“Dreams are the finest entertainment known…and given rag-cheap—-” Robert Graves
I really need to re-learn the art of dreaming. The nights are too often voids, although sometimes I do wake up remembering an odd phrase or a fragment of a practical plan. I am grateful for these scraps like an amnesiac indebted to a kind stranger with a newspaper clipping that documents the fateful car crash, the scandal, the glorious career as a concert pianist–the world before forgetting. When I wake up, I want some talisman, some proof that I’ve traveled there and come back–wherever there is.
When I do remember a dream, it seems the plots are simpler—even if the dreams are strange. Here is a simple one:
I am walking down a road. I find a gray nest. I understand immediately what this means. I pick up the nest. I keep walking into the end of the dream.
But there was a golden age of dreaming–several golden ages in fact. One such age was a three-year period during graduate school. I read so much, and such an incredible variety of texts, that my dreams were ready-made stories or poems, or commentaries. I collected old oversized ledgers from antique stores all over the Northeast. I filled them with dreams. Nature dreams. Celebrity dreams. Once or twice I believe I crossed into the land of the dead. Nothing grand. Nothing scary. But a small empty house with a sliding glass door next to a dreamy, blurry wetland lit with fireflies. One by one the cats I’d lost showed up, rubbing against doorways, weaving around my legs.
Dreams recurred like obscure TV shows on late night snowy channels. Small mountain towns with haunted houses. I knew the roads that I had to take to get there. I welcomed the worn and familiar plots, the history behind the room with the four poster bed.
And of course, I dreamed of sharks. So many dark seas! So many Freudian wish fulfillments–seeing a dorsal fin rise just beyond the tidal line. A great white eyeing me with a steadiness too familiar to be pure malice.
I try to go back there. Sometimes reading just before bed does the trick. If I read Ted Hughes’ “Tales from Ovid,” I dream weird, frantic things an anthropologist’s home movie–a man dressed like a bird dancing and flapping his arm wings. If I read prose, I emerge from eight hours of unconsciousness with a vague armature of a narrative that quickly dissolves in the daylight.
Maybe a couple times a year, I will have a dream that is more than a dream. These dreams are vivid. They are strange and familiar. I remember them with great fidelity to detail. But to write more about these dreams might jinx them, prevent the capricious dream gods from ever sending me another.
Sleep without clothes. Abstain from the internet. Eat spicy food. Write down whatever fragments no matter how ephemeral, any residual impressions. What else can I do to encourage dreaming? I cannot lose my double life. There is something there that keeps me sane. Its chaos and jagged images, feel like the restoration of an essential order. Have I grown too old? Is my waking life too dull? What have I done to lose that elusive passport?
Maybe it’s time to pull out the old ledgers & read the old dreams. Maybe the clues are there, maybe I can find some sort of map.