“I’ve kept a diary, writing in it virtually every day, since 1976; beginning on November 30, 2012, I started keeping instead a series of ‘Trance Notebooks,’ as a way to transform my journal into a higher pitch of ceremony, an occasion for intensified, unmoored consciousness. Now I’m distilling the results into a sequence of assemblages….”
I love Wayne Koestenbaum, and I love the idea of transforming the records one has kept of one’s life into something larger, stranger, full of new possibilities, a way to lead multiple existences.
I have piles and piles of journals I have kept since 1980, and I want to do something inventive with them. I had an idea that I would pick a representative sentence or two from each year and then throw all the journals away. I don’t think I have summoned the courage to do this yet, although I like the idea of only a few words like gossamer threads connecting me to the blurred past.
This morning, I began sorting through this random pile of thrift store ledgers, Barnes & Noble blank books, etc.
The volumes in which I recorded my dreams are even more difficult to part with than the books that contain transcriptions of my waking life.
Here’s a shark dream from 1999:
Walking down a crowded private beach in Malibu with a guy I didn’t really know, I spotted a dead whale in the shallow water.
Though the size of a sperm whale, the flesh was black and white like an Orca.
I pointed and announced the obvious.
“Oh, look! A beached whale.”
We waded out into the shallows to take a closer look. Up close, we discovered that although the body of the whale was real, the insides had been hollowed out and converted into a research station.
“Why doesn’t it smell?” I asked.
My friend ran his hand over the whale. “It appears to be covered in some kind of shellac.”
The whale rocked a little. “A great white is feeding on the underside,” he said.
No sooner had he made this observation, than the great white shark rose from the shallows and turned into a man.
At that moment in the dream, I recalled another dream I’d had in high school in which a dolphin sped from the open sea into the tidal break where he turned into a gorgeous Greek God type—sleek and chiseled.
However, this shark-man was no Adonis, but a grinning, buck-toothed flower child with long hair, a headband with a daisy stuck in it, and a frock over his pants—basically a hippie from central casting.
We became friends.
I wondered if his sudden transformation was a kind of omen, if it meant that other sharks might come.
Sometimes sitting next to him in the research station inside the whale’s body, I’d notice from the corner of my eye that his head had turned back into a shark’s head with grinning, crooked teeth.
Eventually, my companion and I had to leave the beach, return to our inland lives, and my hippie changeling slipped back into the water and returned to his shark form as my dolphin-man had done so many years ago.
But my nameless companion and I never forgot the shark-man. In the company of friends, in the post-dinner warmth of a kitchen, as one of us dried the dishes the other might tell the story. There was always laughter, always disbelief, but we’d quietly assert the reality of what we’d seen.
“No,” we’d say. “He was real. Right out of the water. A shark, then a man, then a shark again.”
There is probably an ancient story somewhere that explains the pull of original form, the inability of the animal spirit to stay in the human body for a prolonged period of time. And that’s why I love dreaming. We get to participate in stories beyond the bounds of our memory, stories that are somehow also our birthright, our very nature. We know them without understanding them. We filter myths through weird pop culture images.
Is it any wonder during this prolonged drought of dreams, that I feel somehow less human, less animal, less alive?