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A Writer's Dreams

I dreamt I was walking up a long stone staircase behind my mother and her small dog. She was wearing a taupe silk suit that matched her permed gray hair and the dog’s fur. Someone said, “She likes dogs.” I knew that was correct, but it wasn’t me that said it. I remained silent.

Slowly, I followed my mother up the stairs. She did not know I was there because I had not as yet been born.

I awoke with a sentence in my head: “We walk behind our mothers.” That sentence became the first sentence in an email letter I wrote to a friend about being both a daughter and a mother. And now it is here, in this blog post.

Why do I record my dreams? The unconscious mind surfaces in dream stories, a great gift to artists and writers if we can interpret and use the emotional information, sensation and epiphanies gleaned from them.

It was a therapist who first suggested I record my dreams. I would bring my journal to our sessions and read my dream stories aloud. The therapist would comment and I would reflect on her comments orally and then, later, in my journal. After a while, recording and interpreting my dreams became a habit and a writer’s ritual, one I look forward to every morning as I open my journal. If I can’t remember a dream, I often feel uneasy. Then, as I start to work, the dreams often come back to me.

Over the years, I’ve written fiction, nonfiction, poems and screen treatments out of my dreams. I get ideas as I am sleeping, in fact, and resolve knots in my life and my work. After a visit to MOMA to see “Women and Abstraction,” I couldn’t figure out why the exhibition felt so strange to me. I had a dream about it that night and there it was: these women painters had been appendages of men until just recently, their work hadn’t been taken seriously, it had been stored in the archives of the museum until just now rather than integrated into the “abstraction” galleries, and it was now “segregated” in a special exhibition. I woke up with all these thoughts in my head, closer to an essay than a dream, and I was fuming. Will I write a longer, more considered article on the subject? Possibly.  Read More 
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I’ve been dreaming in threes, a trilogy of dreams every night for the past month or so. Dream 1 is a wishful dream, something I need or covet. Dream 2 is an anxiety dream that threatens my very being. Dream 3 is quotidian, a resolution of disparate destabilizing forces during which daily routines are re-established: chopping mushrooms for an omelet, scouring the tub, adding an item to my shopping list. After Dream 3, I open my eyes. The play of geometric shapes on the ceiling, reflections of the cityscape through the blinds, has vanished. It is morning. Sentences surface as I awake to light. I reach for my journal hoping to collect the dreams without being disturbed by my husband’s stirring. He may already be in the kitchen preparing coffee. I shut out the sound and all thoughts of obligations awaiting me. I begin to write.

Dreams are both the raw material for stories and information about my psychic and everyday life. It is part of my writing routine to record them whenever they are remembered, which can be rare, or often. I prefer to begin my day with a dream story in my head and sentences that recall the dream. I aim for precision as I evoke the sensation of the dream’s morphing elusive shape. This is a pleasurable discipline.

I know that many people do not believe that the unconscious exists, but I do. What else is a dream but evidence of it?

In her new memoir, “M Train,” Patti Smith says, “I lived in my own book.” A continuation of that thought might be: I lived in my own dream, or my book is my dream, or my dream became my book.  Read More 
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