Thursday, April 30, 2009

Writers Dreaming

This book is every bit as unusual as you might imagine writers' minds to be. I almost never remember my dreams, and I hardly ever have violent or scary dreams. I was surprised to find the writers Naomi Epel interviewed have a different dreaming experience.

Perhaps I should have known I was in for an adventure when Epel explained the genesis of the book came during her work as a literary escort in the San Francisco. Before you jump to the wrong conclusions, her job is to make sure that visiting authors arrive at their book promotion appointments relaxed and on time. (In my world these two concepts are mutually exclusive, but that's another post.) She learned that asking writers about their dreams made for great conversation during the drive, not to mention being a natural segue into her other jobs as a dream facilitator, writer, and weekly radio program host. Quite a collection of occupational hats, there!

Some notable authors are included--Amy Tan, Maya Angelou, Elmore Leonard, Stephen King, John Barth--and also a number you may never have heard of. The text reproduces the interview transcripts more or less verbatim, but without the questions. This makes for some rather rambling paragraphs and jarring changes of subject, but interesting reading. Almost too interesting. The weirdness and violence in some of the dreams were quite unsettling. Unsettling enough for me to skip the Stephen King section completely. I didn't even want to go there.

This definitely left me with questions to ponder. Maybe these authors are telling the absolute truth about their dreams. Maybe they are shading and enhancing the truth because they enjoy creating and exploiting the literary persona. Maybe they are amazingly more spontaneous and exciting storytellers than the average person. Maybe they are a full step outside the norm. Maybe I'm the one who is outside the norm. What is normal for dreaming, anyway, when your subconscious runs loose?

Meanwhile, mixed in with all this are some fascinating insights into the creative process and the artist's approach. When you look through the dream window, you find plenty of insight, too.


Bharati Mukherjee: As I'm getting towards the end of a story, the ending that, during my waking hours, I think will happen is sometimes subverted or obliterated by the dream. It happens just as I'm getting ready to write that scene. [In "Buried Lives" in The Middleman] I thought the man, an illegal alien, was going to drown as he tries to make a dash, by boat, into Nova Scotia. But the character refused to get on the boat. He found himself a girlfriend in Germany who was willing to marry him and he said "Sorry Mukherjee, I want a happy life for myself" and just didn't get on the boat.

Isabel Allende: In the longest nightmare, which has been with me all my life, I dream of a very disorganized and messy house . . . furniture, old stuff, dust, darkness, unexplored corners. . . . [This new man] invited me to his house for dinner. When I reached his house I realized that his house was the nightmare that I had always had. The messy house. You can't imagine the mess! It was just awful. I couldn't get out of the car because there was so much dog shit in the garage. I couldn't open the door. Inside, there were clothes and toys. There had been a fire on Christmas and the furniture, what there was of it, was burned. There was a broken window. It was awful. And so when finally he took me back to the hotel that night I thought, Oh my God, I hope I will never ever in my life find myself again in a place like that. You see how life is? A week later I was living with him in that mess!

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