jayellebee's Blog

April 10, 2011

Open to Interpretation

Filed under: Musings — Joanne @ 6:43 am

     I often awaken with vivid dreams lurking in the shadows of my mind, daring to be remembered.  This morning, two dream snippets blended together, demanding attention.  In the first, I was a passenger in a strange vehicle.  Two RVs or busses were attached where their rear bumpers should have been.  Picture a driver’s seat, steering wheel, and windshield at both the front and back, like a diesel locomotive.  This mechanical pushmi-pullyu delivered me and a passel of children to a wilderness area where interesting animal species were everywhere we looked.  The second dream featured me, clad in a fuzzy, footed “blanket sleeper” like toddlers who are prone to kicking off their bedding wear.  I spent the dream running up flights of stairs from one deck to the next on a cruise ship.  Rectangular openings had been cut in the landing at the top of each staircase.  Some holes were small, some quite large.  I felt curiosity but not fear and stepped over them with ease.

    Usually my dreams fade as fast as my head clears.  Not today.

     The featured speaker at this afternoon’s monthly meeting of the Mt. Diablo Branch of the California Writers Club was Naomi Epel.  Her advertised topic:  “Insights into the creative processes of some of the world’s greatest writers.”  Naomi’s book, Authors Dreaming, describes the dreams 26 famous writers shared with her during interviews.  She doesn’t like the term “dream analysis,” preferring “dream interpretation.”  As she spoke about Maurice Sendak, Amy Tan, and others, my mind wandered.  Why had I been running around a ship in my jammies?  Who or what made those holes?  Was I leading the children or was I a member of the young gang?

     Naomi told us William Styron dreamed of a young girl standing at the foot of his bed.  Inspired, he arose and began the manuscript which became Sophie’s Choice.  She claims the crazier a dream is, the more important it is.  We should listen when someone in a dream speaks to us.  If we want to understand the significance of a dream, we should put ourselves back into the dream and look around noticing what details we can see.  When remembering a dream, she advises, ask questions about the dream.  Who?  What?  Why?

     I’m up for the challenge.  I mean, Sophie’s Choice for goodness sake?  Geesh!  I want to be a famous writer when I grow up.  So, this is me, going back into this morning’s dream . . . .

     I climb out of the double-double vehicle and never look back.  It was an oddity but has vanished and I don’t care.  I’m outside with a bunch of kids, all little boys except me, nobody I know.  Where are we?  I see sparse patches of dry weeds on rolling hills.  Classic California topography in summer.  What are we doing?  We’re running from one thing of interest to another, pointing, observing our surroundings.  No one speaks.  An adobe-like cliff is pocked with a row of burrowed holes and we look into them for evidence of what animal did the digging.  Several young, cat-like animals appear in the long, dead grass.  Bobcat kittens?  Their fur has spots and appears soft.  They play, pawing at each other.  Why am I there?  I’m not instructing the children, I’m sharing their investigations, equally absorbed.  We’re all passive, watching but not interacting with our surroundings or each other.

     The scene evolves from dry grassland to a ship’s interior.  Looking around the new dream setting I see the spiraling staircases I’ve experienced on real ships at sea.  Eight carpeted stairs wide enough to accommodate large crowds of people, with railings on both sides, rise to a landing providing a 90 degree turn to my left.  Another left hand, 90 degree turn brings me to eight more steps followed by the rectangular hole at the top.  This one’s wide, maybe two feet from side-to-side, but only an inch or two from front-to-back.  Much too small to fall through.  I step over the slit and navigate another flight.  What do I feel?  I’m warm from running and unzip the sleeper, but only a little, discreet even in my dreams.   What do I hear?  Nothing.  Silence.  I’m alone.  Another flight of stairs, but I’m not winded.  The next hole is of new dimensions, but no less easy to avoid.  I continue upward.

     “The crazier a dream is, the more important it is.”  By the bristling stubble on my father’s course chin, this one must be life-changing ’cause it’s as nutty as a jar of extra-crunchy Skippy.  All right, here goes.  Maestro, a drum roll, please.  My inspired story synopsis:

     The inquisitive mind of our young main character, let’s call her “Joanne,” invents an alternative fuel vehicle able to store energy while traveling in one direction , then release and re-use that energy to go in the opposite direction.   The mechanism is not unlike the spring inside a wind-up clock.  She — oh, heck.  I have no idea what my ridiculous dream means.  It’s all nonsense.  I hear Ken coming down the hall, ready to go to bed.  I glance at the time display on my monitor.  10:43 p.m.  It’s been a long day following too many other busy days, all piled together like children’s blocks.  One on top of another.  I decide to turn off my brain and go to bed, too.  Tomorrow’s another day.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                   * * *

     It’s 4:30 a.m.  This morning’s dream is screaming in my head.  I’ve never, never had a dream like this.

     I’m a soldier.  My unit and I are dressed in Army brown and tan urban fatigues,   Everyone I look at is a young woman.  We’re armed, dashing through vineyards, bent at the waist for protection from the ear-splitting gun fire surrounding us.  Noise crescendos.  Somehow, I know I’m on the outskirts of Calistoga in the Napa Valley.  I can’t tell who the bad guys are.  We all look the same.  When someone shoots at me I return fire aiming for my assailant’s chest and forehead.  I’m deadly accurate.  One enemy falls after another, each staring at me as her life crumbles.  My gun fails, I’ve depleted my ammunition.

