My son Ray is my book finder. He has the most eclectic taste and is more widely read than anyone else I know. On my visit to see him and the family, one of the several books that make it into my suitcase is Writers Dreaming by Naomi Epel. While she was working as a literary escort and a dream facilitator she interviewed 26 writers on the importance of dreams in both their writing and their lives. As I pick up this slim ten-year-old volume I have no idea it will move me so profoundly.
Listed alphabetically, I start with Isabel Allende and am immediately hooked. I cut my teeth on The House of Spirits in my “magical realism” period. Right away she clarifies my nebulous views on dreams.
“It’s as if one has a storage room where you have information that you can’t reach when you’re awake…In that dreamy state, somehow you can reach in the darkness and find something like a treasure that is hidden in this storage room…a smell, color, sight, sound…from your awakened state…and it yours, a kind of collective memory.”
I’ve always had a vivid surreal dream life and I’ve written down the most significant, prophetic, weird ones – whatever word you want to use – because they begged to be remembered.
Then, several paragraphs later, in a few gorgeously succinct words, she clarifies my hazy concept of existence. “I think that we are all particles of some sort of universal spirit. If we can get over this idea of our little bodies, our little selfishness and greed, this idea that we are something individual, just forget about it and tune into the wonderful, peaceful idea that we are just part of something that is there and whole and is part of your grandson and part of the flowers and part of everything…that wholeness.”
Of course Allende, as a Latin American, was born to be magical, and I was born to be a scientific North American. I was taught to solve all problems using the scientific method. Ray tells me this same idea can be explained by the science of quantum physics and that makes me feel even better. I don’t have to believe in God, or anti-God. I believe in a Life Force, a spark of energy that begins somewhere and will continue on when my old dead bones or ashes return to the earth, air or water to help something else to grow in my place. Two “Aha” moments one after the other. Wow, am I enjoying this book!
My very pragmatic logical view of life, including the study and teaching of science has been made richer by an active and diverse dream life, but in the last few years those dreams have eluded me. Thinking that the age of short-term memory loss also includes losing that utterly important other reality – my dream life – I’ve just about given up hope of getting it back, even though my son has been telling me I could retrieve my lost dreams by concentrating on remembering them.
I don’t actually have any success until reading Writer’s Dreaming. Slowly, day by day, little bits of dreams snag in my memory upon awakening. I roll them around, savor their sweetness before arising – colors, feelings, sights, sounds. Lucidity returns. I can control some of them or at least recognize that they’re dreams if they become frightening. I return to writing the evocative ones down.
These writers are not only reconnecting me with my dreams, but providing me insight into the creative process. I’m breaking through my writer’s block. I pay closer attention to my favorites: Isabel Allende, Maya Angelou, Gloria Naylor, Stephen King, Maurice Sendak. But some of the most dog-eared pages come from those I haven’t read who are now on my list: Clive Barker, Leonard Michaels, Allan Gurganus.
Though ten years old, thank you Naomi Epel, for this gift of Writers Dreaming, Better late than never, and just in time to help me finish my own first book, Faultlines, a series of short stories about taking risks. According to Herman Melville, being a writer is akin to being a diver. There are dreadful risks when diving deep into the psyche, but if you don’t dive you discover nothing about yourself. May we dream on, read on and write on!