Thursday, April 7, 2011

In Dreams

       A candy-colored clown they call the sandman, tiptoes to my room every night.

      He sprinkles colored stardust and he whispers “Go to sleep, everything is alright
      Roy Orbison (1936-1988)

We rode in the old Chevy pickup again last night, you and I. It had been a while, and reminded me of the first time. You drove then, I recall, because I had strained my back and didn’t want to wrestle with that big old steering wheel , and we stopped to pee behind some trees at a little country church a quarter mile off the highway.

I dreamed about my dad last night, for the first time in a perhaps a year or more. The dreams were more frequent in the year after he died. The one I remember best (the Pink Floyd dream, I call it) came to me several months after his death. Oddly enough, I have absolutely no recall of the visual elements of the dream. I could hear the acoustic guitar riff at the beginning of the song and then the opening words, “So. So you think you can tell heaven from hell…” and it was like he was speaking these lines to me over the recording. I woke up, and the song’s title reverberated through my mind: Wish You Were Here. Was he inviting me to heaven? I had been out of church for years, having gotten mad at God, and had no thought of returning. I couldn’t remember the last time he had broached the subject. I had made it plain that this was not a matter I wished to discuss. The dream haunted me.

My psychology professor told us that we dream every night and that if we make a conscious effort, we can remember those dreams. She had us keep a dream journal for a week. Amazingly, I remembered four or five of the dreams quite vividly. What did they mean? She didn’t know. It seems that the dark subterranean recesses of the human mind are uncharted territory. That’s the thing about dreams. Even the people who study them admit they haven’t a clue what they mean.

So we have these dreams and no one knows the purpose or meaning of them. Some themes seem to be common. Flight (actual or figurative) is one. A trapped, helpless feeling is another. There may be some oppressive person or presence causing a feeling of dread. Freud supposed that dreams are the outward manifestation of some masked traumatic event from one’s childhood.

        Have the lambs stopped screaming yet, Clarice? –Thomas Harris.

Is writing a waking dream? I read somewhere once that “Writing is a struggle against silence.” My first response to this statement was, “How pretentious!” Then I smiled to myself and thought that, with two women in the house, writing at our place is a struggle for silence. A struggle for silence. That phrase kept returning. Do we write to silence whatever it is in our heads that compels us to write?

When you’re in the writing groove; when the thoughts are really rolling and the words are flowing off the end of your pen or the tips of your fingers like blood from a freshly opened vein; it’s like you’re channeling the deepest, innermost depths of your being. Like a dream. Except you’re putting it all on paper. And if you don’t get it down at the exact precise moment of revelation, it’s lost; gone forever except for tantalizing glimpses and snatches. Just like a dream.

        In dreams I walk with you. In dreams I talk with you. –Roy Orbison.

What is being communicated when we dream? Who or what are we communicating with? Are we communicating with our memories when we dream? Not just with people, but with events long gone and half-forgotten? Do we escape the pressures (there’s always pressure) of day-to-day living to relive better times (as we recall them) in fragmented fashion? In my psychology dream journal, I recorded a vivid dream in which I was walking down a country lane on a Sunday morning, headed toward church. Petty’s Chapel Church on the Wire Road in Lee County, Arkansas (where I attended church as a young boy). Small clouds of dust rose around my feet as I walked alongside a wooden flatbed trailer being pulled by a small tractor. On the trailer were arranged several wooden cane-bottom chairs (from somewhere else in my childhood). Beside me walked my daughter, aged perhaps seven or eight (although she was twenty at the time of the dream). At my other hand walked my dear friend, Richard Smith. I sensed we were both younger than we actually were in reality (he in his sixties, I in my fifties). What was the conversation? There seems to have been earnest discussion (as Richard and I often have), but about what I have no idea. What was Sandy doing there? Simply walking beside me, holding my hand, though the other children in the dream, strangely silent, were seated in the chairs on the trailer. I remember her blond hair shining in the early morning sun that filtered through the trees lining the road.

        In dreams you’re mine, all of the time. We’re together in dreams. –Roy Orbison

When I wrote "The Photograph," I took two separate items: a picture, and an incident from his childhood related to me by my dad. As I linked these together in my imagination and on the page, it was as though my subconscious surfaced and I began to write; not just what I knew or what I had been told, but things that I sensed and understood innately about this man who loved me and my sisters and my brother.

I’d like to say “hi” to my mom sitting at home listening, and to my daddy, sitting on the fifty yard-line in heaven. –Rodney Tolar, color commentator-KFFA radio, at the Barton Bears opening home game. Fall 1998.

“Your muffler is getting a hole in it,” you said. You were always giving me automotive advice. Sometimes I took and used it, other times not.

“Your door’s not closed good,” I replied. “Close it and you won’t hear the muffler.” Or I can turn the radio louder, I thought. Then I woke up.

       Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream? –Edgar Allan Poe

I used to think that it might be fun to record my dreams for a month, put them all together and try to arrange them in some kind of order. Then I could try to categorize them somehow and try to make some sense or find some continuity in them. I would put the ones about my dad in one section, the ones about flying (I dreamed a lot of these during my first marriage) in another and so on.

We write what comes to us. Just as our thought life (subconscious or otherwise) becomes our dream life, so our thought life fuels our writing. We always hear, “Write what you know!” So what do you know? What do you think about, meditate on, dwell on? Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Just as dreams can reveal what is in our heart of hearts, the deep subconscious, so the heart, when tapped by the writer, can reveal wonderful things, awful things, things that can break the reader’s own heart, convulse him with laughter or terrify her into sleeplessness.

The real reward from writing might be found in what we learn about ourselves. As when we contemplate our dreams, when we read over the scribbling we have poured out on the page, we look for truth. Is it always there? A better question might be, “How great is your propensity for self-deception?” If what you write is true and real, you will know it. What’s more, the reader will know it. Then you’ve shared it and that’s the best thing of all.

       And just before the dawn, I awake and find you gone.
       And I can’t help it, I can’t help it if I cry. -Roy Orbison

Every time I go to Arkansas, I pass that little country church sitting in the middle of a cotton field off Highway 79. I always think of you when I do.

           Only in dreams,
           in beautiful dreams. –Roy Orbison

And so our dreams go unexplained. There is no conclusion to dreaming. Old men nap in the sun and dream of past glories, real or imagined. A baby dreams at its mother’s breast and smiles. I write, and dream of a day when others will read these scratchings and make sense of them. Maybe some half-formed idea in the pages I write will germinate in the mind of one more talented, more inspired than I. Maybe then, maybe long years after I have passed from this world, I will have fulfilled my purpose. My dream.

1 comment:

  1. RB - I don't know what to say have a gift, and please keep using it. Emily, in her poetry, has a way of putting things that seems to reach inside my chest and squeeze something there. Your writing does the same thing. I know that is not a constructive/objective/critically-helpful comment - but what I'm saying is, just keep writing!