     “Who has the ammo?” I bellow.

     My youngest son and another soldier, the only males to appear in this horrid dream, run to me struggling to carry a chest heavy with lethal weaponry.  I reload my assault rifle with the ease of familiarity.  My voice is rough, I’ve been yelling throughout the battle.  I try to sooth my throat with a long swallow of something strong, alcoholic.  (Interesting since I haven’t  had a drink in months, trying to appease the acid reflux resulting from too much family turmoil.)  A woman to my left rises, I realize she’s rounding on me, taking me into her sights.  I fire at her and watch each of my bullets embed in her chest.  There is no blood.  She doesn’t fall.  Her eyes never releasetheir grip on me.  I aim higher.  When my third bullet drills into her forehead, she tells me, “Thank you,” and sinks to the ground, dead. 

     I awaken, disturbed, and become aware Ken is restless, too.  When he returns from the bathroom, I kiss his forehead.  “I know how the piece I was working on before we came to bed is supposed to end,” I tell him.  “I need to get up before I forget.”

     Ken is unaware of my powerful dream, but he’s accustomed to this story line.  I suspect those who live with us writers, famous or otherwise, all know this scenario.  We craft fiction, willing our characters to do our bidding, but are unable to harness our own creative ebb and flow.  Unable to abide by the timetable governing most work schedules.  I pull on my robe, ease the bedroom door shut, and switch on the office desk lamp.  Our dog sleeps in that room.  She glances up at me then puts her head back down.  In minutes she resumes the rhythmic shallow breathing of peaceful sleep.  I hear the reassuring sound of  Ken’s snoring.

     In last night’s whimsical dream I was one with a group of children, wearing a child’s bedtime garb, easily avoiding pitfalls as they presented themselves.  A few minutes ago I was a non-stop killing machine, supplied by one of my sons, taking aim on those I perceived as a threat.  Whoa.

     Naomi said to listen when someone speaks in a dream.  The soldier, the young woman I dropped where she stood, told me, “Thank you.”  In the hour since I got up to finish this blog entry the clarity of my dreams’ meaning has faded.  I didn’t grab on to the fleeting thought in time.  But here’s what I think now.  I’ve been pushing hard, too hard, for a long time.  Running, if you will, this way and that.  I’ve been learning more than I ever wanted to know about death and the duties of a successor trustee.  I’ve sometimes felt I was re-inventing the wheel, one step at a time.  Successful in my journey, working my way ever upwards, but mindful of potential problems.  And tonight?  I don’t know.  I’ve never killed anyone with my own hands while awake.  Why did I in my sleep?  Was I finally owning my decision not to argue with Mom when she declined medical intervention last summer?  But, if that’s true, why the “thank you?”  Could the final soldier I killed in my dream have been my mother, grateful to be at rest?

     One thing is for sure.  Dreams are open to interpretation.   Actually, two things are for sure.  There’s a reason I don’t usually share my dreams.  Don’t tell those men from the asylum — the ones who bring the fitted jacket– about this.  OK?



  1. Sorry I missed the meeting, but I have to say that I don’t dream and I have ‘no’ idea what that means in terms of my writing! From your post, it looks as if you dream a lot, and I have a writer friend who has a sign over her bed (and she’s not kidding): Writer at Work.

    Must means something!


    Comment by Aline — April 10, 2011 @ 1:05 pm | Reply

  2. Wow!!
    Great post. Lots to think about, and very dramatic, especially from the innocence of a passive child’s perspective to the active aggression of an adult! You might dig up more meaning as time goes by, since you’ve written down the dreams’ content, and let your brain work out the clues even more clearly.


    Comment by Ann Damaschino — April 10, 2011 @ 2:16 pm | Reply

  3. Amazing, Joanne! You’ve articulated the craziness of dreams. Great job at remembering them so well. I also find that I awake with some very clear ideas for manuscripts. I have even “written” some things in my waking time and try to capture it immediately before it goes away.

    Comment by Chris Pedersen — April 10, 2011 @ 7:45 pm | Reply

  4. No wonder we wake up as tired as when we went to sleep! I like Aline’s reference to her friend’s sign, “Writer at Work.” Last July, a night’s dreaming produced a full blown narrative arc for the novel I have been working on since. Everything but the title (The Saint of Florenville: A Love Story)came wrapped in a nice package that I have spent the last 8 or 9 months writing and revising.

    Comment by Alfred J. Garrotto — April 11, 2011 @ 11:01 am | Reply

  5. I always dream=sometimes a complete story in the first moments of closing my eyes. Once when I had a fever I found myself on the edge of a bog surrounded by prehistoric animals. I woke up terrified but when I realized it was a very detailed and graphic nightmare I put myself right back into it with orders to take careful note of everything. I haven’t used it yet but at least I feel I’ve been there. If dreams count for “write what you know” I’ve got a heck of a lot of data!

    Comment by Jil Plummer — April 12, 2011 @ 10:30 am | Reply

  6. Fascinating dreams! And so well described: vivid imagery, clear narrative. I enjoyed them. Want to go take a nap and enjoy a few of my own.

    Comment by Jean G — April 22, 2011 @ 11:58 am | Reply

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