One of the first things a creative writing instructor will advise is to keep a journal and pen on your nightstand, so that when you awake in the morning, you can record any interesting dreams—the imaginative fuel that can kindle a story or poem. I’m a lazy morning person—reluctant to emerge from slumber and slow to light the day’s fire, so I’ve done this on fewer occasions than I care to admit. It’s a shame, because I have amassed a prolific catalog of dreams (most dissipated into an irretrievable haze) that are nothing short of cinematic: almost always in color, with vivid actions and characters, and a discernible narrative arc. Last night I had such a dream, and was so in awe of its qualities that I picked up my iPad and recorded all I could remember in my Evernote APP.
A bit of prologue for those who haven’t followed my blog lately. On November 10 last year, I took a nasty fall and fractured my left foot. As I write this, it’s January 19 and I remain in a plaster cast, unable to walk. Since the accident, I’ve had several dreams in which I’m walking, but last night’s was so detailed and astonishing that I’m going to recount it here. This is nearly verbatim as I recorded it when I awoke this morning.
Last night, another dream where I was walking.
I was taking a class at Oberlin, and for one of our assignments we had to look at a catalog of album covers, pick one, and record the words on the cover, singing in the manner of the artist. I chose an album by Linda Ronstadt. I practiced at home, home being my mother’s house. She’s been dead for 14 years. I sounded really great. Next, I had to decide what I would wear for the recording. I looked through the closet in my old bedroom at my mother’s house, and pulled out a skirt that I actually own—a pretty, ankle-length, multicolored gypsy-looking skirt I purchased years ago from the Soft Surroundings catalog. I picked another skirt from the closet, one I didn’t recognize, and held both up so my mother could choose which one she thought would be best for the recording. She selected my favorite skirt, and this pleased me. I then rummaged around in the bottom of my closet to find shoes I could wear that would be safe and comfortable, but still look nice for the recording. I chose some flat, strappy sandals in black—again, a pair I actually own. Perfect. My hair looked great, too—I was wearing it kind of mid-length but layered, the way Linda Ronstadt once wore hers. I looked exactly the way I wanted to look.
Unfortunately, I had taken so long choosing my wardrobe and getting ready that I didn’t notice class was about to start in just a few minutes. In typical dream-logic fashion, I decided to walk the 15 miles to Oberlin. I looked down, and could see my feet moving, one foot in front of the other, in my pretty sandals, working just the way feet are supposed to work. I wisely kept off any uneven grass so I wouldn’t fall again, sticking to the streets and sidewalks.
I finally reached the King Building on campus, where my class was going to record the album covers, and where I actually did meet for most of my classes when I was a student. For some reason that defies even dream logic, I kept walking in a loop around the building—perhaps it was the thrill of walking that kept me going. Finally I decided it was time to enter the building and go to class.
Since I was so late, the halls were nearly empty. And, echoing a recurring dream of mine, I couldn’t figure out which was the correct staircase to get me to my room. After some trial and error, I ended up on the right floor, but a granite barricade blocked the glass doors leading to the hallway I needed to access. I saw a couple of students, and asked if they could help me move the barricade.
One of them questioned me. “Do you have a hall pass?”
“I don’t believe in hall passes,” I said, struggling—successfully—to move the barricade, then squeezing myself through the glass doors.
I made it to the room. The instructor wasn’t there, but recording equipment, unopened and still in its black cases, was on the floor in the front of the room. My classmates sat in a couple of rows towards the back.
I realized that I had left the house without my purse, or any of the things I normally carry with me. All I had in my hand was a pair of black gloves, which I decided would be a perfect addition to my costume.
I also realized that I didn’t give much thought to the top I’d wear with the skirt. I had slipped on a black sleeveless tank, something I’d normally hesitate wearing because I’m self-conscious about my arms. To my surprise, when I looked down, the top looked flattering; apparently hoisting myself up and down the stairs on my bottom, since I can’t walk, had left my arms looking toned. (But let’s not get carried away. They still weren’t Michelle Obama arms.)
You know how they say that at the point in a dream where you die you wake up? I opened my mouth, and that’s when the dream ended. But I woke up singing “Best of my Love,” an old Eagles song. As far as Google and I can tell, Linda Ronstadt never recorded a cover of this, although who’s to say she never sang it? Anyone familiar with her complete discography is invited to correct me if I’m wrong on this.
Here are the themes of my dream as I see them: Album covers and song covers. Singing. Walking. Dressing and appearance. Needing to meet an assignment on deadline. Being blocked, but successfully freeing myself on my own.
Here’s how I interpret the dream. I’m currently working on a full-length book project, which is why I haven’t blogged quite as regularly as I do. For the past week I’ve felt blocked. Writers will understand this: You get so far along in a manuscript, leave it for even a day too long, and find it difficult to clamber back into the world you’ve created. The way I see the dream, I’m hindered in my writing by my fascination with walking after not walking for nearly three months, and by my preoccupation with outward appearances, making me late for an important class. Nevertheless, I persevere and achieve my objective. In the dream, it’s to sing. In real life, it’s to write, which is, let’s face it, a kind of singing.
Why Linda Ronstandt? Well, she’s always been one of my favorite singers, and she’s from my era. Maybe it’s because we share the same coloring. Or maybe it’s because I’ve been reading about her recently released memoir, Simple Dreams, which I’ve added to my wishlist. Ronstadt has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, and she’ll eventually be facing mobility issues of her own. Perhaps most heartbreaking of all is the fact that she can no longer sing. Thank God we have her recordings, but how devastating it must be for her, losing such an enormous, beautiful gift! My inability to walk is temporary. Her inability to sing is permanent.
Before I stop playing the role of Jung in this little game of pop psychology, I want to explore one more thing. Why was “Best of my Love” the song I was supposed to sing in my dream?
I see two meanings here.
First, in order to write you have to give it your all, the best of yourself. Your best self, powered by your love of what you do.
Second, my husband has taken on nearly every household duty since my injury: marketing, errands, cooking, laundry, and seeing that I’m fed and cared for. I get the best of his love every day. (I always have, but these are trying times, and he still comes up loving me.)
For my part, I hope he gets the best of my love, although my physical challenges right now limit the small, domestic actions I perform that show him how much I love him. And then there’s this: Since I’ve been forced to be still for so many weeks, I’ve focused far more on my writing than I have in years. Is there a danger in giving writing the best of my love, when what I want is to give it to him?
I think my dream is telling me that one shouldn’t have to exclude the other. I can give the best of my love to my craft, and to my life partner. It’s all about finding the right balance.
Which, if you think about it, is what’s required in walking.