Wake Me Up

Two of the last three mornings I’ve woken up, shaking the remnants of dreams out of my consciousness. Fortunately, while these dreams have been vivid and their effects lingering, they haven’t been visceral, haunting dreams. Just reflective.

Dream #1: I was alone in San Francisco, having flown there for a vacation trip. I was exploring an art museum near the wharf (or at least my mind’s version of the wharf), and most of the dream took place in the museum bookshop. A really nice woman working in the shop watched me wander around the shop, picking up and setting down books, postcards, and figurines. She finally called me to the counter and pulled a book out. She said, “You’ve been to Boston, right?” I said yes. (In the dream, this didn’t seem strange, but this was the first conversation we’d had; how did she know my love for Boston?) She said, “You’ll find this book interesting, then. It’s about the literary connections between California writers and Boston writers.” I turned the book over, noting that the price was only $6.95. (Seriously?!? A scholarly book for $7? This was definitely a dream!) She then said, “This will be useful when you return to Boston.” After a longer conversation, I bought the book and some postcards, then left the museum, wrapping my scarf tighter around my neck and setting off to explore windy San Francisco.

I woke up, wrapped in my fluffy comforter in my room in South Carolina, happy that it was a Saturday morning but disappointed that I wasn’t exploring alone, confidently, in California, too. I even looked up flights to San Francisco, which means that TripAdvisor is going to be emailing me travel deals on flights to SF for the rest of my life now.

Dream #2: I went to North Carolina to a tattoo/piercing place. I arrived there to discover that, unbeknownst to me, one of my students worked there. (This place employed a lot of people–my student was an assistant of some sort and was absent for most of the dream.) The place was housed in an old farmhouse, and I seemed to be the only patron (or else they were all hidden in other rooms in the house). I walked in and talked to the woman at the front, who asked what I was there for. I spent a long time discussing tattoos and piercings with her. I decided I would get a second hole in my ear, then decided against that. I considered piercing the cartilage at the top of my ear, but I knew that hurt, and I didn’t think I would even like having that done, so I decided against that, too. Finally, I settled on what I knew I’d come for anyway: a tattoo. I knew the exact tattoo I wanted: lyrics from the Gaslight Anthem’s song “Handwritten” (about writing: “It travels from heart to limb to pen”) with an image of a pen and drops of ink. When I described the tattoo to the tattoo artist, she even knew I would want the drops of ink. She handed me a book to pick out a font (is that even a thing?), but I spent so much time trying to decide that we ran out of time. (Apparently, she only tattoos people in the yard of the house, and the sun was setting. Yeah, I don’t know what that’s about, either.) I said that I would come back now that I’d decided what I want; I said goodbye to my student and left. I think both the tattoo artist and I knew that I wouldn’t be back. Then, I woke up with a terrible headache.

Ultimately, I think both of these dreams are about figuring out what my actual, waking dreams are. This is a natural result of achievement, right? For those of you who don’t know, I recently got a job promotion. Starting November 1, I’ll be full-time faculty at North Greenville. I’ll no longer try to balance a full-time staff position in the library and writing center with teaching classes as an adjunct. My last day in the library is Oct. 31, and I’m very excited to be moving finally into a position I’ve hoped to have for almost five years.

I’m 28 years old. I’m young. Too young, it almost seems, to be in my fifth year of teaching college writing and to have been hired as a full-time English instructor. But this is my dream: to teach students how to write and how to love literature. Yes, it’s at a small university, and yes, I’ll never be wealthy. But after a semester last spring of wondering if I’d made the right career choice and even of considering leaving my career, this semester has been a beautiful confirmation of why I love my job and why I love being at NGU. I have amazing students right now, and I’m finally going to be able to focus solely on them.

The rest of my life, however, is in a space of wondering what my other actual, waking dreams are. I’ve known for years that I place too much of my identity into being either a student or teacher (depending on what season of my life I was in at the time). Weekends, summers, and vacations often seem like a pause from “real life.” Even when I traveled to Savannah last weekend to present at a conference, I worried about my students and kept in contact with them through email and Twitter as they took tests and submitted essays, even in my absence. Life away from my work seems weird and unnatural.

But aside from my career and my students, what do I want? In looking at the first dream, it seems obvious: I want to travel. Duh. I know that. Everyone knows that. In the first dream, I was alone, exploring a strange city, unafraid. I want that. I don’t always have the financial ability to do that, but that’s a goal worth achieving, right? It’s definitely manageable, too. If I save up, search for inexpensive flights and hotel deals, I, too, can visit San Francisco. I could even write that book (as my friend Kevin suggested)! After all, writing a travel guide is on my List of Things To Do Before I Die.

You know what else is on my List? Getting a tattoo. The tattoo I described in the dream is the one that’s been on my mind for the last six months. In March, I saw The Gaslight Anthem live, and when they sang “Handwritten,” I remember thinking, I should have that line tattooed on my wrist. I love it so much, and it seems to encompass all that I love about writing and music. So why haven’t I gotten a tattoo yet? Fear, definitely. Fear of judgment from people who disapprove of tattoos. Fear that I, too, will regret my choice years down the road.

In the second dream, there was a dream within reach, and I walked away from it because of fear and indecision. In the first dream, my dream was happening, but it’s unattainable right now. In real life, I’ve achieved one of my dreams. Now might be a good time to rest in that fact and remind myself that dreams don’t happen in my own timing (otherwise, I would have been a full-time instructor two years ago). I need not despair that I haven’t visited San Francisco or gotten a tattoo yet. I need not despair that I haven’t figured out how to introduce myself to that very attractive guy I’ve been eyeing. I need not despair that I haven’t figured out where and when I’m going to get my Ph.D.

