Africa as a treat for his (spring) birthday. Terribly unrealistic—I know. Cows are my favourite animal, not his. 

I made sure to set my intention after that. I couldn’t think of anything off the top of my head, and my friends were no help either:

What should I dream about?

Something neat.

I picked the most random noun I could think of and lulled myself to sleep.

Orange peel. Orange peel. Orange peel. Orange. Peel. Orange…peel…

Instead, I broke into my old highschool and hacked into their computers, flipped a PT Cruiser with my bare hands, and took off my boots while traveling along a muddy ditch with my dad. 

I even tried drinking a bunch of apple juice before bed for added effect. I failed once again, but I did learn something from my dream—or, rather, in it. 

I dreamt I was driving through Port Alberni and a cop pulled me over. 

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I roll down my window as the officer approaches my Tercel. I keep it casual.

“What’s the problem, Boblem?” 

“Ma’am, you were speeding,” he says. 

“What? No way!” I say, feigning innocence (and slightly offended that he referred to me as “ma’am”). 

“Says here on my radar. Yup—got you at 70 k.” 

“Lemme see that thing.”

“Come on, now.” He shakes his head. “Forty over, miss.”

Okay, I’ll take it. Wait—

“That’ll be $360.”

“But I was in a 50 zone!”

“Cash or card?”

“Neither. I’m not paying that.”

“Well, that’s the cost of excessive speeding. Forty over is a deal breaker.”

I try to explain to him that the math, quite simply, is not math-ing. 

“Even so, that’s outrageous! There’s no way it costs that much.”

“Whatever, lady,” he says (which is somehow worse). Then he puts me in handcuffs.

“This is ridiculous,” I mumble from the backseat of the cruiser.

break

Eventually, through a combination of gaslighting and implicit psychic manipulation, dream me gets out of the ticket. Two days later, however, I’m still thinking about it. 

Did the chief really find a loophole in my case? How much does a speeding ticket cost? 

I think I already know the answer to the former, but I google the latter. I’ve never gotten one, and while I don’t plan on it, I’d hate to find out the hard way.

According to ICBC, the fine for excessive speeding—defined in BC’s Motor Vehicle Act, 148(1) as driving 40 km/h in excess of the speed limit—starts at $368.

Eight. Dollars. Off. 

Maybe I hadn’t failed to start having lucid dreams again, after all. Maybe, just maybe— 

I never stopped.

Headshot of Tianna Vertigan
Associate Editor

Tianna is a queer student in her final year at VIU. She’s taken so many different electives that everyone forgets Creative writing is her major, and she’s also minoring in SWAG. Between her studies, day (night) job, internship at Caitlin Press, and work with The Nav, Portal, and Sad Girl Review, it’s safe to say she’s pretty deep in her girlboss era.

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