Susanne Dunlap

What do dreams tell us?

In Uncategorized on June 26, 2010 at 11:28 am

I’m the unofficial queen of bizarre dreams.

Picasso's The Dream

Soon after I started my self-employed writer’s life, I dreamt that I went to a sort of supermarket where there were babies shrink-wrapped in plastic that you could buy. I chose the one that was the smallest, a preemie, unwrapped it to take home. Got in the car, myself and someone driving in the front seat, baby just lying naked in the backseat. I suddenly said, “Maybe I should hold the baby on my lap! It could be dangerous back there.” Then I woke up. I decided that the dream was about my new life, a sort of miracle and very fragile, and I didn’t really know how to live it yet.

This morning I went back to sleep for hours, even though I’d already slept for more than my necessary eight, and had similarly vivid dreams. This time I was at a conference, a business conference. It was packed with things to do and impossible to figure out what you were supposed to be doing when, and a sort of combined sports event, shopping bazaar and panels. I brought Betty (my dog) with me, and left her in my room most of the time.

The first part of the dream I was watching this bizarre horse show, where saddled horses circled a ring without riders, who were mostly women in long dresses, walking around as well. Every once in a while, one rider would choose a mount, jump up while the horse was cantering, and then jump it over a fence. That would end the competition for that horse, and the ring gradually emptied that way. I just couldn’t make out how it was scored and who would win, but I love horses, and the whole thing fascinated me so I stayed.

After that there was something vague about people I thought were my friends abandoning me, then a very distinct episode where I was teaching/facilitating a workshop. I was supposed to have only six people in it, but the class grew to more like twenty-six. They all had to give presentations in the space of an hour where they would try to get a client, get money or whatever, and I was judging them. I soon became frustrated because they were all unfocused and inarticulate, moving their seats around and not paying attention. One group of three were so not together: they had the order of their presentation all wrong, and when they finally figured it out, I said, OK, go. You have two minutes. And the person who was supposed to start simply wouldn’t open his mouth. I told them, “that’s it, your time is up. Next!” They disappeared, and after the class was over the director of the conference came to me and said, “Don’t ever do that again.” I tried to defend my decision, but couldn’t think of the right arguments, only feeling wretched that I’d silenced them. I wanted to tell the story of VC speed-dating with a friend, where we had exactly two minutes to get across the idea of the business and why we needed money. And I wanted to point out that if I gave them all the time they needed, there wouldn’t be time for someone else.

OK, so my dreams may not be interesting to other readers, but they’re fascinating (of course) to me. I mine them not simply for material, but for insight about the problems and roadblocks I’m facing in my writing. Last night’s dream, for instance: Am I not being patient enough about a character? Does that character need more time to articulate something, to develop into his or her full potential in the book? Or if not a character, what about a plot point? Readers won’t get the benefit of my explanation. Ultimately, they’ll either feel satisfied or cheated.

And the horses in the ring: have I chosen the right mounts? Really figured out which plot lines are the ones that will win overall? Is there a pattern I don’t see yet that will emerge as I continue to “empty the ring?”

The human mind and its relation to creativity is a complete mystery to me. Sometimes I feel as though I don’t know how to do what I do, I just do it. At other times, there are moments of clarity, and I can see the path spread out before me like a magic carpet I just have to have the courage to get on and ride.

The message is simple: take everything your brain gives you as a blessing and work with it, even if it’s telling you something’s wrong. Writing is about being open both to what’s outside of you and in, and facing the demons that prevent us from doing that.

Now, to start my real day.

  1. Yes, well they say you should never write about your dreams because they bore anyone else. But, you, Susanne, are an exception to that rule! I still cite you advertising-inspired dream about the Japanese meeting where you come up with a brilliant line for their auto make. You proclaim, “I’ve got it! Toy! (as in… a toy); Yo! (as in the Brooklyn greeting); Ta! (as in the British salutation). See how international you were! Thanks for not only recounting your dreams, but giving us other dreamers a nice spin on how they can be fertile ground for living our lives.

  2. Please fix my typos. (LOL)

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