By “paper,” I mean “in the waking, physical world.” Which ZenTaoist masters might have a field day with, given various definitions of awake and asleep, but grant me the metaphor, please.
Our dreams are mostly uninteresting to anyone but us. For most definitions of them. They’re amusing, sometimes, to discuss briefly, but their tricks on memory and disconnected narratives get tedious quickly. This goes for visions of accomplishment, too.
But things that are dreamlike are another realm.
Giving your work, or the thing you happen to be working on now, at least, a dreamlike quality can be resonant and evocative. This is because we can consciously shape them to be so. We can edit them in a way impossible for the sleepified version to be, lucidity notwithstanding.
Control is usually frighteningly absent in a dream. But in art, it’s the control that turns it into a story or a mood for everyone else. It gains power beyond your own subconscious and penetrates ours, too.
For the vast majority, dreaming is healthy and necessary to maintain good mental and even physical health. And sleep means dreaming at some point.
But the opposite isn’t always true. Dreaming doesn’t always require sleep. We do a different kind of dreaming as artists. And it’s a twofold phenomenon: we dream not only by envisioning new images, sounds, and words, but also as we work on bringing those visions to life. Making art entails a kind of dream state at times, which is so appealing it keeps us coming back to feel it again. That sense of flow during creation is like nothing else.
Along with the work, you need time to dream, and to avoid criticizing yourself when you do it. As long as it’s not taking the place of bringing a dream to reality, a healthy level of dreaming is necessary. For good art health.
I was in for a check up, and they wanted to draw blood for testing. Fine, “but,” I added, “just so you know, I have fainted before, once, after they poked me four times in a row unsuccessfully,” which is something like I always say. Usually, they get a vein after one or two tries, and we all go our merry ways.
This time, however, the nurse kept digging in deeper, and it got to me, consciously and subconsciously. I felt myself slipping away as the burning in my left arm intensified and the room spun a slow circle.
I woke up on my back in the chair, fully reclined, while the nurse held my feet in the air. I guess that’s what they do to get better blood flow to your brain, maybe. It took a long time to recover, and I still have to go get blood drawn soon.
It’s weird that these kinds of altered consciousness exist. I had a very short dream while I was out, though I don’t remember it. It’s the kind of thing that artists have historically made work from, dreams and strange alterations. I do suspect the majority don’t involve such harrowing causes.
Desire is the tool most of us use to motivate ourselves into creating, whether it’s an experience or a thing, your thing. We want something and that moves us to try to get it. But desire can be deceptive and distracting.
That’s because desire isn’t real. I mean, yes, it’s real for us inside our heads and hearts. But it isn’t reality, the stuff outside our private thoughts and feelings. Sometimes we’re lucky and what we desire syncs with what we feel. And often it doesn’t, or doesn’t quite.
Here’s when two vaguely Buddhist ideals come in handy. First, ignoring or casting off desires as unimportant can help get over things like wistfulness and hesitation. Those are roadblocks to creation. Fantasy is always easier than boring, cold reality, after all. But nothing happens if we spend too much time in dreams—cue that Dumbledore quotation that was such a key moment for me.
Second, the crazy simple Zen notion that plain, ordinary work—not noble aims, not high ideals, and not really backbreaking work, just work—gets us a little closer to the end of whatever we need to work on. And that’s the habit, see? The daily thing, a chunk chipped off of the big block. It’s enough.
Lots of us have an idea of a perfect place to live, and getting that place is a major life goal, at least at certain times. I’m going to come out with it here: I thought I should be in the Pacific Northwest right now, and though I’m not sure there’s such a thing as perfect, I’m here, and it’s magical.
But even more so, I think, because I’m no longer in a place I was tired of, weary, even. My cynicism and charitableness toward the place I was had grown paper thin, and I think you need a good measure of those things to sustain you through the tough moments when your ideals aren’t met and the place slaps you across the face like a city-sized Joan Collins.
This is why I think there aren’t “perfect” places to live. Every place has advantages and drawbacks. You give the advantages your enthusiasm and give the drawbacks your charity.
Because it isn’t anyone’s fault that the place you live doesn’t always thrill and sustain you. At least, not usually. And I recognize it’s a privilege to be able to pick up and move a thousand or more miles away. I’m grateful I have that.
But I am enjoying the change, which is necessary and beneficial in and if its own right.
I remember the last time I was sick. I can’t remember the last time I was this sick.
Most years I get one or two bouts of cold, the lingering, low-level kind. You know, the scratchy throat, the runny nose, the going to bed okay and waking up worse again, for lit’rally weeks.
But I can usually function, get around, go to work. That’s impossible with this thing. It’s a full-on flu, with attendant tight, phlegmy breathing and aches that have me staggering around like an eighty-year-old with a touch o’ the rheumatis’.
Something extra weird, though, that comes along with epic flu: the world seems surreal, dreamlike. It’s bizarre to have the universe wash over me like this, while I sort of watch in a stupor. It’s like being caught underneath a massive, transparent water balloon, things seem extra bright, but also muffled, sometimes a bit wavery.
I’m trying to understand how I feel, through the brain fog. I’d rather this wasn’t such a surprise next time.
Something positive to takeaway, gotta find something apropos to make a lesson out of, right? Um, maybe that everything doesn’t have to be a lesson. Sometimes observation is helpful and good.
“And the bulk of it was pretty easy, even though it was basically no advance warning,” she said. She made her way down the sidewalk outside the park-and-ride lot, still on the phone, but listening now rather than talking. She felt out of breath, not just from having to move quickly, but also explaining herself in a tumble over the last several minutes.
It was the call she’d put off making—her mother, always supportive in principle, but worried and questioning in practice. She wasn’t ever sure how to convey the finality of her decisions once she’d made them. To Mom, every choice was just a possibility, no matter how crossed-tee, dotted-aye, copied and filed away for reference it was.
“I’m not doing this because it’s a sure thing, Mom,” she said, “I’m doing it because it isn’t . . . No, I’m not throwing anything away, I’m making something new. Opportunity isn’t always the way forward . . . No, I don’t think it’s cryptic.”
The sun was halfway to its zenith now. The asphalt beside her was ash-colored in the light, the sidewalk pale as sand. The airport she was walking into reflected dozens of fractured shards of glare from as many steel embellishments. Her plane was fueling, taking on food and pillows and in-flight magazines, soon to rise into the searing sky on its way to Albany and the house in the woods.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.