O is for Oneirology

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When I lay down to take a little nap before dinner, I still hadn’t yet decided what to write for today’s “O” post.

I slept for about an hour and a half, seemingly all of which was consumed with dreams.  Weird ones.

I rarely remember my dreams, so I immediately jotted down a few keywords and brief phrases so I wouldn’t forget (my short-term memory not being in even the same solar system as my long-term memory), and then I sat down and fleshed out everything I could remember.  Here’s the gist:

I was at a family reunion, but I didn’t know who most of the people were.  My cousin Susan was there, and my cousin Nancy and tons of other people I did know, but I also knew that even the ones I didn’t know were all family too.  I also didn’t recognize the house, which was huge and very opulent and dark.  I was in a big room furnished with several caskets and cribs, and it was hard to tell which was which.  They were all upholstered in maroon and looked very comfortable.

Two women I didn’t know were standing in a corner near a big roll-top desk, and one of them  was holding a tiny baby—a newborn in a yellow sleep-and-play suit.  I asked if I could hold him, and the woman said (not unkindly), “It’s a her, and no, it’s not a baby, it’s my mother.”  She explained that the “baby” had some kind of degenerative disease, like Alzheimer’s, except it didn’t just affect her mind, but her whole body.  That was why she was so tiny.

The baby’s head was deformed—huge in the back, tiny in the front—and she had only one eye; the other was just a blank, overgrown socket.  She also looked terribly  jaundiced.  I asked the woman if her mother (the baby) knew who she (the daughter) was—if the “baby” knew who anyone was—and she said, “no, there’s no recognition—I just tend to her needs.”

Something in the dream shifted, and I knew the reason I was there was that Tom and I were visiting someone .  My kids were all there, and we were all going to go to the beach—and I really wanted to go to the beach—but somehow I fell asleep, and when I woke up, nobody was around.  They had gone without me and I was all alone in this room full of caskets and cribs.

I found myself wandering around the house looking for someone.  Anyone.

In one room, I found someone on a bed, all covered up, crying.  I reached out a hand to try to comfort the person on the bed, and it turned out to be my mom.  She was dressed up for the family party in a black, blue, and white patterned blouse that she really did used to have, and we held hands and I asked what happened.  She said she and Dee (my aunt, her younger sister and best friend who in real life predeceased her by five years) had gotten into a terrible argument.

I didn’t question that Dee might have been alive at this party, even though I hadn’t seen her.  My mom covered herself back up and I left the room.

Then I was in a hallway, and as I passed by another open door, I saw that my mom was crying on the couch in that room.  I thought she had switched rooms because she wanted to be alone, so I kept walking—but then I passed another door and she was in that one, too, still crying, but this time I heard her say, “Dee, Dee,” and I realized that Dee was dead and my mom knew she was dead.

Then Tom was there again, back from the beach, and I was wearing two hats—a cloth bucket hat, yellow on the inside and white on the outside, with a straw wide-brimmed cowboy-type hat over it—and Tom wanted to wear one of them and I couldn’t decide which one to give him.  I took off the straw hat, since it was on top, but it was a struggle to separate them, and then I was left wearing only the bucket hat.  I was very uncomfortable (because a bucket hat really isn’t “me”) and it was also blinding (because it had no visor) and I didn’t like giving up the other hat.  I remember wondering why it was so suddenly bright, because the house had been so dark.  Where was I now?

And then I woke up.

One of my first thoughts upon waking up—aside from “whoa, that was weird”—was that I still didn’t have an “O” post, and I wondered if there might possibly be something about this dream that might be appropriate.

Of course.  Yes.  It was all about a family reunion at which I didn’t know most of the family members.  Sounds a lot like genealogy, right?  And after all, genealogy is the inspiration for my WIP, even though it’s fiction.

But nothing in the dream starts with O.  Nothing about dream analysis starts with O.

Or does it?  I started googling.

And you already know the answer:  The study of dreams is called Oneirology.

Talk about luck!

Do you remember your dreams?  Do they ever provide fodder for your writing?

 

WIP: Out of My Mind(s)

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I had a professor in college who was amazed that it was possible for Wallace Stevens, arguably one of the best American poets of the twentieth century, to have worked for an insurance company by day.  “An insurance company!  Probably the most unimaginative, un-poetic career on the planet!”

