After a lifetime of sleeping mostly in blackness like a dark TV screen, I decided last year that I wanted my mind to be active during the night. I had read that opening your mind to dreams would bring them on in a rush of color and light, and I wanted my brain to feel that activity, that animation, that could refresh my creative life. In the moments before sleep overcame me, I welcomed dreams with a mental whisper that gave them permission to light up my mind.
The sleeping kind of dreaming has been a dark experience at times, with images flashing deep in my brain all night long. Some mornings I wake up exhausted from talking to people, some of whom I know and others who are inventions of my tired mind. I pay visits to old dreamscapes, confounding mazes of rooms and scenarios that exist in a world of their own. One night, after listening to radio stories of police brutality, the dreams turned graphic, violent. Another night, while dreaming lucidly, I cleaned out my dream refrigerator and cooked for my friends. But my brain felt alive in a way that it hasn’t in years. My sense of self grew more cohesive, intentional, focused. I slept more deeply, entangled in those dreams, and fell asleep more quickly as they provided a solid place to land while falling asleep.
But there’s been the waking kind of dreaming, too, while scrolling through apartments on Craigslist. I stare at maps of Charlottesville, zooming in on purple dots and redecorating empty rooms in my mind. I envision the shared office space that I may need to rent, or create. I make note of storytelling classes I want to take and interviews I want to conduct to balance the solitude that comes with a writing life. I wonder what gym I will join and hope that I won’t end up paying what some friends call a “fat tax” – an unused gym membership that thins a bank account while a body remains unexercised. I sit quietly, thinking of what it would be like to live in a house that doesn’t let winter gusts in through thin windows, far away from the shouts and smashes of drunken herds of college students roaming after nightfall. I dream of what it will feel like to hold my written, edited, printed, and bound thesis, and what it will be like to cringe next year while flipping through this early attempt at scholarship. I hope that I will cringe. I want my writing to get better.
The nonstop cycle of reading and writing has started to give me brain fog, too. By the end of a long day, I choke out questions and answers while E and I cook dinner. My head feels fuzzy from the strain of too many ideas. Was it Don Delillo who wrote a novel about 9/11, or did he create a database disguised as a novel, and is that what we interface with? Are Clay Shirky and John Unsworth friends or sworn enemies? And how many times do I need to study OHCO before remembering what the acronym stands for? (It stands for Ordered Hierarchy of Content Objects. I just looked it up again.)
My thesis led me straight into the weeds, where my scattered brain struggled to put ideas together. Scraps of information gleaned from haphazard research confused and frazzled me. I’m on the brink of my revision phase, and time is slipping away. Last weekend, I sat down and read everything I’ve written, embarrassed but also relieved to find a few good pearls among the refuse. I wrote a new outline, a focused plan of attack to tame the unruly information that has piled up in Word documents. I’ve got new editors who have helped me to flesh out and frame some of my smaller ideas in articles that will be published soon (you’ll be able to find them on my “Clips” page once links are available).
Somehow, in the midst of all the chaos, I’ve scraped out some time to inhale stories that are becoming lifelines for me. Going to the gym means listening to The American Life for an hour, each lap on the track a little penance for the pleasure of hearing a true story, well-told. I’ve been reading articles on David Carr’s syllabus and eagerly gobbling Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s mini-series “Love in the Time of Bae.” The Manifestation-Station has broken my heart again and again. Copies of The Atlantic have piled up on my bookshelf, and I greedily dream of sprawling in the sand near my grandparents’ beach house in the aftermath of graduation, seeing what the world has been up to while I have been sucked through the whirlpool of job searching and class taking.
I wonder about my waking and sleeping dreams, about how mundane and peculiar they are, and about the cliche tossed at high schoolers and soon-to-be college grads on disposable greeting cards each year. “Follow your dreams,” they instruct us. “Follow your heart.” But how, when dreams and hearts are constantly in flux, and more often than not fixed temporarily on things that, under examination, are weird and confounding?
But then I remind myself that life feels fuller, richer, and more satisfying than ever before now that these dreams have settled in to stay. Weird, confounding, exciting, and strange, they are glimpses into all the things I didn’t know I wanted to examine. They keep me reading, writing, and searching for more.