Although sleep has been elusive for a few weeks because of work worries, I often think about dreams past and what they can still yield in the weedy garden of my current imagination. The extraordinary and wonderful disjointedness of dreams is especially fascinating because, in the moment of dreaming, all dreams make sense. They merely defy waking analysis.
I’ve opened my eyes many a morning grasping for the colorful threads of logic, the strands of story that felt so incredibly right just seconds before, but that seem to vanish at the touch of my mental fingertips.
And yet . . . I know that dreams have logical counterparts in the world of storytelling.
Years ago, when I was in my last semester of college, I took a history colloquium on jungles. Like a dream itself, there was no waking logic to my finding this course. I stumbled into it, thinking I was in another class. However, that first day after listening to the professor speak about the mystery of jungles, I decided to stay — to take my intellectual canoe down that dark, muddy river to see what I might discover.
I adored the class! For my term paper, I read Amazonian Indian mythology. The stories intrigued me so much that I taught myself enough Portuguese so that I could read original source accounts. I read Levi Strauss in French. I scoured the University of Michigan’s substantial library collections for everything I could find.
On the face of it, these stories were very odd. Animals transformed into other creatures, plants into animals, people into unrelated animals . . . Few things remained totally whole or the same. The stories were tremendously dreamlike in this way, constantly fusing aspects that didn’t belong together into a new creation. But somehow — within that world — they made sense.
I theorized that this constant transformation was born of the jungle itself: something dies and — due to heat, moisture and localized fertilization — another thing grows right out of it. In essence, everything dead is rapidly becoming something else; it’s visible and visceral . . . the Yin-Yang principle on LSD.
Why did I bring up dreams and jungles today?
When I started my blog yesterday, my topic was the fragility of creativity. I’d intended to float a couple of familiar memes about nurturing creativity, practicing it . . . yadda yadda yadda. But once my fingers hit the keyboard, this blog about dreams and jungle mythology sprang out of the carcass of predictable intent.
Perhaps the point, if there is one, might be that dreams — like jungles — allow seemingly unrelated topics to merge and, when we least expect it, creativity works in the same way.
Today’s question: What subject or project have you accidentally studied or undertaken that yielded marvelously unexpected results?
My junior year in college, I was desperate for an elective that fit into my schedule without meeting at the ungodly hour of 8 AM. I landed in a course in the religion department on Shamanism. Medicine men, seers, stuff like that. It was fascinating, and went into great detail about how various themes and archetypes recur throughout widely scattered cultures: the old man/teacher, the spirit journey of symbolic death/rebirth that transforms Average Joe Tribesman into a Holy Man (if he survives it); totem animals; etc. etc. It was my fist exposure to the the Hero's Journey and Carl Jung. Blew my mind, and it's stayed blown ever since.
I think the same kind of thing happened to me with that Jungles class. I'd actually signed up for something on death and dying. In retrospect, I'm very glad I ended up with something so different and so fascinating.
Wow, I'm jealous – I would LOVE to take a class on jungles. What a great idea.
Shamanism fascinates me, too. I had a writing partner who had some very intimate knowledge of the shamanic journey.
Since I've been rewatching Mad Men before I fall asleep at night my dreams are very oddly realistic, the last week – in the sense that I'm just directly inside episodes of Mad Men. That doesn't usually happen.
Well, journeys do that do (loved your canoe anology) and this year (starting Friday) will be my 20th trip to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in a row. Who knew back in 1993 when I went to my first jazz fest that this love affair with New Orleans would last longer than either of my marriages? I can't wait to get there — I now go about 8 times a year — and it's like having a trist with a City. It holds a facination, wonder, seduction, the food, the music, the way it's woven into my life now, with the house, a life really, separate and apart from SF, work and everything else. I made my own tribe there. Through that I learned amazing culture, writers, food — who knew I'd be a chef groupie (John Besh and Susan Spicer) so sometimes opening the door will bring you in a different direction.
When I was a theology student I took an introductory med school course in neuroscience. We had the opportunity to talk with the guest speakers before and after class. One of these happened to be the leading expert in what ailed me. He became my neurologist and changed my view of the world. I gained the confidence to study outside my fields of psychology and theology. That resulted in my being offered a faculty appointment. I still have the job but no longer the work, due to my neurological stuff. Because of what I learned in that course about flexibility and adaptability I am not afraid to let go and adjust to changing circumstance, usually with very positive results.
I am totally fascinated by shamanism; have studied it in theory and in anthropological/religious texts, but never in person . . .
Strange about your dreams; they must be very odd to be so realistic.
A wonderful story. For some reason, reading it made me feel extremely hopeful today. I like that last line of yours very much . . . you know why.
How nice to hear from you.
The med school course sounds like it was meant for you at that time . . .
I find it so incredible that it fit so precisely with what you needed and then took you in a direction that satisfied and expanded your life.
Thank you for sharing that story with us.
I'd have to say the kids — neither of them were accidents, but I wasn't at all prepared for the kind of learning experience they've both been since birth and each day they're marvelous in completely unexpected ways.
But I'd also have to say trying Nanowrimo, about eight years ago. I learned I could make time to write and I could write long fiction. Not *great* long fiction, at that point, but finishing something is a decent start. And that's the point where I started to *practice* because I knew it was *possible.*
Years ago I won a prize for writing a business plan for Strategic Management as part of my business degree. This lead to me accepting an offer of a paid internship at the business incubator I wrote the plan for. I then worked as a research assistant interviewing local creative IT business people. While interviewing one I got offered a chance at another position once the project closed. I ended up realizing more about myself than I maybe wanted to know through this next position. I think about it now as a forced growth situation. In turn this led me to working in a local library which opened a different set of options and altered my study path to include a communications minor ( heavily slanted towards PR). I'm currently studying for my Masters in LIS. The other day I ran into a woman I had interviewed years ago. We talked about what was exciting us these days. She suggested I attend a conference in NY where she was delivering a paper if I could. It's called Art and Psyche in the City. There are all sorts of organizations and connections that interest me regarding this. Mind you we're both living in a little country town in Australia…and I know based on my earlier experiences of connections and opportunities I'm going to do my best to get there. I have that feeling that this could be another sideways step that brings unexpectedly good things into being.
Lots of my creative insights also came from my dreams. It's truly great when you have created an output based in your own creativity. In my own business, I am designing my own products. I am enjoying it because all the efforts will paid off every time you have finished a product.
You speak Portuguese, Pari? I didn't know that!!! Engraçado, eu nunca me interessei pelas histórias da Amazônia. Instead, I made a point to read English so i could read all the American novels I wanted in the original 😀
How I ended up a math major remains something of a mystery to me, but I ended up with a group of brilliant selfless professors who remain my heroes to this day: brilliant, devoted to their students, eccentric and wise.
I love hearing about dreams…other peoples' dreams and trying to analyse my own too. Actually, Body Count was based almost to the letter, kill-for-kill on a nightmare/dream I had one night.
And as for classes on jungles and shamanism. Very cool!
PD, that is amazing about your dream experience in writing BODY COUNT. Dreams and indigenous religious traditions are so interwoven as to be one and the other, as they are with daily life, inseparable.
Indigenous religious traditions was a focus of my theological studies, the route that led to my interest in the study of medicine as an adjunct to psychology and counseling. It is a special area of expertise that I, along with other graduate students, Native and non-Native, helped to develop a new methodology of field studies in Native American religious traditions.
I am cautious in what I share on this topic, but all respectful questions are welcomed.