I do, however, need to recognize that these are all dreams that I have and that fear and indecision might, in the future, keep me from achieving them. It’s also telling that I was alone in both dreams: I want independence (traveling alone in SF), but I need accountability to follow through with some things (getting the tattoo). Facing my fears and dreams on my own is not going to work.

Knowing this, and knowing the dreams I’d like to follow through on, what happens next? Maybe it’s time to start figuring that out.

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Dreams are fading out.

When my alarm went off this morning, I woke up from a really disturbing dream. The kind of dream that made me afraid to go back to sleep, even for those 15 minutes until my next alarm. The kind of dream that made me want to squeeze my eyes shut and never open them again. The kind of dream that made me afraid that life had altered irrevocably in the eight hours I’d been asleep.

I wasn’t the main character in the dream, but I felt everything he was feeling. I only remember brief snatches of the dream, fortunately. A man and his son were in some sort of large shopping center or department store (subconsciously pulling in the shopping cart from The Road, perhaps?). It wasn’t a store any longer, though. Some sort of disaster had occurred (i.e. the apocalypse or something), and groups of people were waging a war against each other. I can’t even describe the terror of just moving through the aisles of this store. Anyway, a group of evil men were hunting for this man and his son, and they kidnapped the boy. The man had tried to flee with his son, but to no avail. He dashed into the parking lot, searching in vain for the vehicle they could have escaped in. The parking lot was pitch black dark, with rows and rows of empty vehicles. The man knew that he had arrived at the store in a minivan of some kind, but he couldn’t even remember what specific vehicle was his or where he had parked it. He was desperate and hopeless. When I woke up, he was standing in an empty parking lot, with no one around, absolutely certain his son had already been killed, and knowing that nothing remained that was worth living for.

Dramatic? You bet. My first thought? I’ve got to stop reading dystopian literature.

Over the past year, I’ve read a lot of dystopian novels and seen a lot of dystopian films: the book and film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend; Patrick Ness’ young adult novels The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer; other children’s books like The Giver and The Last Book in the Universe; Alan Moore’s graphic novels Watchmen and V for Vendetta. Books and films that have impacted me greatly–enough so that out of all the books I read and films I’ve seen, these made it into blog posts within the last year or so.

I enjoy dystopian literature and films, in a very strange way. Dystopian texts, and post-apocalyptic texts, remind me that, right now, life is worth fighting for. I have hope in a God who cares for me and for this world, and I’m blessed in immeasurable ways as a result of that. Dystopian settings, depressing and often empty of any higher power, are an other that I can’t really understand outside of my own faith. You can’t understand darkness until you understand light.

I never really realized how much it affected me. Sure, some of my favorite books are dystopian novels that make me feel angry while realizing the power of love. Yes, I wept during the film adaptation of  The Road. Now, my dreams are taking place in a dystopian society, full of fear, hatred, and anger? Maybe I don’t need to see The Book of Eli just yet, even though I’m so intrigued by it.

Maybe I also need to read happier books. I’m working on L.M. Montgomery’s The Story Girl, happy, light reading. But next up on the list is Dickins’ Hard Times for the class on the Victorian Period that I’m auditing. Not so much happy.

At least this dream is making me realize what those books and films do, as well: I have a God who’s in control of everything–my own life, the lives of my students, the lives of baseball players who take steroids, and the lives of poor people in Haiti. I may not live in a utopia, but I certainly don’t live in anything resembling dystopia, either.

The Dream-givers

“And you know what, Thin Elderly? Sad parts are important. If I ever get to train a new young dream-giver, that’s one of the things I’ll teach: that you must include the sad parts, because they are part of the story, and they have to be part of the dreams.”

-Lois Lowry, Gossamer

* * *

Gossamer interweaves the stories of the dream-givers and those to whom they give dreams each night. The story opens with an older dream-giver named Fastidious training the Littlest One. They give pleasant, happy dreams to an older, unmarried woman whose only companion is her dog Toby.

Soon, this woman takes in a foster child, an angry eight-year-old named John. John requires a lot of strengthening to battle the nightmares imposed by the Sinisteeds, the counterparts to the dream-givers. John’s anger stems from his parents divorce and his father’s abuse, and through the good dreams bestowed upon him, he becomes a happier child.

This book is beautiful in that Lowry understands the power of a story. The way that the dream-givers bestow dreams is through touching items in the person’s home. They gather fragments of each person’s story, both happy and sad memories. They use these fragments to provide dreams. Through the dreams, the reader learns more about each person’s story. For example, the woman never married because the man she loved was a soldier who was killed in France during the war. The memory of this man causes her to smile in her sleep.

Furthermore, the language that Lowry uses is wonderful. Littlest One comes to be known for her light touch–her gossamer touch. She gathers memories through the slightest touch, which allows her to touch living creatures, such as the dog and a butterfly, without disturbing their slumber. It’s fitting that at the end of the novel, when Littlest is finished with her training and a new littlest arrives, she is given the name Gossamer.

Moreover, the subtlety of language makes this book powerful. The dream-givers provide dreams by bestowing them upon sleeping human. The connotation of that word implies that good dream are a gift. Conversely, the Sinisteeds–dark, angry, horse-like creatures–inflict their nightmares upon the humans. The experience is painful and harsh, but the dream-givers fight the Sinisteeds through bestowing courageous dreams that the subconscious uses to fight against the pain.

All in all, this short novel is a beautiful piece of work, just like everything else Lois Lowry writes. She’s pretty much a genius. 🙂