Joanna here, talking about one of my favorite things in all the world, aka sleeping. Writing is another thing I’m fond of. There’s a bit of an interconnection between these.
I tend to generate new material when I’m relaxed in the bathtub or lying in bed. I even get good work done in dreams. If I were talking about the creative process I might say I try to sleep a lot.
Let me talk about Coleridge who is a more interesting topic than many of those going
through my mind these days. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, of course, is the English poet who gave us such popular thrillers as The Rime of the Ancient Mariner which many of us read in Middle School. It includes the poignant lines
“Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide wide sea!
And never a saint took pity on
My soul in agony.”
As I say, Middle School. This is stuck in my memory forever.
More on topic, Coleridge gave us the poem Kubla Khan, or at least the 54 lines of it that came to him in a dream. I’ll lay a stanza of Kubla Khan on you.
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
Today’s nod to the Romance genre.
Coleridge one day was sleeping peacefully and spinning out a long poem on the subject of stately pleasure domes with caves of ice, (maybe it was a hot day,) when he was
rudely interrupted by a man who came knocking on his door. (That infamous Man from Porlock represents all the folks who come knocking on artists’ doors and send the creative Muse sprawling arse over teakettle.)
But the important thing is where that Kubla Khan poem came from. Not reasoned planning that called upon centuries of accumulated literary theory. Not earnest contemplation of an empty page. It was composed inside Coleridge’s dream.
So some people use their dreams to write poems.
I’ve written poems in my sleep, (and lost them within minutes of waking when my obsessively tidy waking mind swept all the eldritch and illogical dream fragments back into my subconscious.) I did not write great stuff but it was reasonably good stuff.
Am I creating allkinda poetry in the sleep-garlanded night? Is there a mediocre poet sharing space inside my cranium? Would I like her if we ever got to meet?
Weighty topics. Weighty topics
Robert Lewis Stevenson one night dreamed of Mr. Hyde taking the powder and turning into Dr. Jekyll.
Mary Shelly famously had a nightmare of a ‘hideous phantasm of a man, stretched out, and then, on working of some powerful machine, show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion’. The next morning, she began writing Frankenstein.
Stephanie Meyer had a dream about a young couple in a meadow talking about why love couldn’t happen between a human and a vampire. Turned out the dream was an over-simplification.
Moving along to other cool dream usefulnesses –
dreams don’t just give us words.
Paul McCartney said the melody for “Yesterday” came to him in a dream.
Salvador Dali who painted The Persistence of Memory described his work as “hand-painted dream photographs.” He painted those melting clocks from memory.
“The brain keeps on thinking while it sleeps. It organizes and free associates. “Far from shutting down, the brain is intensely busy during sleep. As conscious awareness dims, waves and spikes of neuronal activity start their distinctive dance across the sleeping brain. This choreography is vital for processing the barrage of fresh experience that we face each day.” (Ben Martynoga)
Brains — cooler than you think.
This brain activity is expressed in stories, emotions, unique melodies, thoughts, and images. Dreams give us symbols. They give us unique visual interpretations of complex concepts.
Consider the visuals and symbolism of Jacob’s ladder. You remember Jacob’s ladder?
“And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep.
And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending."
Which is the sort of dream you have if you use rocks for pillows I guess.
Dreams can give us an intrinsically different way of seeing the world. They’re a subcreation separate from reality. Sometimes a shared subcreation.
“Ethnographers have often found themselves immersed in societies in which people talk about their dreams and in which other people readily interpret them, societies in which “the world of ghosts and spirits is as real as that of markets, though real in different qualitative ways than can be ethnographically described”
Even on a book blog I will not shortchange science types and their creative process so let me just mention
Larry Page woke from a dream where he imagined he could download the entire web onto some old computers he had lying around. He started doing the math and it turned out he could. Thus Google.
Elias Howe solved the tricky problem of the sewing machine needle after he dreamed of an attack by warriors carrying spears with holes in the tips.
Dimitry Mendeleev, inventor of the periotic table wrote in his diary, “I saw in a dream a table where all the elements fell into place as required. Awakening, I immediately wrote it down on a piece of paper.”
Mendeleev might have been taking advantage of the old writer’s standby, the notebook by the bedside where you write your dreams down quick, quick before you forget them.
I like to picture the sleeping brain as a chaotic space, full of unfinished, unconnected bits and pieces. The brain doesn’t like disconnection, so when bits bang into each other they agglomerate in new and different ways into bigger nuggets we can mine later as story ideas.
Snakes … on a spaceship.
Little Red Riding Hood … serial killer.
I’m not the only one who’s noticed you can set the mind to useful work if you tap on the brain as you go to bed. “You. Yes you! Dream tonight about my hot male character doing something clever.”
That reminds the peculiar madwoman who lives in the cellar of my brain that there’s a story to write and somebody in this brain case had better get to doing it.
Do your dreams help you work? Help you be creative? Give you insight?