At the Bethesda Barnes & Noble last Sunday, Sarah Stillman, a 14-year-old dream analyst and budding author, made her final stop on a monthlong book tour promoting her essay, “Sweet Dreams: Unlocking Their Secret Meaning.” Her treatise appears in the new paperback collection, Girls Know Best 2 (Beyond Words Publishing), between chapters on how to throw an awesome slumber party and how to cope with a parent’s death.
As the Georgetown Day School freshman adjusted her clip-on microphone, she seemed a bit sleepy; she’d returned late the night before from a three-day visit to L.A., where she had taped a segment for the Pax network’s Great Day, America talk show. With about 20 teens and their parents in front of her, Stillman explained how her submission to a Girl’s Life magazine essay contest had won her inclusion in the teen anthology and put her on the signing circuit. She was confident on cuemaking eye contact with her audience readily, with her hands in the back pockets of her boot-cut cords as if she’d been doing this for months.
Somebody in the audience asked Stillman when she had started writing. She credited her Montessori school, where she was required to keep a journal. “I’ve been writing in my journalI don’t knowever since I learned to write,” she recalled. Her preoccupation with dreams, however, began two years ago, when she was 12 and first started having nightmares.
The dream analyses in her chapter are markedly Freud-free. “He said all things in dreams were really sexual,” she said, “so that’s not really good for kids.” Her “Dream Dictionary” brings more common-sense interpretations to, for instance, the trauma of plane crash nightmares, which might indicate that “your hopes…recently took a nose dive.”
Her reputation as a dream guru has spread quickly among her classmatesa burden the young analyst finds hard to live up to. “One kid came up to me and said he had a dream that he was trapped in a giant earthworm” and wanted to know what it meant, Stillman said. She shrugged her shoulders. “I was like, ‘I don’t know.’” Besides, can’t a girl ever take a day off?Jessica Dawson