The first example I remember comes from a time when I was dating a heavy drinker who'd declared he never wanted to marry me. I thought I was deeply content anyway. One night, lying beside him, I dreamt a strange dream: I envisioned some bright, happy home with a wide-arched ceiling, a family sitting down to a meal, and children playing on the rug inside. This was "marriage" in a picture. I woke myself up by the sounds I made sobbing. My boyfriend woke up too, and when I told him my dream, he said my unconscious knew more about what I wanted than I did.
Sometimes, that's true.
This week, my dreams told me something else about what I really wanted. Over the last few years, I haven't been reading or writing much fiction, although those were the things I had used to define myself in my 20's. I've been too busy teaching lately to read fiction for fun.
Last week, my mother recommended The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The novel is about a group of friends who start a secret, illegal book club during the Nazis' occupation of their village. They risk their lives to keep their book-love vital. The novel is essentially a love song to why books matter.
During my week of reading the book, I thought about how much I missed the creative life--reading and writing for the pure joy of it. While I thought of those things in a mild, conscious way, my unconscious was much more manic in longing. My dreams went haywire. I dreamt in colorful, day-glo fantasies, seeing creativity in symbolic images. In one dream, I walked into a neon studio in which my cousin had a magic hammer that allowed him to create anything in the world. Crowds came to see him invent. In another dream, I was swimming around exotic fish who could both sing and kill me.
On the night that I finished the novel, I dreamt of walking into a Cave of Creativity in which the hermits had decided to "lock me out." Again, I woke up sobbing loudly.
It felt funny--because if you asked me to my waking face, I'd swear that I haven't consciously felt "locked out" of anything at all this year. But dreams can be strange and show us what we feel but don't have the language or perspective to talk about. We don't always see what we feel, so we don't know it's there.
I've been thinking that great novels and deep dreams often work in tandem. They can show us what our unconscious desires are.