medieval map of ParisI once drew a map of my dream worlds.  It was fairly detailed and true to memory except in the guesswork on where – and if – the borders between dreamlands connected. My map was an attempt to bring the excitement and wonder of my vivid dream life into my real life. I had visited these places in my mind so many times, I knew where the rivers led, how to find the shop that sold the perfect bread, which mountain you could only reach by pulling your being into your core and floating, how to enter the castle, which road to avoid if you weren’t prepared for battle, and where the terrifying monsters lurked when you were ready. These were the cities, waters, and woods of my brain – places I’d returned to over and over.

I’d made a tragic error in drawing that map. Once I did, I stopped dreaming of those places. It’s like when you have a song stuck in your head and the way to stop the replay is to listen to the tune in its entirety – your brain figures out some puzzle and lets it go – a great solution when you need to purge “More than Words” from your brain after weeks of torture (Note: Why is it only songs I cannot stand that get stuck in my brain?!) Only, in this case, the song was a network of places I didn’t want to leave behind. Putting it to paper ended my nightly need to ruminate. 

Dreams are not straightforward. If you have ever tried to tell someone about your dream, you have likely realized in mid-telling that you cannot convey the emotional context of the dream by telling someone the plot. Their eyes glass over as you fumble around with the words.  Dreams are a sequence of individual symbols and motifs. They have fleeting logic that twists and turns when you try to grasp it. For example, my heart broke when I saw the yellow scarf. I sank back to the ground and was certain I would not be able to fly again. As I write these words, I can feel that heartbreak all over again, but I have no idea why the yellow scarf should have any impact on my ability to fly.

As a teen, I was enamored of dream dictionaries. I combed through them trying to find the deep, esoteric knowledge being conveyed by these dreams. Being raised in the era when people believed that they only used 10% of their brain, I suspected there was a trove of “Special” knowledge my tricky mind was hiding from me and hints of this wonder were leaking out in my dreams. Spoiler alert: there was no deep, esoteric knowledge to be had – and we are not using 10% of our brains while the other 90% perform miracles in the background. I quickly realized that a dream dictionary was nonsense. The yellow scarf might be a symbol of one person’s true love, and a sign of impending death for another. We each contain our own complex set of symbols, and there is no one guide to define all cultures and individuals. Perhaps that is why I tried to make my map. I realized that my dream world had meaning to me alone.

Just as the mysticism of dreams failed me, I encountered literary criticism. Or should I say Literary Criticism? Nothing can cure a romantic faster than a deep delve into Derrida, Sartre, Barthes, and Foucault. (Note: I promptly forgot whose theory is whose the moment I picked up my diploma.) Suddenly, not only is it impossible to communicate the symbols of your dreams, but it’s impossible to communicate at all! Humanity is engaged in a sad, ineffective system of misunderstanding each other  – to the degree that we function without ever transmitting an idea in its original form. Way to kill the magic old, white dudes. 

An English degree is a process of dissection. We drag the body of a poem or tale onto a metal table. We cut it open, weigh its parts, and drain its fluids. We disassemble it and determine how it works. We argue wild possibilities of how it came to be and what it means. All the while, we fail to realize that we should have been studying a living breathing story. (Excuse my sudden shift in metaphors here.) We are so keen to rip down the set and figure out how the magic trick was done that we forget to sit down and experience the show.

Yet, the magic persists. Here we are, dreaming and writing stories and moving ourselves and others to the depths and heights of our emotional capacity. I guess the lesson I took from the failed map, is that dreams, stories, and poems are magic. We can study craft, but when we try to quantify and commodify the magic, it stops working. Well, I could go into a long rumination on AI here, but this really is just a place for me to briefly contemplate life. So, go out there and enjoy some magic today. Be in the moment long enough not to spoil the magic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *