March 27, 2006

Who Are These People?

This might not mean much to anyone but me -- a too-extreme inwardness -- but what the heck, this is my online journal and I’m the sole owner and proprietor. I’m thinking aloud about a story I recently posted here and the characters in it: a guy who drives a delivery van in remote West Texas, a female artist he gives a flowering cactus to when he make a delivery.

I don’t know those people. I don’t know where they came from. I’ve seen delivery drivers before, I’ve known artists, but why these, and why out there?

I always assume that a work of fiction is an emanation of the writer’s psyche, just the way a dream is, except that the story is edited for form, shaped by the conscious mind – for better or worse. I interpret stories as if they were dreams and dreams as if they were stories. So if that story is a dream, what is the interpretation?

The basic Freudian approach is to treat the main character as a stand-in for me and to find the wish that the dream expresses. I’m the delivery guy, I’m wishing for the wide open spaces, for freedom, but also for the security of a known route, and for sexual adventure. The flowering cactus is the gift of my sexuality, which she accepts symbolically even though we don’t get involved. I’m wishing for romance without entanglement. Very cut and dried – so much so that I don’t see what the point is in developing a whole dream to express it. Don’t I have more in my mind than that? Well, I could dig deeper into these symbols: the dream is about rejection, but who’s rejecting who? Overtly she’s rejecting him, but covertly I’m rejecting her by staging a drama in which she ends up alone. An element of sexual revenge there.

Still not enough, though: it doesn’t escape the old Freudian sexual cauldron. A more broad-minded view – more Jungian, perhaps – says that I am everything in the dream. Every person, every object, every symbol, is a part of my psyche. I’m the female artist as well as the male delivery guy. (In real life I am an artist, and though I haven’t retreated to the hills, I have a strongly solitary nature.)

The cactus is some kind of flowering, ripening, that I’m hoping for in myself. (In conscious life the cactus is a plant I identify with.) One part of me is giving a gift of creative flowering to another part. The empty sky, the open roads: this dream takes place in a clear part of my mind, or says that I wish for a clear mind. The delivery truck going back and forth over long distances: it could be a sense of the repetitiousness of life, the banality even of freedom and open space, or it could be a desire to break out of known routes. The Airstream trailer with its climbing roses: another symbol of myself, a hard, cold, metallic part of me, compact and self-contained, but growing into softness through time and effort. And the delivery letters and packages: wishes for success, but maybe something more subtle than that: messages from one part of my psyche to another, supplies of self-nurturing, but the contents still unglimpsed.

Still, this all seems too reductive. I’m reading the landscape for symbols; this equals that, as if dream life gained meaning by being reduced to an abstraction. As if a dream or a story were a passage in code and once you cracked the code you understood everything about it – it had nothing else to offer. This view makes dreams thin.

Surely it’s the opposite: the dream gains meaning the more it feels like a lived experience with all the texture, sensation, and emotion of life. Maybe the way to understand a dream is to feel what it was like, to enter it as if it were a memory rather than a fantasy. What does it feel like to be in that story? What does the wind feel like through the open door of the speeding delivery van? What do the tiny prickles of the cactus feel like when the dabs them with a fingertip? What are the expressions on their faces when they part? If I could talk to them, what would they tell me? These are questions you can ask a work of art, but you can’t ask a cryptogram.

All these things are happening inside me. Where does that road come from, where is it going? Where can I find those hills? Are they still inside me, and how can I call them back? And what is the mixture of joy and desolation, of comfort and anxiety, that the dream makes me feel: is that feeling, all by itself, the real message of the dream?

God, it felt good to be in that dream: good to be driving that van across those flat straight roads in the sagebrush land, and good to give her the flowering cactus and good to receive the cactus from him, good to court and good to say goodbye and then to become friends, and good to be that white-petaled, red-darted flower and that aluminum trailer with roses climbing over me. Maybe the wish of every dreamer is to live in his dream: a wish that never, and always, comes true.