We writers will take inspiration in whatever form we can get it: Broken hearts, strangers on a bus, some gum stuck to our shoes. The big stuff like a break-up has an urgency in the intensity of emotion that needs to be expressed. It’s hard to miss, and we are propelled to the page to get it down.
The other, little stuff? It’s easy to miss. But sometimes there’s a flash of recognition that something important exists in what on the surface seems trivial or mundane. Then we can get a great poem or essay about brushing our teeth or watching an employee refill the drink dispensers (Listen to Ballad of Orange and Grape read by Muriel Rukeyeser on the subject. It is one of my favorites!)
But often we are so busy, we don’t see the significance in the little things. Our awareness is turned outward and we see only the literal meaning and the practical application of the experiences we have.
But, that’s okay. Because while we sleep, our brain takes our experiences, finds the significance, and translates them into metaphors in our dreams. That’s why dreams can be so bizarre and so haunting. The metaphors are powerful stuff that can bypass the objections of the rational and habitual mind. The political and philosophical message of “Ballad of Orange and Grape,” for instance, cannot be argued against because its argument is presented as a metaphoric narrative.
A story can’t be wrong. It just is. It’s the same with dreams. We get powerful motivating statements in our dreams expressed to us in narrative form.
I frequently have recurring or similar dreams — either the same theme or the same images or same feeling-state — until I am able to understand the message of my dream and integrate it into my waking life.
For me, this is pretty easy. All those years in school studying literature so that I could be a better writer not only led to a job as an English professor, they also made me fluent in metaphors. I can recognize and understand them easily.
But when I started to use my dreams as writing prompts, using the plots and images to inspire journal writing while I downed a couple mugfuls of black coffee, I began to wake up inside the dream. In some ways, this is tantamount to lucid dreaming while awake. It has the dreamy quality of twilight sleep but I’m aware and can make choices, such deciding to pursue the analogous connections that unlock the metaphors.
My most recent example was a dream I had about B, a woman who was presumed to be eaten by alligators. When I woke and began to write, alligators seemed weird. They seemed to be the metaphor, so I kept writing. B had faced “alligators” before as in “up to your ass in alligators” when she had been a student teacher. So I wrote that into my narrative and the story’s image opened in a new way. I understood B in a new and deeper way, too. (Important because I’ve known her my whole life and I love her though we have a remote, strained relationship.)
And that gum you stepped in? Well, on a literal level it’s nothing but a hassle. But don’t be surprised if, after you’ve scraped off the gunk and gone on with your day, at night your dreams find deeper meaning than just the fruity, pink, disgusting hassle.
I’m happy to share my process with you. I am leading a FREE Dream Writing Workshop (an hour long, give or take). Once you register, you can attend it live (Saturday, February 27 at 11 am PST) or watch it in replay when you have time. Or both.
I’ll give you tips to remember your dreams, discuss the best way to write “into” them (rather than about them), and we’ll do some writing together so that you leave the workshop with some new work.