(We can split hairs here if we choose, since Stevens was actually an attorney who eventually wound up as vice president of The Hartford, but the point is well taken.  No offense meant to anyone who actually works for an insurance company, though, since I know firsthand that such jobs can be fascinating.)

Nevertheless.

Regardless of what he did for a living, Wallace Stevens the poet was fascinated with the workings of the imagination.  In “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” he writes,

I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.  (lines 4-6)

I’m not going to get into an analysis of the poem, but I thought of those lines tonight as I was pondering the differences between academic writing and creative writing, and the two minds that produce them.  A fellow writer, to whom I had jotted a note saying her work ethic and word-count successes had inspired me, wrote back and said, “You’re a writing teacher!  I bow to you!”

I got a giggle out of that.  Please . . please . . don’t bow to me.  I don’t deserve it.

I’m not sure what Stevens was actually referring to with his “three minds” –and I’m not going to get into Freudian theory or Taoist possibilities here—but I am going to guess, simply because he was a writer, that I know what two of them were, because writers in general are of two minds:  the “Me” and the “Muse.”

That is to say, the mind of the conscious writer (aka one’s “Me,” the Left Brain, the logical side, driven by one’s Inner Editor) and the mind of the subconscious writer (aka one’s Muse, the Right Brain, the creative side, driven—one hopes, anyway—by one’s imagination).

Stevens may have been an insurance agent (or a lawyer or a vice president or whatever) during his working hours, but outside of work, he was a poet.  And his fascination with the imagination—where ideas come from—is something that turns up in a lot of his work.

In “Study of Two Pears,” he was frustrated because no matter how he tried to metaphorize them, they stubbornly remained pears:

     They are not viols,

     Nudes or bottles.

     They resemble nothing else.  (lines 1-3)

I would argue that when he wrote that poem, his Me was in control.  But when he wrote (the much later) “Someone Puts a Pineapple Together,” his Muse could barely be contained:

     These lozenges are nailed-up lattices.

     The owl sits humped.  It has a hundred eyes.

The title tells the story:  He didn’t even know who was writing it.  That’s how the Muse works.

I understand that.

My “Me” is a well-organized sort of person, at least where her work ethic is concerned.  For instance, she likes to have all her ducks neatly in a row before the semester begins.  I could tell you, right this second, precisely what my classes will be doing on any random day you pick during the coming fall semester.  November 6th?  Yep, it’s already planned.

But that’s work.  And it works fine for academic writing as well, where one must be linear and methodical.

In contrast, as a creative writer, I’m a pantser, which means I tend to write by the seat of my pants, i.e. with a minimum of planning.  This is because my creative writing—my fiction—is driven by, and on good days is mostly written by, my Muse, and my Muse does.  Not.  Like.  Planning.

Anything.

When I go back and read material I wrote yesterday, I’ll be able to tell you, with no trouble at all, whether my Muse was at work, or my Me.  My Me tends to be pedantic and detail-oriented.  My Me insists on explaining things, and she’s also overly fond of Telling, rather than Showing.  She Tells every single boring detail she can think of.  A character pours a cup of coffee, puts the pot back where it belongs, walks to the door, turns the knob, opens it, steps outside, closes it . . . You get the idea.

Yawn.

My Muse, on the other hand, leaps all over the place like a dragonfly or a hummingbird.  Zip, zip, zip.  When she’s off and running, it’s all my fingers can do to keep up.  Stories go in directions I’d never thought of before, much less planned.  Characters take on lives of their own.

Trouble is, she isn’t all that reliable at showing up for work.

One of my toughest jobs as a writer is to learn to get in contact with my Muse, to convince her that when I place my fingers on the keyboard, that’s a cue for her to show up and get down to business.  But this week, for instance, she’s been off zipping around somewhere else and has barely stopped by even to say hello.

I’ve been told that it’s only after you get the first draft down that you should let your Me step in and do any editing.  I’m just now beginning to understand the reasoning behind that rule.  There are two very different minds at work.  The Muse gets the draft down.  It’s spotty and flawed and it makes my Inner Editor cringe.  But she’ll get her turn too.

Eventually.

Assuming I don’t lose my mind.

Evelyne Holingue

Chronicles, Stories & Books by a French-American Writer

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